5 Questions to Elizabeth de Brito (Host, The Daffodil Perspective)

Elizabeth de Brito is the host of The Daffodil Perspective, an online classical radio show with a focus on gender equity. Her programmes are entertaining and edifying, and she imbues her delivery with subtle irony and the occasional arch throat-clearing. In her richly eclectic programming, she features the music of well-known and lesser-known composers, including living composers and composers right back to the Middle Ages. A recent blog post features the music of Isabella Leonarda, an Italian Baroque composer who wrote more than 200 extraordinarily beautiful pieces in her lifetime. One of De Brito’s most recent programmes features the music of seven women and seven men, including the 20th century African American composer Betty Jackson King, a long-time President of the National Association of Negro Musicians; the Taiwanese composer Ming-Hsiu Yen, who is an Associate Professor at the National Taipei University of the Arts; Viennese Classical composer Marianna Martines; and Venetian Classical composer Antonio Salieri. There’s also a bop by German Classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven, though you won’t find de Brito unquestioningly deifying LvB like many others in her field. De Brito–who is originally from Hertfordshire and is now based in London–is unambiguous in her advocacy for composers from marginalised groups whose work and biographies have been erased. 

In 2018, you came across the music of Florence Price. What was that experience like, and how has it changed your life?

Hearing Florence Price for the first time was the single most important moment of my entire life. For the first time in my life, I felt whole. I’m mixed race, just like Florence. When I listened to Florence Price, I was at peace with myself. Much of Florence Price’s music combines negro spirituals with western classical music, and that really spoke to me. I like to think that side of Price’s music was a metaphor for herself–she was mixed race in a world dominated by white people, and that is also my experience. Her music made me feel complete, like I don’t have to explain or justify my identity, there isn’t a dissonance between the person I am and the person everyone else thinks they should see. Discovering Florence Price really drove home just how warped our classical music history is, just how biased and incomplete my education was. Discovering Florence Price is what led me to start championing gender equality in classical music, led me to start my show and start listening to classical music again. I finally saw someone like me in classical music, I finally had someone to whom I could relate, and I saw my path clearly.

Florence Price

Florence Price

What brought about your founding of the The Daffodil Perspective, and what does the show’s name represent to you?

I studied piano and clarinet growing up, was heavily involved in classical music at school and music courses, then I left the classical music world at 18. Over a decade later in 2018, I heard my first piece by a historical female composer at Women of the World Festival: Overture to En Voyage by Elisabeth Lutyens. I had no idea that there were any female composers at all, so I immediately went searching and found the hundreds of amazing women across the centuries. I was so infuriated–I’d never been taught any female composers, my whole history was just white men. Classical music just got interesting again, and I knew I had to champion these women in some way, I’m a strong advocate for actions not words, and I believe the best way to encourage gender equality is to create it. I’d done community radio in the past, so seemed like the perfect idea: to create a gender-balanced show that champions women.

As for the name, well, I could make up something pretentious about daffodils being bright and shiny, surrounded by the brown dirt and earth, likening it to brilliant diversity, some cool imagery of a shining beacon for change amidst the dark, dull canon or some such. but nope. I just love daffodils. They’re my favourite flower, and I think the name has a nice ring to it. Sorry if I’ve burst anyone’s bubble.

Who are some of your favourite lesser-known composers?

Wow, so many to mention. On every show, I tell the story of a different female composer, so every week I do very in-depth research and mostly end up gaining a new obsession.

I’ll start with a few historical composers. I adore Henriette Renié–turn of the 19th century composer who revolutionised the harp. Lūcija Garūta–mid 20th century Latvian composer, her cantata Lord, Thy Land is Burning is incredibly moving, as is her piano concerto. Early 20th century Dutch composer Henriëtte Bosmans–love her, she wrote my favourite cello sonata of all time, pure power piece. Swedish Romantic composer Elfrida Andrée, and English Romantic composer Alice Mary Smith, first British woman to write a symphony, although I love her because she wrote some kickass music for clarinet (my instrument). Then there’s Galina Ustvolskaya, one of my all-time favourites–voice of the black hole of Leningrad, brutalist music, totally radical.

As for living composers, I adore Teresa Procaccini. She’s an Italian composer who writes the coolest chamber music for woodwind and brass. I also adore Chen Yi and Ida Gotkovsky. One of my favourite composers ever is Michiru Ōshima, a Japanese composer who has written tons of anime and live action TV and film soundtracks, video games, some straight up classical. Lots of it is on YouTube, although most of it isn’t easy to buy, some of it is on iTunes though.

Elizabeth de Brito © all rights reserved 2020

Elizabeth de Brito © all rights reserved 2020

What are audiences like in the United Kingdom for music by living composers?

Music by living composers is still very sidelined. Contemporary music only makes up around 10% of music performed per year, and of that, music by women only makes up 17%, nearly one fifth.

There are a few ensembles dedicated to performing contemporary music, like London Sinfonietta and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, they’re both really cool. Contemporary classical music in the UK is a bit more like a sub-culture, the audiences tend to be made up more of people ‘in the know.’ Casual listeners of classical music are less likely to hear and seek out living composers. 

There are massive audiences for living film composers, though. John Williams is always in the top three contemporary composers performed. Film screenings with live orchestras are immensely popular here, not just Star Wars but films like Love Actually and Home Alone are well attended, as well.

What would you like to achieve with the The Daffodil Perspective?

I’d like to raise the profile of female composers, provide a model for inclusive programming, and inspire other organisations to re-think their attitudes to diversity and equality.