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Topic Thursday

The Woman Behind Chopsticks

Today’s Topic Thursday is about one of the most well-known piano pieces of all time. No, I’m not talking about Claire de lune or Moonlight Sonata. I’m talking about Chopsticks.

If you ever had a music class in school, you probably tried this easy ditty out, and if you had a piano at home, you likely drove your parents mad by playing it over and over.

But… did you know Chopsticks was written by a woman? Although it was published under a male pseudonym, Euphemia Allen, a Glaswegian, wrote “The Chop Waltz” as a 16-year-old.

Euphemia Allen

Euphemia Amelia Nightingale Allen was born in 1861 in Glasgow to a musical family. Her father was a highly regarded dance instructor and her brother, Mozart Allen, went on to become a music publisher.

In 1877, Euphemia composed “The Chop Waltz”, at the tender age of 16. She published two versions to allow for solo playing or a duet. It earned the title chopsticks because she instructed players to hit the keys with a chopping motion.

Euphemia went on to become a piano teacher and a music publisher, but never published another piece of her own.

Popularity

Chopsticks is probably one of the most widely known piano pieces. I had no idea who it was by, let alone that a woman wrote it, until a few weeks ago. It’s been featured in other composers’ works, movies, TV shows, and pop music. From Sesame Street to Bugs Bunny, Chopsticks is everywhere.

Next time you hear someone say “but if women wrote good music, it’d be well-known” send them a recording of Chopsticks.

By lisanewillsmith_soprano

American soprano Lisa Newill-Smith’s Despina was described by the Hastings Observer as “one of the must subtle performances I can recall, splendidly sung and totally alive to the text.” 2019/2020 highlights included a role debut as Servilia. In 2020, she transitioned to lyric soprano, studying roles like Ilia, Infantin, Marguerite, and Giulietta. In previous seasons, she has sung Despina, Echo (Ariadne auf Naxos), Gretel, Hélène (Hin und Zurück), Prima Ancella (Medea), Josephine (H.M.S. Pinafore) and Wanda (La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein). Lisa has performed in two world premieres, and is an advocate for the performance of classical music written by women. She has been a finalist in the Iuventas Canti Competition, Chicago Oratorio Award and the Opera Classica Europa competition.

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