Plectra Ensemble    Women's plucked ensemble  

   _______Plectra      ______Repertory    ______Concerts    ______Gallery    ______Composers    ______Links  ______Contacts





Maddalena Casulana (ca. 1540 - ca. 1590)

"Signora Maddalena, poi che siete nel cantar così rara, anzi divina, il liuto prendete…"
(A. Molino, Ricordo di Maddalena Casulana de Mezarii)

Italian composer. The first woman to publish her music, and the first to consider herself a professional composer. She received her early training at her birthplace of Casola d'Elsa, near Siena, and later in Florence. In 1583, Scotto published her First Book of Madrigals for Four Voices, and it was about this time she moved to Venice, where she gave private instruction. She is recorded as having played the lute for a private entertainment in Vicenzia. Thereafter she possibly moved to Milan, because her Second Book of Madrigals for Four Voices (Venice: Girolamo Scotto, 1570) is dedicated to a Milanese government official. Apparently she married, for the title page of the reprinted First Book of Madrigals for Four Voices (Ferrara: Angelo Gardano, 1583) refers to her as Maddalena Mezari detta Casulana. Her last known madrigal, a piece for three voices, appeared in a collection now known only in its second edition: Il Gaudio (Venice: Erede di Girolamo Scotto, 1586). After that, nothing more is known of her life.

Her style is moderately contrapuntal and chromatic, reminiscent of some of the early work by Marenzio as well as many madrigals by Philippe de Monte, but avoids the extreme experimentation of the Ferrara school composers such as Luzzaschi and Gesualdo. Her melodic lines are singable and carefully attentive to the text. Other composers of the time, such as Philippe de Monte, thought highly of her; that Lassus conducted a work of hers at a wedding in Bavaria suggests that he also was impressed with her ability. A total of 66 madrigals by Casulana have survived.[1]


[1] - Article on Maddalena Casulana, by Beatrice Pescerelli, in Historical Anthology of Music by Women. James R. Briscoe, ed. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1986.  

- Article "Maddalena Casulana", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980.  




(b ?Pavia, c1590; d Lomello, after 1618). Italian composer and nun. Assandra alluded to Pavia as her birthplace in the dedication of her surviving motet book, Motetti à due, & tre voci, op.2 (Milan, 16093, 1 ed. in Bowers, 1996), which is dedicated to G.B. Biglia, the Bishop of Pavia. Her musical talents were noted early by the publisher Lomazzo in the dedication to G.P. Cima’s Partito de ricercari, e canzoni alla francese (RISM 160615). She received instruction from the German Catholic exile Benedetto Re (or Reggio), maestro at Pavia Cathedral, who dedicated a piece to her in 1607. Her op.1 (probably before 1608) is lost, but two motets, Ave verum corpus and Ego flos campi, which survive untexted in a German organ tablature, are probably from that volume (D-Rtt; ed. C. Johnson: Organ music by Women Composers before 1800, Pullman, WA, 1993). According to her 1609 dedication to Biglia, she took vows, in an ancient but isolated rural Benedictine monastery, shortly after the volume’s publication (taking ‘Agata’ as her religious name). She seems to have continued to compose after her profession: an imitative eight-voice Salve regina appeared in Re’s Vespers collection of 1611, and a motet, Audite verbum Dominum, for four voices was included in his motet book of 1618.

Borsieri characterized Assandra’s motets as among the first in the Roman style to be published in Milan; he must have heard in her music the influence of Agazzari, whose small-scale works had recently been published in the city. The 18 small-scale motets (plus two works by Re) include both highly traditional pieces (e.g. O salutaris hostia, a reduction for two voices and two instruments of a simple double-choir motet) and more innovatory works. Among the latter is Duo seraphim (ed. B.G. Jackson, Fayetteville, AK, 1990), in which a change in modus reflects the Apocalyptic text; some of the features of this piece anticipate Monteverdi’s setting of the same text in 1610.[1]


