Jerwood Arts Bursary: A Creative Research Project Exploring Female Creativity and Disintegration

Artwork: Pen Jones Cartoons


In November 2019 I was awarded a Jerwood Arts Bursary for my project “The Female Creative Voice”, which allowed me to undertake a period of research around French 19th-century women composers with Elizabeth de Brito (Daffodil Perspective), study some basic electroacoustic composition techniques with Rene Mogensen and undertake a workshop with singer Suzie Purkis to synthesise these two areas of development.

At the outset of the project, Jerwood Arts contacted me for an image to represent my research. I responded with an image of fire, it seeming to be a fitting metaphor for how the work of women composers’ has been disregarded, lost and silenced over time. However, after my first meeting with Daffodil Perspective’s Elizabeth de Brito I began to consider a different perspective, particularly when she shared the story of Florence Price and how much of her work had been saved and reclaimed from her abandoned and dilapidated house. After this meeting, this sentiment was captured in my journal with the question “Are they [women composers] burnt or left to decay?”. And it is this question that has led me onto using the metaphor of ruins as a means of understanding how the work of women composers is undervalued and intentionally unseen, allowing for their musical contributions to disintegrate on a cultural and social level.

Continuing to develop this metaphor I decided to focus on three French 19th-century women composers, all of whom were known and successful musical figures. Over the course of my research, I gained an understanding of their work and life stories whilst also seeing what I termed “erosion factors” – aspects of their reality that seemed to have prevented these women being accepted as serious creators during and beyond their lifetimes. My first focus was Clémence de Grandval (1828 – 1907),  who was a prolific composer of opera, songs and chamber works but had to use a variety of pseudonyms due to the social stigma women of her class were subject to when pursuing composition. Also active during this time period was the composer, concert pianist and pedagogue Marie Jaëll (1846 – 1925), who had great success touring Europe with her professional partner and husband Alfred Jaëll but battled with what we would now term “impostor syndrome”. Finally,  Augusta Holmès (1847 – 1903), a composer who had a passion for writing programmatic symphonies and works,  whose perceived beauty was often used to undermine her creative abilities.  

In response to these findings I have created the piece Ruins (see below) which weaves together musical material written by myself and the three women composers, establishing a “female creative voice” indicative of the time period. Over the course of the piece, these musical elements are subjected to fragments of spoken text, originating from diaries and letters of the time, that act as “erosion factors”. In response to these “erosion factors” the soundworld of the piece becomes increasingly distorted and abstract: a sonic interpretation of the process of becoming a ruin.


Composition – Chloe Knibbs

Piano/Clarinet – Chloe Knibbs

Voice – Suzie Purkis – 


Mentor – Rene Mogensen – 

Mentor – Elizabeth de Brito, Daffodil Perspective – 

Artwork – Ben Jones – 


This project gratefully acknowledges the support of Jerwood Arts Bursaries and Sound and Music’s Francis Chagrin Award