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Chloe Knibbs

Music, Birmingham City University

Thesis title:

Readdressing the Spectacle: Composing Connections Between Past Women and Living Women Composers Through Collage

This practice-based research project will use a collage-based approach in music composition to explore the history of past women composers and how this continues to frame living women composers and their work. The research builds on initiatives that promote classical repertoire written by women composers – International Alliance of Women in Music, BBC Forgotten Female Composers Scheme, the Donne Big List – whilst also acknowledging the disparity women composers continue to experience. This is seen in Donne’s Global Repertoire Report (2021-2022) which found that only 7.7% of the repertoire surveyed was written by women composers.

Existing feminist creative practice demonstrates how intertextuality can allow contradictions to be explored and new connections to form between texts from different time periods (Hidden Lives, Lane, 1999 and Mordacious Lips, To Dust, Palme, 2015). Furthermore, feminist musicology encourages further questioning of the imagery surrounding the “woman composer” and the ongoing consequences this has for contemporary music-making (Wollenberg, 2020 and Macarthur, 2010). Within my own creative practice, I have engaged with past women composers in order to reclaim role models whose contributions have been under-acknowledged. “Clara”, a choral work exploring pianist-composer Clara Schumann’s own internal conflicts around her compositional capabilities, also uses intertextuality by creating a patchwork libretto from Clara’s diaries, correspondence and work dedications. As such, my project will explore:

1. How can a contemporary music composition practice engage with the history of past women composers?

2. What form of collage-based music theatre compositional aesthetic can be developed, from existing and new technical frameworks, to bring into dialogue the lives and narratives of women composers past and present?

The project will culminate in a music theatre work for voice, chamber ensemble and electronics, applying the principle of collage to primary source text and recordings of music written by past women composers. Specific attention will be given to composers Fanny Hensel (1805 – 1847) and Marie Jaëll (1846 – 1925) who offer first-hand accounts of their ambitions and insecurities regarding composition. Contemporary responses to past women composers from the media will be used such as the negative assessment given by Thompson (“There’s a good reason why there are no great female composers”, The Spectator, 2015). The use of collage will act as a way of finding new meanings within historical documents (Phillips, A Humument, 2016) and will convey the fragmented retelling of women composers’ contributions to the history of classical music. The approach will be evident in a patchwork libretto – created from relevant primary texts – and a sonic collage of recordings of music written by past women composers. The sonic collage will be created through applying a series of electroacoustic composition techniques to the recordings, such as using granular synthesis to create small grains or fragments of the original recordings. Consequently, the project will use a creative practice grounded in collage and music theatre to reframe the experiences and work of the selected women composers whilst also offering a space to reconsider how contemporary classical music relates to the history of women composers.

Research Area

  • Composition
  • Music
  • Music and Society
  • Musical Performance


Autumn 2022, International Alliance of Women in Music Journal: Ruins, Erosion and Sonic Disintegration: Exploring the Narratives of Grandval, Jaëll and Holmès"


  •  2021 - Bangor University's The Third International Conference on Women's Work in Music: "Ruins, Erosion and Sonic Disintegration: Exploring the Narratives of Grandval, Jaëll and Holmès"

  • 2022 - Helsinki Arts, Gender and Musicianship Day: "Ruins, Erosion and Sonic Disintegration: Exploring the Narratives of Grandval, Jaëll and Holmès"

  • Summer 2022, University of Oregon, International Alliance of Women in Music: "Ruins, Erosion and Sonic Disintegration: Exploring the Narratives of Grandval, Jaëll and Holmès"

Public Engagement & Impact


  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: Sounds New Concert, premiere of new work "Strings Bilateral"
  • Suzie Purkis and Flora McNicoll: Warwick Arts Centre Recital, premiere of new work "The Wall" (collaboration with Teresa Howard)


  • Release of contemporary classical/songwriting album "Bargaining" on OddPop Records
  • Composer-Facilitator on Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's Listen Imagine Compose Primary project


  • Arts Council England, Developing Your Creative Practice grant - "Ruins: Sound Art, Voice, Gender" leading to the creation of an online installation "Ruins"


  • Jerwood Artist Bursary exploring the legacy of past women composers and electroacoustic music


  • PRS Women Make Music funded project, The Girl Behind the Glass: music theatre work performed at mac birmingham in partnership with the Rape and Sexual Violence Project

Other Research Interests

Music theatre / Opera / Interdisciplinary collaboration


* Musicians' Union

* International Alliance of Women in Music

* Performing Rights Society