[1]  - C. Gianturco: ‘Caterina Assandra, suora compositrice’, La musica sacra in Lombardia nella prima metà del Seicento: Como 1985, 117–27

- J. Bowers: ‘The Emergence of Women Composers in Italy, 1566–1700’, Women Making Music: the Western Art Tradition, 1150–1959, ed. J. Bowers and J. Tick (Urbana, 1986), 116–67

- J. Bowers: ‘Caterina Assandra’, Women Composers: Music through the Ages, ed. S. Glickman and M.F. Schleifer, i (New York, 1996), 330–40 [incl. edn of O dulcis amor Jesu]

- R.L. Kendrick: Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Milan (Oxford, 1996)



JANE PICKERING  (ca 1616 )

Jane Pickering, about whom nothing is known, was a cultivated gentlewoman who preferred and had access to lute music of an older generation, which she collected and recorded for her and her family’s private use.[1]

[1] Matthew Spring, The lute in Britain: a history of the instrument and its music  Oxford University Press 2001

* Picture: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio Suonatore di liuto, 1595, Ermitage di San Pietroburgo






What little is known about Barbara Strozzi (also known as Barbara Valle) suffices to make her an extremely intriguing figure.  Perhaps the most outstanding female composer of the seventeenth century, Strozzi studied under respected musicians and published eight collections of her music.   Born in 1619 to a servant, Isabella Garzoni, Barbara Strozzi was adopted by Isabella’s master, who may also have been the father of the baby.  That master, Giulio Strozzi, was a well-known Venetian intellectual who had young Barbara trained as a musician.
Strozzi studied music with the singer and opera composer Francesco Cavalli.  Other musicians knew of her talents as well.  Nicolò Fontei dedicated two books of solo songs to her, the first when she was only sixteen years old.
In 1637, her adoptive father founded an academy, the Accademia degli Unisoni (Academy of the Unisons).  As the name suggests, the academy was devoted mainly to music, and Barbara seems to have been the center of attention.  She not only sang at the academy meetings but also proposed topics for the other members to discuss.
Strozzi never married, but she had four illegitimate children, all born in the early 1640s.  Her two sons were Giulio Pietro and Massimo.  Her daughters were Isabella and Laura.  Their father was probably Giovanni Paolo Vidman, to whom Giulio Strozzi dedicated his opera librettos La finta pazza and La finta savia.  This hypothesis is based partly on the fact that members of the Vidman family, including Giovanni Paolo, left money to the children in their wills.  In addition, Giovanni Paolo Vidman’s widow paid for the Strozzi girls to enter a convent in 1656.  A source dating from after Strozzi’s death says that Vidman raped Strozzi, but this may merely have been a story circulated to preserve Strozzi’s propriety.
Strozzi published her first compositions in 1644.  These were madrigals that set poems by her father.  The remainder of her eight published collections appeared after Giulio Strozzi died in 1652.  He had little to leave her, and she may have been motivated to publish partly by financial necessity.
One of Strozzi’s published works, Opus 4, is missing.  The rest are dedicated to various royal or noble patrons, including the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Ferdinand II of Austria and Eleanora of Mantua, and Nicolò Sagredo (a future doge of Venice).  It is not known how Strozzi came into contact with most of her patrons, since only Sagredo was a Venetian.  Other musicians from Venice rarely dedicated works to non-Venetian patrons.
Most of Strozzi’s compositions, apart from the madrigals mentioned earlier and some sacred motets for solo voice, are secular works for soprano and continuo (described variously as “aria,” “arietta,” or “cantata.”  She probably sang the works herself, and many contain references to her name.  At least one source calls Strozzi a poet, and about half the texts she set are anonymous, but there is no other indication as to whether she set her own poetry.
Little else has been discovered about Strozzi’s life.  She was still in Venice as of May 8, 1677, but, for some unknown reason, went to Padua shortly thereafter.  In Padua, after an illness of at least a month’s duration, she died on November 1677.


[1] Glixon, Beth L.  “More on the Life and Death of Barbara Strozzi.”  The Musical Quarterly 83 (1999): 134-41.
Glixon, Beth L.  “New Light on the Life and Career of Barbara Strozzi.”  The Musical Quarterly 81 (1997): 311-55.
Rosand, Ellen and Beth L. Glixon: ‘Strozzi, Barbara’,  Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy   <>
Rosand, Ellen.  “Barbara Strozzi, virtuosissima cantatrice: The Composer’s Voice.”  Journal of the American Musicological Society 31 (1978): 241




ANTONIA BEMBO  (1640 -1715)


One of the most fascinating figures of seventeenth-century music, composer and singer Antonia Padoani Bembo (c.1640–c.1720) was active in both Venice and Paris. Her workprovides a unique cross-cultural window into the rich musical cultures of these cities, yet owing to her clandestine existence in France, for almost three centuries Bembo’s life was shrouded in mystery. In this first-ever biography, Claire Fontijn unveils the enthralling and surprising story of a remarkable woman who moved in the musical, literary, and artistic circles of these European cultural centers.

Rebuffed in the attempt to divorce her abusive husband, Bembo fled to Paris, leaving her children in Venice. Joining ranks with composers glorifying Louis XIV, her song charmed the Sun King and won over his court’s sympathy to the cause of women. She obtained his sponsorship to live in a semi-cloistered community in Paris, where she wrote music for the spiritual and worldly needs of the royal family. Offering fine examples of sacred and secular vocal repertory for chamber settings and large ensembles, Bembo’s oeuvre reveals her preoccupation with female agency through dynamic portrayals of such powerful figures as the Virgin Mary and the Duchess of Burgundy. The genres in which she worked—love song, opera, motet, cantata, trio sonata, and air—testify to the magic of her voice and to her place alongside Strozzi, Jacquet de La Guerre, and other major women composers of her time.[1]


[1] Claire Fontijn Desperate measures:The Life and Music of Antonia Padoani Bembo Oxford University Press, 2006





The French composer Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre achieved recog­nition at an early age as a harpsichord virtuoso, celebrated for her improvisations. She attracted the notice of Louis XIV, enjoyed his continued protection, and dedicated most of her compositions to him. Her early education was closely supervised by Mme. de Montespan, the king's mistress.  

Elisabeth was de­scended from a noted family of harpsichord builders and musicians and in 1684 married the Parisian organist Marin de la Guerre. Their only son, said to be a prodigy like his mother, died at the age of ten. Marin de la Guerre died in 1704, and thereafter Elisabeth remained active as a public performer until her retirement in 1717. At the time of her death in 1729, she was still remembered and esteemed as an important public figure.

Jacquet de la Guerre wrote and published works in almost every form popular in France in her time, and she was instrumental in introducing the new Italian style of music to France. She was one of the first women to compose in such a wide variety of genres and to be fully recognized for her achievements in a field generally reserved for men.

One of her earliest works was the five-act opera Céphale et Procris, the first work by a woman to be performed at the Paris Opéra.   Her early trio and solo sonatas, from around 1695, were among the first of that genre composed in France. She was equally a pioneer in the new French cantata. Her two books of biblical cantatas, published by Ballard in 1708 and 1711, are noteworthy for their unusual subject matter and Italianate style. Other works, now lost, include a ballet, Les jeux à l'honneur .de la victoire of 1691, and a Te Deum, written to celebrate the recovery of Louis XV from smallpox in 1721.

Jacquet de la Guerre published a set of harpsichord pieces as early as 1687. She was one of the few French harpsichord composers to publish a collection in the seventeenth century, and the only one to publish collections in both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.   These works are distinguished by the presence of an introductory movement, in addition to the usual, examples of the unmeasured prelude. One finds this type of writing in the works of a few other seventeenth-century French composers, such as Louis Couperin, and even in the keyboard suites of later composers such as Handel. 

