New label sheds light on forgotten female composers : Deceptive Cadence The new record label La Boîte à Pépites is dedicated to raising the profile of female composers whose works have been neglected.

A new label revives forgotten female composers' music

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The story of women composers throughout the centuries is fraught with prejudice, patriarchy and exclusion, and a new record label aims to change that. La Boite a Pepites, or The Jewel Box, dedicated its first release to piano, chamber and orchestral music by Charlotte Sohy, a French composer who died in 1955 and lived through two world wars.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBORA WALDMAN AND ORCHESTRE NATIONAL AVIGNON-PROVENCE PERFORMANCE OF CHARLOTTE SOHY'S "HISTOIRE SENTIMENTALE, OP. 34: IV. OUBLI")

FADEL: After a launch in France in April, the label heads next to the U.K. on September 30, and hopes for an American release as well. The person who founded the label is Heloise Luzzati. She's a French cellist who joins us now from France. Hello.

HELOISE LUZZATI: Hello.

FADEL: So this is an exciting project. And I want to start with just what first drew you to the works of women composers in history.

LUZZATI: A few years ago the question of the role of women in the history of music began to gain a certain importance in my life as a musician. How could I have spent so many years without ever having played a piece composed by a woman? And at the beginning of quarantine, like everyone else, I had fewer gigs and finally the time to create this project that seemed necessary to me.

FADEL: How would you describe Sohy's music?

LUZZATI: Incredible music. It's completely specific as French music from the beginning of the 20th century - sometimes impressionistic, sometimes figurative, with colors of Ravel, Chausson or Debussy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARIE VERMEULIN PERFORMANCE OF CHARLOTTE SOHY'S "QUATRE PIECES ROMANTIQUES, OP. 30: II. VALSE")

FADEL: So how did you decide to launch your label with world premiere recordings of Charlotte Sohy? So why did you choose her?

LUZZATI: Last year, I was with the Orchestre National Avignon-Provence in the south of France, and I was completely captivated by this music. And the conductor put me in touch with Charlotte Sohy grandson, who, for the past 10 years, has been copying his grandmother's manuscripts. And I was able to have access to all the works of Charlotte Sohy.

FADEL: And none of it had ever been published before?

LUZZATI: No. No.

FADEL: So from this release of these three albums of Sohy's music, was there any one piece of music that you found and played and thought, oh, my God, I can't believe the world hasn't heard this?

LUZZATI: There is so many. I cannot answer this question. Maybe the piano trio - I think it's a masterpiece.

(SOUNDBITE OF XAVIER PHILLIPS, NIKOLA NIKOLOV, AND CELIA ONETO BENSAID PERFORMANCE OF CHARLOTTE SOHY'S "TRIO, OP. 24: II. ANDANTE")

FADEL: Why have these compositions of women Sohy been hidden away in attics, forgotten for decades and sometimes centuries? And how is your label trying to change that?

LUZZATI: Today, only 4% of the works are composed by a woman. I don't think the reason is that concert programmers knowingly refused programs. In my opinion, we don't know enough works composed by woman. My aim is to increase the percentage of known works written by female composers.

FADEL: Why do you think women composers, like Sohy and others, have been ignored for so long?

LUZZATI: I think - I like an anecdote about the French composer, pianist and teacher Louise Farrenc. In 1872, the Universal Dictionary mentioned Louise Farrenc - one of the most honorable places in the history of French music. Eight years after her death, all that remain is this mention - professor of the conservatory. There you go. It's as simple as that. When a composer dies and she's no longer there to keep her work alive, it disappears almost instantly.

FADEL: Wow. So it dies with her, which is so sad.

LUZZATI: Yeah. And she was published and played and she had everything.

FADEL: That's incredible. In her lifetime, she was recognized. But as soon as she was not able to speak for herself anymore, her legacy was gone.

LUZZATI: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEDITATIONS, OP. 18: I. PAIX 'ASSIS AU BORD DE LA RIVIERE CHARMEUSE'")

MARIE PERBOST: (Singing in non-English language).

FADEL: With Sohy, didn't she write under a male name for a while?

LUZZATI: Yeah, she used her grandfather name, Charles Sohy.

FADEL: In order to be published? Or why did she use her grandfather's name?

LUZZATI: It's a smart way to bypass the prejudice about, you know, the woman who compose music.

FADEL: A way to get around the prejudice for women.

LUZZATI: Exactly.

FADEL: In general, how do you find these women's music?

LUZZATI: Some of them in library, some - and it's a really interesting thing to observe. Often, men put their work in the national library, but few women did. So I don't really know why, but it must be because of self-confidence that would allow you to believe that woman's work could be part of the history of music. The works of woman have often remained with the descendants of the composer.

FADEL: Wow. Incredible. So it all depends on whether their children and grandchildren saved the pieces of paper.

LUZZATI: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF XAVIER PHILLIPS, NIKOLA NIKOLOV AND CELIA ONETO BENSAID PERFORMANCE OF CHARLOTTE SOHY'S "TRIO, OP. 24: III. ALLEGRO")

FADEL: Have you found that people are generally interested, I mean, since you've announced the label?

LUZZATI: Yeah. I think we are really lucky, and I'm really happy. I didn't expect the Sohy project to be so successful. Since the launch in France in April, we have more than 1 million streams on the platforms. And I didn't expect it at all. So it's encouraging for the future. We don't want to rewrite the story of the music. We want to add the woman who counts in the story.

FADEL: Yeah, so add it to the repertoire that exists already.

LUZZATI: Yeah. Yeah.

FADEL: That was Heloise Luzzati, founder of the new music label La Boite a Pepites. Thank you for sharing your story.

LUZZATI: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBORA WALDMAN AND ORCHESTRE NATIONAL AVIGNON-PROVENCE PERFORMANCE OF CHARLOTTE SOHY'S "HISTOIRE SENTIMENTALE, OP. 34: IV. OUBLI")

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