Women Composers: Part II: Women of the 16th Century


We finally get into some opera!  There is such beautiful music here.  The great tragedy is so much of the music composed by these women has been destroyed.

Sulpitia Cesis (1577–after 1619)

Adriana Basile (c. 1580–c. 1640)

Francesca Caccini (1587–1640?)

“…Francesca Caccini wrote some or all of the music for at least sixteen staged works. All but La liberazione di Ruggiero and some excerpts from La Tancia and Il passatempo published in the 1618 collection are believed lost. Her surviving scores reveal Caccini to have taken extraordinary care over the notation of her music, focusing special attention on the rhythmic placement of syllables and words, especially within ornaments, on phrasing as indicated by slurs, and on the precise notation of often very long, melodically fluid vocal melismas. Although her music is not especially notable for the expressive dissonances made fashionable by her contemporary Monteverdi, Caccini was a master of dramatic harmonic surprise: in her music it is harmony, more than counterpoint, that most powerfully communicates affect…”

Caterina Assandra (c. 1590–after 1618)

Way cool! We finally have some opera. Franchesca Caccini was one of the early opera composers, she was the first female composer of a complete opera.

And, to prove the ‘old stuff’ isn’t all that dull….

Alba Trissina (ca.1590 –after 1638)

“…Assandra composed a number of motets and organ pieces, written in German tablature. She studied counterpoint with Benedetto Re, or Reggio, one of the leading teachers at Pavia Cathedral, who dedicated a piece to her in 1607. Re may have been an exiled German Catholic. Assandra’s musical talents were noted by the publisher Lomazzo early in her career, in his dedication of the works of Giovanni Paolo Cima. She composed many works during the first half of the 17th century, including Promptuarium Musicum and Siren Colestis. In 1609, Assandra took vows and entered the Benedictine monastery of Saint Agata in Lomello, in the Lombard region of northern Italy. She adopted “Agata” as her religious name and continued composing, including a collection of motets in the new concertato style in Milan in 1609, an imitative eight-voice Salve Regina in 1611, and a motet, Audite verbum Dominum, for four voices in 1618. After entering the convent, Assandra published no new books of music. Caterina Assandra was the first Italian nun to have an entire collection of musical works published, following Raffaella Aleotti…”

Lucrezia Orsina Vizzana (1590–1662)

Alba Trissina (ca.1590 –after 1638

Lucrezia Orsina Vizzana (1590–1662)  A nun, she was required to retire from music due to mental instability!

“…Vizzana’s motets were published in Componimenti musicali de motetti concertati a l e più voci in 1623. They are mostly duets and solos with continuo and feature other characteristics of the stile moderno. Furthermore, many convents used motets for double choir as a way of exploiting the musical gifts of the nuns in reaction to the decree from the Council of Trent that nuns must be confined within a convent. Vizzana’s O invictissima Christi martir is an example of this. This piece along with Sonet vox tua in auribus cordis mei; Usquequo oblivisceris me in finem; O magnum mysterium; Ornaverunt faciem templi; Domine Dominus noster, quam admirabile; and Protector noster can all be found in Martha Furman Schleifer and Sylvia Glickman’s Women Composers: Music through the Ages. However, Vizzana’s music also reflects a much older practice of female spirituality stretching back to the later Middle Ages as opposed to the new post-Tridentine religious traditions for women. Most of her motets were created for feast days, reflecting many liturgical, artistic, and devotional moments in convent life. However, other motets allude to the inner strife in the convent and its decline from 1620 onward.

In 1622, an anonymous letter was sent to the Cardinal Archbishop Ludovico Ludovisi in Rome reporting many scandals and issues in the convent, especially the issue of conflict within the convent. These allegations were followed by a long investigation of the convent that caused much inner strife amongst the nuns. It was revealed that much of the inquietude and rivalries amongst the nuns resulted from the musical life of the convent. It is often believed that the stress of the turmoil lead to Vizzana’s early retirement from music and mental instability.…”

Settimia Caccini (1591–1638?)

“…a well-known Italian singer and composer during the 1600s being one of the first women to have a successful career in music. Caccini was highly regarded for her artistic and technical work with music. She came from a family of well-known composers and singers, with her father being Giulio Caccini and her sister Francesca Caccini. Caccini was less well-known because she never published any of her own music composed pieces of music. Instead she was known much more for her talent as a singer, who sang for nobility across Italy. It is thought that she did compose her own music but instead of publishing and releasing it to be performed instead she kept it for herself to perform in private. One of her pieces was eventually published posthumously. Coming from a musical family, she was able to lead herself to her own fame and success….”

Claudia Rusca (1593–1676)

“…She was a nun at the Umiliate monastery of St. Caterina in Brera. She learned music at home, before she professed her final vows at the convent. She probably wrote her Sacri concerti à 1–5 con salmi e canzoni francesi (Milan, 1630) for use in the monastery and similar female institutions. The only known copy was destroyed in a fire at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in 1943….”