She published a double collection of violin sonatas and keyboard suites in 1707,   establishing herself as an important figure in the emerging production of violin sonatas in France. In taking up the sonata, a turn-of-the-century Italian import, she was showing the most innovative side of her creative personality. 

The abundant ornamentation follow the great tradition of the French clavecin­istes, established by Chambonnières and developed by Franwis Couperin and others. 

Jacquet de la Guerre also wrote a volume of cantatas on traditional mythological subjects.  

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre is remembered today as both a harpsichordist and as a gifted composer. In her own day she achieved an international reputation as a composer and, unique for a woman at the time, published her works in several different genres: opera, cantatas, sonatas for violin and basse continue, and suites for harpsichord.  Her reputation travelled outside France too.

“La merveille de notre siecle “, according to an anonymous reviewer in Le Mercure galant (December 1678).

One of the most extensive early accounts of Jacquet de La Guerre's life is that of Evrard Titon du Tillet (1677-1762), who assembled a Mount Parnassus of leading French composers  and Jacquet de La Guerre was the only woman to merit inclusion there.


- «Je vous envoye une galanterie qui a esté faite pour Mademoiselle de la Guerre, dans laquelle on suppose que Mr de Lully luy écrit des Champs Elisées. L'Opera dont il est parlé dans cet Ouvrage, n'a pas encore esté représenté, mais il s'est trouvé digne de l'attention du Public, & ceux qui aiment la Musique, & qui s'y connoissent le mieux, demeurent d'accord que cette admirable personne travaille avec autant d'agrément que de science pour tout ce qui regarde le Chant.
Envoyée le jour de Sainte Cécile par une Ombre, avec une Couronne de Laurier, accompagnée de jolis présens, enfermez dans une boëte, sur laquelle estoit cette inscription.
Muse, je vous écris, des Isles fortunées,
Où le Ciel revestu de son plus bel azur,
D'un Printems éternel enchaisne les Années,
Et conserve toûjours un air serein & pur.
Qu'ainsi soit. Permettez que je vous félicite
Sur un bruit qui commence à se respandre icy.
Quelques Musiciens, gens du premier merite,
Vous offrent de leur part des Complimens aussi.
Du Train de l'Opera demandant des nouvelles
Aux Mortels depuis peu descendus icy bas,
Ils m'en ont à l'envy débité des plus belles,
Et m'ont dit que là-haut vous faisiez grand fracas.
Qu'on vantoit à la Cour, de mesme qu'à la Ville,
Un Opera nouveau, que vous avez donné,
Et quoy qu'on vous connust pour femme très-habile,
Que d'un si grand travail on étoit étonné.
L'entreprise, il est vray, n'eut jamais de pareille.
C'est ce qu'en vostre Sexe aucun Siècle n'a veu,
Et puis qu'il devoit naistre une telle Merveille,
Au Règne de LOUIS ce prodige étoit deu» (Mercure galant, décembre 1691).

 «Madame de la Guerre avoit un très beau génie pour la composition, & a excellé dans la Musique vocale, de même que dans l'instrumentale, comme elle l'a fait connoître par plusieurs ouvrages dans tous les genres de Musique qu'on a de sa composition. On peut dire que jamais personne de son sexe n'a eu d'aussi grands talens qu'elle pour la composition de la musique, & pour la manière admirable dont elle l'exécutoit sur le Clavecin & sur l'Orgue» (Titon du Tillet, Le Parnasse François, 1732, p.635).


The inscription on the medal made in her honour following her death states: “With the great musicians I competed for the prize”.[1]


[1] - Susan Erickson, Elisabeth ClaudeJacquet de la Guerre in J. Briscoe New historical anthology of music by   women,    Bloomington Indiana University Press, USA, 2004

- Encyclopedia Britannica:

- Dictionnaire de la SIEFAR (Société Internationale pour l'Etude des Femmes de l'Ancien Régime), Catherine Cessac, 2004





Seven women are known to have composed oratorios and other dramatic works that were performed in northern Italy or Vienna between 1670 and 1724. Among the works performed at court in Vienna were two oratorios and a dramatic work (which may have been staged) by Maria Margherita Grimani. Became the first woman composer to have an opera, Pallade e Marte, performed at the Hoftheater. 

