The formidable Dame Ethel Smyth was 72 and increasingly deaf when she led the first performance of her only symphony and final major work The Prison at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in 1931. Undoubtedly a personal work for the suffragette – Smyth herself had served time in 1912 after throwing stones at the window of the Colonial Secretary’s home protesting his opposition to women’s suffrage – it is a sweeping symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus, and orchestra.

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Inspired by a close friend’s work of fiction, Henry Bennet Brewster’s 1891 The Prison: A Dialogue , it dispenses with the musings of four friends to home in on the conversation between an innocent prisoner awaiting execution and his soul, who offers him the possibility of...

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