Emili Rackemann Women Composers...they were all forgotten


Emili Rackemann
Raised on a remote cattle station in the Australian outback, Emili Rackemann’s deep affiliation with the land and its unforgiving lifestyle may be contradictory to what defines a traditional composer, however, creatively her mind continues to challenge the predictability of piano performance and its austere within.According to the past mantra of the day, rural life was once no place for a lady, although Emili’s love for her home never failed in providing her with a bold heart and inquisitive mind, which would soon prepare her for a career in the world of music composition and performance.A petite, sweet-faced young girl with brown eyes and great vivacity, Emili was constantly surprising local stockmen with her bold, sturdy character and a willingness to please. At the age of six she was handed the steering wheel of an old Land Rover and given the responsibility of checking watering points, patrolling gullies and drought-stricken dams for bogged cows. Early mornings and long days on horseback barely phased her inquisitive nature, as it was upon sunrise where Emili immersed herself among ‘all things beautiful’ while riding out on another cattle muster.Although Emili’s family was steeped in the rich landscape of the outback, musicwas equally loved and explored within the four walls of her great grandmother’sironbark slab hut and their Queenslander home nearby. While her father countedhow many steers were drafted from ‘Sunnyside’ paddock, Emili’s nights werespent propped up in bed under the soft light of her Nan’s kerosene lantern,writing short stories in her father’s old diary. In the midst of property demands,Emili often sat at her piano and produced simple melodies for her family to enjoybefore going to bed. These songs helped everyone ready for yet another busy day.Little did she know this was the emergence of her raw talent.

Emili's curiosity for the finer details life offered propelled her to question ancient history and human evolution. From the Egyptian pyramids to the untold truths of Australian Aboriginal history, Emili wanted to delve deeper than one would expect of a young child. Her love of animals, quartz crystals and native history would soon guide her into a gracious transition of composing delicate although very powerful music; pieces that encourage listeners to contemplate, forage and observe their own perceptions of reality through sound, fashion, and visual art.

In 1999, Emili decided to pursue performance studies at the Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane Australia, although feeling less than impressed with the structure of formal music education, her search for creative freedom propelled her into revisiting her roots. ‘Music became my cubby house. I wanted to be on my own, without interruption or influence’ she says.

It wasn’t until 10 years later Emili was encouraged to record her first album titled Frunchroom, which would soon set in motion another six future album releases while residing in Melbourne Australia. In 2012, Emili embarked on her first of three Australian tours, successfully selling out in major cities and regional community venues. In 2013,  she travelled to the United States where she was invited to perform a series of intimate recitals hosted by Access Contemporary Music in Chicago, followed by a guest performance in the Berkshires of Massachusetts where her musical ancestors once resided.

It is fair to say Emili’s uncommon desire for living two diverse lifestyles stemmed from the uniting of her parent’s culturally opposite upbringings. With her grandfather’s playing important roles as private secretary for Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies and later Chairman of Australia Post; and police detective and Superintendent of police in Papua New Guinea on her father’s side, Emili was fortunate to be surrounded by both the simplicity of the land and the unique affluence of Canberra’s lifestyle with frequent visits to Australia’s Capital Territory to visit her grandparents. It was here in Canberra where Emili’s mother spent her young life singing at various venues and theatre productions, which would later inspire Emili’s father to join her mother in weekly singing lessons and mass choir under the leadership of well renown mass choir conductor, Mansel Jones (AO).Although Emili’s father ceased music studies due to the demands of property labor upon settling to Australia, he often spoke of his musical experiences during his childhood in Papua New Guinea, where he revelled midst the native culture, speaking their language and enjoying the native tribal “sing-sings” of dancing and drumming celebrations. It was over these years he too was taught piano, and would play of an evening as did Emili as a young girl.

Emili’s innate being as a pianist may also be explained by the very explicit history of her ancestors’ expertise, naming Professor Frederic Rackemann and brother Ludwig of Germany, who were highly renowned for their exquisite performances in the United States and Germany during the mid-nineteenth century. In 1839, pianist Ludwig Rackemann was one of the first German pianists to tour America, causing a sensation performing works by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. In 1842, Ludwig's brother Frederic was also captivating European audiences, playing triple concertos with Felix Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann. Critic Henry Watson observed Frederic's "great power and stretch of finger" and declared that the 21-year-old eclipsed all other New York pianists, including his brother. Escaping the notoriety of a public feud with rival Robert Schumann, Ludwig Rackemann emigrated to the U.S. in 1839. He had supported Clara Wieck's (Schumann) father in his legal effort to stop the teenaged Clara from marrying the charismatic Schumann.

When their mother died in Bremen in 1842, younger brother Frederic joined Ludwig in New York; and befriended by the well-respected critic and feminist Margaret Fuller at the time, Rackemann often performed by invitation in New York and Boston at private concerts aside from his touring schedule in America and Germany. During this time, he was also introduced to the well-respected Sedgwick and Haggerty families of Massachusetts and was soon drawn to settle in the beautiful town of Lenox, later marrying Elizabeth Sedgwick in 1855. Rackemann taught piano in New York City during the winters and Lenox during summers although still continued traveling abroad on tour throughout the year.

Upon cementing his ties to Lenox, he embarked on several building projects, The Brook Farm Inn being one of three which hosted Transcendental summer camps organized by Margaret Fuller and Frederic Rackemann. With famous guests such as philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, American author and poet William George Curtis, and Margaret Fuller herself, the enterprise was considered an ‘unspeakable folly’ by the conservative circle of Boston, as in Boston a very large part of the leaders of society in every way were Unitarians, Unitarian conservatism was peremptory and austere.

With Emili’s passion to retrace the steps of her long-lost ancestors, in 2013 she travelled to Massachusetts where she performed at the Venfort Mansion in Lenox, hosted by author and historian Cornelia Gilder. Fortunate to stay at Frederic Rackemann’s Brook Farm Inn, Emili found herself immersed in the beauty of the Poet’s Room for an extended period of time where she wrote stories and composed seven compositions towards her contemporary album titled One, including Faces of Lenox, a simple and delicate work which portrays the history of her ancestors and Lenox itself.

‘When I arrived at the Poet’s Room, a huge wave of emotion enveloped me. The pristine view of native trees outside my window drew me in, encouraging me to contemplate, meditate and journal my thoughts. To sit in a room with so much history following a performance on the famous Carl Jung’s Bösendorfer piano can only be described as ‘beautiful’, Emili says.
Emili prefers to speak of herself as a composer of “aural tapestry” rather than one specific genre. With her ability to harness one’s emotions, Emili is no doubt the hidden gem of story-telling. Stories as eclectic as cultural history, spirituality, enchantment and childhood fuel her creativity to further explore the piano’s diversity of sound. ‘When I compose I feel I am a conduit between spoken word and music. When there is a story to tell, musical genres become irrelevant’ she says.

From fictional stories to the truths of European history, Emili undoubtedly has struck a chord through capturing the essence of what it means to be a composer. ‘The stories I compose to can be quite simple, such as “Lolli Water.” My father said when he was growing up the town of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, soft drink was named Lolli Water; so I decided to compose a piece of music to reflect the joy my father felt when he was allowed to drink Lolli Water on the rare occasion at a Sunday family tennis match.’

Emili is also inspired by the Aboriginal people she grew up around. “Another piece I feel a deep connection to is my piece, “Utopia Cry” which was inspired by the Australian documentary Utopia, presented by John Pilger. This work reflects the dysfunction and unspoken sadness in many remote Aboriginal communities. “I understand how destructive our Western culture has been within these beautiful families and feel it deserves to be acknowledged through music.”

Bold and incredibly heart driven, Emili’s deep compassion for the animal kingdom has also influenced her music.  Her love for animals is beautifully captured in the contemporary work titled “The Soldier’s Horse.” ‘We grieve for so many people who were killed in war, but we tend to forget the strength of these powerful animals, what they endured throughout both World Wars. This piece is about a soldier who rests beside his horse in the final moments on the battlefield. Both severely wounded, the warmth of his horse settles his mind, allowing him to reminisce about his life before passing away’ Emili once wrote.

Not only does her devotedness towards animal welfare show through her music but also through acts of kindness. Rackemann contributes a portion of her performance sales to Animals Australia, an internationally renowned organization which is constantly moving forward to make the world a kinder place. “Ultimately we all want to be kind; a lack of kindness only reflects in one who is desensitized by conditioning’ Rackemann says.

The World of Women Composers Emili finds herself in an era where women are gradually carving their way into formal recognition in the world of music composition. With a deep desire to bring women composers into the limelight, Rackemann is dedicated to contributing her creative journey towards giving Australian women a voice in the world of composition. “I am not a feminist, nor do I believe in feminism. Everything needs to embrace equilibrium in order to be in sync with the laws of the universe. Women composers are rightly included’ Rackemann says.

Recently establishing her teaching school in 2015, Emili currently resides in the breathtaking foothills of the Australian Alpine Region where she composes her future album releases and teaches over forty students composition and classical piano.