Nothing is known of Grimani's life except the dates of there performances. It is not even certain that she was ever resident in Vienna; the manuscript score of Pallade e Marte is inscribed "April 5, 1713, Bologna." An important family of Venetian aristocrats bears the name Grimani, but it has not been possible to establish a definite relationship between them and the composer. It may be significant that one Pietro Grimani was the ambassador negotiating an alliance with Emperor Charles VI in 1713, the very year the composer's works began appearing in Vienna. We do not even know whether Maria Margherita was a nun or whether Grimani was her maiden name or her married name.

Pallade e Marte, an "opus dramaticum" for two singers, was performed on the name day of the emperor in Vienna on 6 November 1713. Later the same year Grimani's ora­torio La Visitazione di Santa Elisabetta appeared, and two years later her La Decollazione di S. Giovanni Battista was heard. La Visitazione was revived in 1718, the last time her name appears in Vienna.

All Grimani's surviving works are for soloists and orchestra. Like other oratorios and similar works of the early eighteenth century, they used da capo arias, often followed (if they are continuo arias) by short orchestral ritornelli as interludes. The recitatives are all secco, that is, with only a figured bass accompaniment. Several arias are performed with concertante instruments, and some are accompanied by string orchestra. The works open with sinfonie in several movements. An ensemble of soloists often appears at the conclusion; typically, there is a vocal duet at the end of Pallade e Marte.

Pallade e Marte  is the shortest of Grimani's works (sixty-five pages of manuscript). It is set for soprano and alto, with solo cello, oboe, theorbo, strings, and continuo, the same scoring (except for the theorbo) as in La decollazione. The vocal soloists sing alternate arias: Pallas is ac­companied by the strings, and Marte responds along with cello obbligato, theorbo, and continuo.   

Her works reveal no evidence of the contemporary Viennese penchant for counterpoint and instead owe much to Alessandro Scarlatti.

The aria types are typical of the Italian and Viennese oratorios of the period, as cultivated by Alessandro Scarlatti and others, and they are similar to those used by the other contem­porary women composers whose music survives.

The movements of the opening sinfonia are appropriately short for a work of this scale.   The three-movement sinfonia form of fast-slow-fast will be followed by later compatriots such as Giovanni Battista Sammartini, in his works from about 1720-1740. Like Sammartini, Grimani retains the string orchestra of the Baroque ripieno concerto, but she also prefers the tuneful nature of the early Classic.[1]



[1] - Barbara Jackson, Maria Margherita Grimani, in J. Briscoe New historical anthology of music by  women,    Bloomington Indiana University Press,  2004

