Virginia Woolf and music

VIRGINIA Woolf was one of the greatest writers of all time, an icon of feminist thought – but not somebody you immediately identify with music. This is the basis of Lucy Stevens’ new one-woman play with music, at Dorchester Arts at the Corn Exchange on Sunday 30th January at 8pm.

As the late January BBC Radio 4 series on Modernism demonstrates, Woolf was not only a unique talent, she was also part of a significant cultural movement, which saw revolutionary changes in literature and art and in personal relationships. It was also an important period in music.

When you think of Virginia Woolf you probably picture that introspective, mournful face and remember her extraordinary books, To The Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and the rest. And you may ponder her relationships with other women, notably Vita Sackville-West – but you probably don’t place her in a musical setting.

That is what Lucy Stevens aims to do in Virginia Woolf: Killing the Angel. She weaves Woolf’s life, as expressed in her own words, with music and songs by female composers who were her contemporaries, including Liza Lehmann, Ethel Smyth and Maude Valerie White.

Much of the featured music is now out of print and rarely performed, reflecting one of the plays themes,  the way women’s work has been omitted from histories of music and the arts and the challenges women faced as artists in the early twentieth century.

Through Woolf’s own writing, novels, letters and more, the play reveals her troubled childhood and her views on literature and the Bloomsbury group, which also included her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell.

Virginia Woolf: Killing the Angel is the latest collaboration between actor and classical singer, Lucy Stevens and pianist Elizabeth Marcus, a Fellow and Professor of Harpsichord at Guildhall School of Music. Their previous acclaimed plays about women in music were Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle and Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife!