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Women Composers in Australia

The Antipodes were ahead of the curve in giving women the vote, and Australia similarly has a proud tradition of producing composers who are women. This is not to gloss over inequities that existed and persist, but the fact remains that Australian music was, for much of the 20th century, enriched by the work of such names as Esther Rofe, Moneta Eagles, Miriam Hyde, Dulcie Holland, Mirrie Hill, Margaret Sutherland and Peggy Glanville-Hicks, among others.

Many of these wrote a vast amount of fine music for educative purposes; many of them also wrote significant works for the concert hall and opera stage. Hyde, for instance, composed two piano concertos that she premiered with major London orchestras. Sutherland, a composer of orchestral, operatic and chamber music, is credited with introducing a then-contemporary neoclassicism into Australian music when she returned from Europe in 1925. Glanville-Hicks enjoyed an eminence as critic and composer – of opera especially – in Europe and the United States.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of figures as different as Anne Boyd, Jennifer Fowler, Alison Bauld and Moya Henderson, whose careers increasingly took place on the international stage. 

Today, about 27% of the AMC's Represented and Associate artists are women, and their creative work is an important and integral part of the fabric of Australian music. From the 1970s onwards, it isn't practical to try to provide a list of prominent names - please explore the resources available on this website to find out more about Australia's women composers and their work.

Below, as a starting point for further exploration, a selective list of works, including award-winning and finalist works from the Art Music Awards and Paul Lowin Prizes over the past 10 years. See also the online learning platform Echo for creative connections between Australian composers and sound artists, and the AMC's online magazine Resonate for features, interviews and other articles.

Significant Works

  Work Notes
Violin sonata (1925) by Margaret Sutherlandis a wonderfully argued half-hour of music.
Etruscan concerto (1954) by Peggy Glanville-Hicksis a sinuously elegant work for piano and small orchestra.
Bencharong (1976) by Anne Boydcontemplates the beautiful sonorities of the string orchestra.
Digital sheet music sample Lindy (1997) by Moya Henderson, Judith Rodriguez and Moya Hendersona powerful opera which deals with the miscarriage of justice and mob mentality after the death of Azaria Chamberlain at Uluru.
Digital sheet music sample Piano Sonata (2018) by Elizabeth Younana mature composition for an emerging composer - a powerful and virtuosic work.
How forests think (2016) by Liza Lima work of epic scale, displaying a staggering level of invention in form and instrumental interplay and colour.
Digital sheet music sample Earth plays I-IV (2015) by Cathy Millikenambitious, unpredictable and engaging, this piece is at once deep, personal and substantial.
Digital sheet music sample Affectations (2011) by Andrea Kelleris a wonderful example of the composer's complete understanding of, but not being restricted by, the jazz idiom; 'Affectations' throws off the shackles and is unpredictable.
The Pomegranate Cycle (2010) by Eve Kleinan electro-ambient one-woman opera that is imaginative and extends operatic practice.
Digital sheet music sample The Audience Choir (2018) by Alice Chancea masterpiece of audience engagement. Chance leads her 'audience' choir in singing a simple set of melodic phrases, achieving an almost professional performative quality through her rare mastery of choral leading and composition.
Digital sheet music sample Iphigenia in exile (1985) by Helen Gifford and Richard Mereditha moving chamber opera, inexplicably unperformed for 25 years before a production by Chamber Made in 2010.
Cantor (2017) by Lisa Illeana work showing extraordinary sensitivity to colour and timbre, creating an absorbing sound world.
Semaphore by Kate Neal and Karen Bergera complex and rewarding work by a distinctive compositional voice, the use of percussion to build the architectural detail of the work's structure, to both physically and thematically integrate the sounds of signaling, is exceptional.
Aerea (2013) by Mary Finsterera remarkable large-scale work, ambitious in scope and highly engaging.
Osanna mass (2008) by Clare Macleana transcendent work of elegance, colour and radiance; the wonderful surety of writing in this work manifests a mature composer at the peak of her creative powers.
Digital sheet music sample Piano concerto no. 3 (2018) by Elena Kats-Chernin 'Lebewohl' concerto is a mature work from a senior artist that fully utilises the pianist's keyboard agility and depth of sound to create a virtuosic part that assists to realise the work's grand ambitions.
Digital sheet music sample Ruler of the Hive (2018) by Melody Eötvösconfident and mature, word painting, compositional craft and musical invention by a composer of great talent.
[A]part (2017) by Ellen Kirkwoodinventive and intricate writing, imaginative playing with varied textures and subtle harmonic shifts; a bold and complex work.
Up in the Clouds (2017) by Corrina Bonshekthe composer imaginatively exploits the tone-colour combinations of the ensemble and uses extended techniques, sound decay and silence with striking effect.
Digital sheet music sample When We Speak (2016) by Lisa Cheneya strong piece from an emerging voice, a gorgeous exploration of colour and sound, seamlessly blending electro-acoustic elements, gesture, texture, line and text.
Digital sheet music sample Spirals (2017) by Maria Grenfella clear, well-written piece with great rhythmic drive - a welcome addition to the short concerto form.
On Earth as in Heaven (2017) by Anne Cawrsea work with great writing for a cappella choir, demonstrating the composer's sophisticated understanding of the medium and her individual compositional voice.
Digital sheet music sample Moon fire (2016) by Jessica Wellsan attractive and engaging piece, skilfully composed for unusual instrumentation.
Saudade (2015) by Natalie Williamsfrom its striking opening to its strong finish, 'Saudade' has an original sound and individual language.
Digital sheet music sample Hidden Thoughts I : Do I Matter? (2017) by Katy Abbotta work that sets to music 'secret thoughts' by anonymous women - winner of the 2019 Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize.
Sonetos del amor oscuro (2004) by Rosà Lind Pagea setting of five sonnets by Federico García Lorca - choice of poetry demonstrates a passion for words and an ability to write most expressively, lyrically and dramatically for voice. Winner of the 2006 Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize.
 Rockpoolmirror by Sandy Evansa masterful undertaking of music and musicians, with striking instrumentation; evocative, varied, engaging, personal and impressive
 From a Black Sky by Sandra FranceAn emotive piece, this large-scale dramatic work tells a contemporary Australian story with deep community connections
 Listening underwater by Leah Barclaya large-scale experimental music and acoustic ecology project which included two hours of original composition that draws on over a decade of Barclay's hydrophone (underwater) recordings from freshwater and marine ecosystems across the planet