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Ethel Smyth was a driving force for suffrage in Great Britain, leading the cause for women’s right to vote. Smyth spent a few weeks in prison for her activism. She used her clout as a leading composer in England to generate headlines and gain public sympathy to the cause.

As a composer, Smyth’s work was championed by influential musicians in England, including Thomas Beecham, who lead the premiere of one of her six opera’s, The Wreckers. Her life’s work and her personal experience in prison  contributed to her final major composition, The Prison. 

Composed in 1930, The Prison is a “symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra” and uses text by her friend HB Brewster. The work is a dialogue between a prisoner facing execution and his soul. While the original has both parts as one voice, Smyth gives the soul’s voice to soprano solo.

Conductor James Blachly and a large host of musicians have released the first full recording of British composer Ethel Smyth’s choral symphony, “The Prison.”  Classical Louisville will present the new recording in its entirety on English Pastorale, Sunday, August 23 at 9 am.

In his conversations with WUOL’s Alan Brandt, Mr. Blachly talks about the importance of Smyth’s The Prison and the musical forces involved.