 - Julie Anne Sadie, Companion to baroque music, Oxford University Press 2002



When Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia, was growing up in the court of her music-hating father, the soldier-king Frederick William I, she received little musical instruction in her childhood, and formal study was possible only after her father died. Yet, thanks to the clandestine aid of Queen Sophia Dorothea, many of the king's fourteen children developed into musicians. The three most musical were Princess Wilhelmina Sophie (later Margravine of Brandenburg, 1709-58), the son and heir Frederick (1712-86), and the youngest princess, Anna Amalia (1723-87). The king treated all the children with great cruelty, and in his rages even dragged little Anna Amalia across the room by her hair. Music was the secret consolation of the children. Frederick and Wilhelmina both learned the flute and played duets away from their father's watchful eyes; and Frederick gave his little sister Anna Amalia her earliest music lessons, which she always remembered with affection. She learned harpsichord, flute, and violin and turned to the harpsichord for release from the constant family strife around her. When the old king died in 1740, Frederick came to the throne, bringing a great throng of musicians into the court with him. What had been forbidden was now richly available. Anna Amalia could at last hear Italian opera, study with cathedral organist Gottlieb Hayne, and devote herself to other pleasant pursuits. Alas, she also met a young army officer with whom she fell deeply and unwisely in love. Her brother was furious and imprisoned her lover for ten years. Anna Amalia was made abbess of a religious community in Quedlinburg, although she could live in her own house in Berlin. Her only joy for the rest of her life was music. In 1758, at the age of thirty-five, she finally began systematic and serious study of music theory and composition and had an organ built in her home. She hired Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a student of J. S. Bach, as her Kapellmeister and teacher. She learned the techniques of four-voice settings of chorales and of old-fashioned counterpoint, at a time when the music around her was galant, elegant, and sentimental. She wrote an opening chorale and chorus for the oratorio Der Tod Jesu, which Kirnberger used as a models in the theory book he dedicated to her; her brother's court composer, Graun, later set the whole libretto. Her chamber music includes a lovely flute sonata. This work is more galant in style than her other works and may have been written before her studies with Kirnberger. The choice of solo instrument for this sonata was a natural one for a composer in a flute-playing family. Anna Amalia was an ardent collector of the old music she loved, and she preserved over 600 volumes of musical treasures by J. S. Bach, Palestrina, Handel, Telemann, and other composers of the past, as well as works by a few moderns like C. P. E. Bach-a significant contribution to European culture. After World War II her library was split between East and West Berlin, where, except for some items lost in storage during the war, it remains a priceless heritage. Only a small bundle of her own works remains, perhaps because, being very "timorous and self-critical," she may have destroyed some of her own compositions.[1]



[1] - Fankhauser, Jill M. Anna Amalia di Prussia in New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, Ed. J.R. Briscoe, Indiana University Press, 2004  

- Karin Pendle  Women & music: a history Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001


Bild von Marianna Martinez

MARIANNA von MARTINES (1744-1812)

Marianna von Martines, Austria's most prolific woman composer of the last half of the eighteenth century, was born into an upper-class family headed by a father who served as maestro di camera (master of ceremonies) at the papal embassy in Vienna.  Thus Martines was able to study and socialize with her era's most illustrious musical figures like Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Although one surely cannot speak of gender equality where music was concerned, Martines's talent, her skills, and her class (she was independently wealthy and a member of the minor nobility) contributed to her status as a member of Vienna's elite, a prominent hostess and guest in the salons of her day, and a respected performer and composer. Although few of her fabled two hundred compositions were published during her lifetime, the nearly seventy extant works reveal an ambitious and well-tutored hand. From large-scale symphonic Masses and multi­movement motets for chorus and orchestra to single arias on Italian texts, Martines produced music of high quality that was admired not only by her Viennese contempo­raries but also by prominent figures in Italy and Germany.

Marianna von Martines  caught the attention of Pietro Metastasio, Vienna's court poet and a resident in her family home, who observed her musical talents when she was still a child. It was Metastasio who arranged for singing lessons from opera composer Niccolo Porpora and harpsichord lessons from the young Joseph Haydn, another tenant in the Martines home. Then carne studies of composition with court composer Giuseppe Bonno and, informally, with Johann Adolph Hasse. By the time she was in her twenties she was writing grand sacred works for chorus and orchestra and her three keyboard sonatas.  

Martines wrote her masterpiece, the motet Dixit Dominus, in 1774 as a response to the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, which the year before had elected her to mem­bership, the first woman to be so honored. In Aprii of 1773 Martines herself had made bold to address Bologna's distinguished teacher and writer on music, Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, requesting that she be considered for membership in the Accademia. Although she forwarded the score, a large work for chorus, soloists, and full orchestra, to Padre Martini within a year of her election, there is no record that the work was ever performed.  

Meanwhile, in Vienna Martines had become a prominent figure in the city's musical life. Each Saturday she opened her home to guests who carne to listen to and perform music, some of it undoubtedly her own. Haydn and Mozart were at times among the guests, the latter perhaps to perform his four-hand piano sonatas with his hostess. Clearly Martines had acquired an excellent reputation as a keyboard artist, first on harpsi­chord, later on piano. Two of her sonatas had been published in 1765 in an anthology of harpsichord music.

