How it all began…
In the fall of 1977, the conductor Elke Mascha Blankenburg wrote an article in the magazine emma about forgotten women composers (link to the German original article pp. 44–46). Shortly thereafter, women musicians and composers from around the world gathered to form a working group. Blankenburg’s call to “unearth and perform compositions by women” was soon put into practice by her and the members of the International Working Group Women and Music, founded in 1979. By October 1979, four meetings of the working group had taken place, and the number of members jumped to more than 100. The first version of the board was formed by Elke Mascha Blankenburg as 1st chairwoman, Siegrid Ernst as 2nd chairwoman, and Barbara Heller as 3rd chairwoman.
Why an archive?
“Asking whether there are female composers begs the next question: Where are their works?” said Renate Matthei, Chair of the Board of the Internationaler Arbeitskreis Frau und Musik from 1992 to 2013. The founders of the Archive, too, must have asked themselves this question. Elke Mascha Blankenburg began to sort through the entire collection of sheet music at the Institute of Musicology in Cologne, coming across an unusually high number of female composers: “I was bursting with excitement. How would this music sound? Would it be as good as the music by male colleagues? How did these women live?” Her discovery triggered even more intensive research in this area, which continues today. Within only a year, with the help from the members of the Internationaler Arbeitskreis Frau und Musik, 300 female composers’ names had been found in various music libraries. The Archiv Frau und Musik/Archive of Women in Music was born.
What happened next…
What began as a private initiative quickly grew into a significant institution in the field of women and music. After seven years of voluntary work, a fixed financial support enabled the regular and qualified employment of permanent staff members. In addition, the archive moved into its own premises for the first time with the help of the city of Kassel. After three further moves, the archive is now located in the hoffmanns höfen in Frankfurt am Main, where it has not only found its permanent place within an excellent infrastructure, but also in the cultural life of the Main metropolis.
The archive is managed by the board of the Internationaler Arbeitskreis Frau und Musik e. V., which currently consists of Mary Ellen Kitchens, Dr. Vera Lasch, and Heike Matthiesen. The extended board includes Prof. Dr. Vivienne Olive, Elisabeth Treydte, Uta Walther, and Mareike Hilbrig (link to the managing board members’ page here). In 2013, the Archiv Frau und Musik had to accept financial losses due to cuts from the City of Frankfurt. By 2018, it was on the Red List of threatened cultural institutions.