Saturday, September 21, 2013

Heroine of the Weekend: Francesca Caccini

To get back to our Heroine of the Weekend posts (where I get to take a look at some well-known and less well-known women in history who I admire in one way or another!) we're going to turn to Baroque Florence and meet composer/singer/musician/teacher Francesca Caccini, called "La Cecchina," who was born September 18, 1587!  Her opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero, is generally considered to be the first opera composed by a woman...

Caccini's musical career was no surprise.  Her father, Guilio, was a musician, and her mother Lucia (who died when Francesca was quite young) was a singer, as was her stepmother Margherita and her brother and sister.  She was well-educated, not only in music, but in languages (including Greek and Latin), math, and philosophy.  It prepared her for a life at court.  Her first appearance in public was in France in 1600, at the marriage of Henri IV and Marie de Medici (Francesca's father composed some of the music for the occasion).  King Henri declared her to be "the best singer in all of France!" and tried to get her to stay in his service, but she returned to Florence and built a career serving the Medici.  She worked there as a chamber singer, composer of works for special occasions, and teacher.  By 1614, she was the most highly paid musician at court.  La liberazione...was composed for the visit of Polish prince Ladislaus in 1626 (he liked it so much he had it performed in Warsaw 2 years later!)

She was very well-known throughout Europe, and admired by other musicians.  Monteverdi wrote in 1610, "I heard, in Florence, the daughter of GR sing very well and play the lute, the guitar, and the harpsichord."

She married a fellow musician Giovanni Signori in 1614, and had one daughter with him, Margherita, in 1622.  After his death in 1626, she married nobleman Tommaso Raffaeli and moved with him to Lucchese, mostly retiring from her musical career.  They had one son, but he died in 1630 and she returned to Florence to teach the Medici princesses and perform at smaller occasions.  She left their court in 1641 and was soon lost to public record (it's thought she died sometime before 1645).

Sadly, most of her work is now lost, except for the opera and a few works from her famous cycle of 36 songs in various styles (laments, sacred hymns, love songs, dances).

For more info on her life:
--Kelley Harness, Echoes of Women's Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence (2006)
--Carolyn Raney, "Francesca Caccini" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980)
--Suzanne G. Cusick, Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court (2009)

For more in-depth info on her music, the Bright Cecilia site has some good stuff...

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