Anna Priscilla Risher

Composer, Painter, Founder of Hollywood Women's Symphony, Pioneering Music Feminist

Anna Priscilla Risher was a composer of classical music, a painter, and a pioneer in music by women. She established several musical organizations including the Hollywood Women’s Symphony.  She composed 350 pieces and her music was popular in the early 20th century. She was one of the most published composers in the popular music magazine “Etude”.  Her music has been recently recorded by the Rawlings Piano Trio on their “American Discoveries” CD and by Laura Kobayashi on her CD “Feminissimo! Women Playing Music by Women".   Pandora Radio includes her compositions in their play list classifying them as similar to Fritz Kreisler, Pauline Viardot, and Jean Sibelius.  A skilled artist her landscape and coastal paintings are highly valued today.

Anna Priscilla Risher was born in Dravosburgh, Pennsylvania in 1875.  She studied music at the Pennsylvania College for Women in Pittsburgh and then at the New England Conservatory of Music.  She studied with several of the leading musical luminaries of her period including Pittsburgher A.M. Foerster, Carl Stasny, G.W. Chadwick and Leo Schultz.  She studied composition and was an accomplished pianist, organist, cellist, violinist, and vocalist.  Her sister Nell, was also an accomplished musician who studied at New England Conservatory.

After completing her studies, Anna returned to Pittsburgh where she worked as a church organist, and music teacher.  She served as organist for the East Liberty Presbyterian Church and Bethany Lutheran Church.  One of her music pupils and friend was composer Charles Wakefield Cadmon.

In the 1918, the Risher family moved to Southern California.  Anna became the Director of Music at the Cumnock School for Girls in Los Angeles.  She left the school after four years moving to Laguna Beach to devote her time to musical composition.  At the time Laguna Beach was a town of 300 people of who almost half were artists.  She composed, taught music, and served as organist and Director of Music at Saint James Episcopal Church. She also began painting in Laguna Beach.  Anna published her compositions in “The Etude” a popular music magazine published by Pittsburgher Theodore Presser.  She also published several pedagogical piano technique books.  Her 350 compositions include works for violin and piano, choral works, and a large scale orchestral works including a concerto for piano and orchestra.

Risher organized several musical ensembles and two orchestras in California. The first was the Anna Risher String Quartet.  In 1933 she organized fifty female musicians to form the Hollywood Woman’s Symphony Orchestra,  She also formed and conducted the Laguna Beach Little Symphony Orchestra and was the program chairman of the Society for the Advancement of American Music.  She died in Los Angeles on August 29, 1946.

The website Parlor Songs praised Anna Riser for her talent and dedication to music. They describe her music as:  “Music that is deep with meaning, masterful in its composition and beautiful in its melodic expression. Her music shows good humor, lyrical grace and artistic genius. Her contributions to women's rights within the music community and her development of community ensembles and orchestras go far beyond that of many other composers who seem to be adored.”

Anne in her Music Room

Italian Village Painting by Risher