Emilie Mayer

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Lithograph of Mayer based on a drawing by Pauline Suhrlandt

Emilie Luise Friderica Mayer (14 May 1812,[note 1] Friedland, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – 10 April 1883, Berlin) was a German composer of Romantic music.[1] Although Emilie Mayer began her serious compositional study relatively late in life, she was a very prolific composer, eventually producing some 8 symphonies and at least 15 concert overtures, as well as numerous chamber works and lieder.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Emilie Mayer was the third of five children and eldest daughter of wealthy pharmacist, Johann August Friedrich Mayer, and wife Henrietta Carolina. Her mother died when Emelie was two years old.[3] When she was five, she received a grand piano and was given music lessons. Seemingly destined for a domestic life, at the age of 28 her circumstances changed when her father committed suicide, leaving Mayer with a large inheritance.[4]

In 1841, she moved to the regional capital city of Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) and sought to study composition with Carl Loewe, a central figure in the musical life of the city.[3][5] The German writer Marie Silling claims that Loewe, after auditoning her, claimed "You actually know nothing and everything at the same time! I shall be the gardener who grows your talent from a bud to a beautiful flower"[6]

Emilie Mayer

In 1847, after the premiere of her first two symphonies (C minor and E minor) by the Stettin Instrumental Society, and with the urging of her tutor, she moved to Berlin to continue her compositional studies.[7] Once in Berlin, she studied fugue and double counterpoint with Adolph Bernhard Marx,[7] and instrumentation with Wilhelm Wieprecht.

She began publishing her works (e.g. Lieder and Chants, op. 5-7, in 1848) and performing in private concerts. Then, on 21 April 1850, Wieprecht led his "Euterpe" orchestra in a concert at the Royal Theatre exclusively presenting compositions by Mayer, including a concert overture, string quartet, a setting of Psalm 118 for chorus and orchestra, two symphonies and some piano solos. Shortly after this, she was awarded the gold medal of art from the Queen of Prussia, Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria.[8] With critical and popular acclaim, she continued composing works for public performance. She traveled to attend performances of her works, including to Cologne, Munich, Lyon, Brussels and Vienna. As Mayer's instrumental works were being increasingly performed and her fame grew, she was appointed co-director of the Berlin Opera.[9] Even so, she was often forced to meet the costs involved herself. While her male counterparts would often receive an honorarium from their publishers, Mayer still had to pay for publication of her works.[10]

After Carl Loewe died in 1869 the Loewe society was formed. Mayer dedicated two of her cello sonatas to members of the society and their families. Her Op. 47 is dedicated to the Baron von Seckendorff from Stargard, and her Op. 40 is dedicated to the sister of composer Martin Plüddemann [de] from Kolberg.

The composer's grave at the Holy Trinity Church, Berlin

In 1876, Mayer returned to Berlin where her music was still frequently performed. Mayer’s new Faust Overture was successful and she re-established herself as a significant figure in the city’s cultural circles.[11] She died on 10 April 1883 in Berlin and was buried at the Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof I at the Holy Trinity Church not far from Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.[12]

Compositional style[edit]

Emilie Mayer was initially influenced by the Vienna classic style, whilst her later works were more Romantic. Mayer's harmonies are characterized by sudden shifts in tonality and the frequent use of seventh chords, with the diminished seventh allowing Mayer to reach a variety of resolutions.[13] One defining characteristic of Mayer's music is a tendency to set up a tonal centre with a dominant seventh, but not resolving to the tonic immediately; sometimes, resolution is skipped altogether. Her rhythms are often very complex, with several layers interacting at once. The first movements of her works usually follow a sonata-allegro form.[3]


Mayer's chamber music output was extensive, including many works for piano and seven string quartets. She wrote a piano concerto, fifteen overtures[14] and eight symphonies, as well as an opera.[2][14]


  • Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Emilie Mayer, M. Laura Lombardini Sirmen: String Quartets (CPO, 2000). String Quartet in G minor, op. 14. Performed by: Erato Quartett Basel.[15]
  • Fanny Hensel, Emilie Mayer, Luise Adolpha LeBeau (Dreyer Gaido, 2003). Symphony No. 5 in F minor. Performed by: Kammersymphonie Berlin, Jürgen Bruns (conductor).[16]
  • Mayer: Violin Sonatas (Feminae Records, 2012): Sonata in E minor for Violin and Piano, op. 19 – Sonata in E-flat Major for Violin and Piano – Sonata in A minor for Violin and Piano, op. 18. Performed by: Aleksandra Maslovaric (violin), Anne-Lise Longuemare (piano).[17][18]
  • Emilie Mayer (Capriccio, 2018). Symphony no. 4 in B minor – Piano Concerto in B flat major – String Quartet in G minor – Piano Sonata in D minor – Tonwellen. Valse – Maricia in A major. Performed by: Ewa Lupiec, Yang Tai (piano), Klenke Quartett, Neubrandenburger Philharmonie, Stefan Malzew, Sebastian Tewinkel (conductors).[19]
  • Emilie Mayer (CPO, 2020). Symphony No. 1 in C minor - Symphony No. 2 in E minor. Performed by NDR Radiophilharmonie conducted by Leo McFall.
  • Emile Mayer (Hänssler Classic, 2021). Symphony No. 3 in C major - Symphony No. 6 in E major. Performed by Philharmonisches Orchester Bremerhaven, conducted by Marc Niemann.
  • Emilie Mayer: Piano Trios, Notturno (CPO, 2017): Piano Trios, Op. 13 and 16; Notturno for Violin & Piano, Op. 48. Performed by: Trio Vivente.
  • BBC Radio 3 broadcast five hours of Mayer's music from 29 November to 3 December 2021 as Composer of the Week.[20] These are available as downloads on BBC Sounds and as podcasts.[21]


  • Martha Furman Schleifer, Linda Plaut: “Emilie Mayer (1812–1883)“. In: Women Composers. Music through the Ages. Volume 8, Composers born 1800–1899: Large and Small Instrumental Ensembles, ed. by Sylvia Glickman (= Women Composers 8). Detroit, Mich. 2006, 131–136.
  • Eva Rieger: “Emilie Mayer”. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Woman Composers, ed. by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel, London 1994, 321.


  1. ^ Sources variously give Mayer's date of birth as 1812 (as in the references and external links below) or 1821 (e.g. Grove). It is possible that a transcription error was made by an early writer or typesetter and that, as often happens, the error was copied by subsequent authors. As her mother died in 1814, it is Grove that is in error (see discussion page).


  1. ^ "Klassika: Emilie Mayer (1812-1883): Lebenslauf". www.klassika.info. 22 July 2005. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Die Komponistin Emilie Mayer (1812-1883), Studien zu Leben und Werk, by Almut Runge-Woll ISBN 9783631512203
  3. ^ a b c "Get to Know Composer Emilie Mayer". Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. 12 May 2022. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  4. ^ "Composer of the Week: Emilie Mayer". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  5. ^ "Emilie MAYER - Dictionnaire créatrices". www.dictionnaire-creatrices.com. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  6. ^ Marie Silling: Jugenderinnerungen einer Stettiner Kaufmannstochter, Greifswald 1921.
  7. ^ a b Heinz-Mathias Neuwirth: Emilie Mayer. In: Beatrix Borchard (Ed.): Musikvermittlung und Genderforschung. Lexikon und multimediale Präsentationen. (tr. "Music education and gender research. Lexicon and multimedia presentations") Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, 2003 ff. (Date July 2012); accessed 9 May 2021.
  8. ^ "Mayer, Emilie (1821–1883)". encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  9. ^ "Mayer, Emilie (1821–1883)". encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  10. ^ "Composer of the Week: Emilie Mayer". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  11. ^ "Composer of the Week: Emilie Mayer". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  12. ^ "Composer of the Week: Emilie Mayer". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  13. ^ "A Celebration of Female Composers: Emilie Mayer". Harmony Sinfonia Orchestra. 8 February 2019. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  14. ^ a b "Kammerkonzert Klaviertrio Hannover mit Emilie Mayer-Trios". NDR.de (in German). 25 November 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: Streichquartett Es-Dur (CD)". JPC, www.jpc.de. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  16. ^ "Female composers' works Fanny Hensel, Emilie Mayer, Luise Adolpha LeBeau". www.dreyer-gaido.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  17. ^ "Mayer: Violin Sonatas – Aleksandra Maslovaric". aleksandramaslovaric.com. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  18. ^ "Mayer: Violin Sonatas". Feminae Records, www.feminaerecords.com. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  19. ^ "Emilie Mayer (1812-1883) |". Capriccio, capriccio.at. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  20. ^ Composer of the Week BBC Radio 3, Retrieved 3 December 2021
  21. ^ Radio Times 27 Nov - 3 Dec 2021

External links[edit]