Yet the style in which she still composed and performed, as represented by her sonatas,  reveals Martines's own facility at the keyboard and the influence of her teacher, Haydn, and includes   the rococo, with its homophonic texture and its agréments, a style already dated by the 176os, and the Empfindsamer Stil of the mid-eighteenth century.  

Martines wrote what is apparently her final composition, a solo cantata "Orgoglioso fumicello," in 1796. A decade later she established a singing school in her home that trained singers of professional caliber. She continued to be part of Viennese musical life, and last appeared in public on 27 March 18o8 at a performance of Haydn's Creation. She died on 13 December 1812.[1]



[1] Karin Pendle, Marianna von Martines in New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, Ed. J.R. Briscoe, Indiana University Press, 2004  



Maddalena Lombardini, later Sirmen, was a virtuoso violinist and the most famous composer trained in the Venetian conservatories. Here parents were impoverished aristocrats who had her admitted to the Ospedale dei Mendicanti at the age of seven, not as an orphan but as a musician who would be an asset to their all-female choir and orchestra.. During her 14 years stay at the conservatory, she was granted special permission to leave occasionally to study with Giuseppe Tartini. Since in 1760 she was allowed to go to Padua to study with the great violinist; as the lessons were delayed, Tartini wrote her a long and famous letter explaining his violin playing methods and the best way to practise.

She was probably taught composition by the maestro di coro at the Ospedale, Ferdinando Bertoni, and probably also by Tartini.
The dates of her compositions are unknown, but as most of them were in print before 1774 they may have been composed while she was still at the Ospedale.
At twenty-one she was licensed maestra at the conservatory, so she had to ask permission from the Board of Governors when she decided to marry and to pursue a musical career in the outside world. She married violinist Ludovico Sirmen in 1767, and they toured together. In London she performed her own violin concerti, was a member of the italian opera orchestra, and even took leading roles as a singer in works by Pergolesi and Gluck. In 1768 the couple started a highly successful European tour, playing in Turin and several times in Paris, where six of her string quartets were published in 1769. She had two very successful seasons in London in 1771 as a violinist, playing in various concert series (including the Bach-Abel concerts) and at the theatres, followed by a third when she became a singer. Other successes were a violin soloist in Paris  again in 1785, when she performed a concerto by Viotti in which the most modern violin techniques were exemplified. She was enormously successful as a composer: a violin concerto was played in Stockholm in 1774, and in a letter from Salzburg of 12 April 1778, to his wife and son Wolfgang, Leopold Mozart said: ‘After the symphony Count Czernin played a beautifully written concerto by Sirmen’.
Her works were published in France, England, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Many of her works were still in print sixty years after her death, some having gone through as many as five editions. The violin concertos and chamber music she composed display the violin with brilliant virtuosity in the new style of the early Classical period.



[1] - Karin Pendle  Women & music: a history Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001

- Enzo Porta, Il violino nella storia: maestri, tecniche e scuole, EDT Torino 2000

- Grove Music Online:


JANE SAVAGE (1752-1824)

Jane Savage flourished as a composer of “galant” harpsichord pieces and songs in England at the end of the 18th century (ca 1780-90). We do not know her birth and death dates or anything about her musical education. She was the daughter of William Savage (ca 1728-1789), a composer, organist, bass singer and highly regarded teacher. William Savage  studied with Pepusch and Geminiani and  sang as a bass in Handel’s opera: the music that Handel wrote for him as a treble was well judged to display his youthful musical talents. Possibly Jane also benefited from her father’s instruction and English musical scene where composers like Handel, J.C.Bach influenced Savage’s compositional style. She did become a virtuoso keyboard player and an accomplished composer of short works for the harpsichord or fortepiano, as well as several vocal compositions. All of her music was published in London. Her list of known works includes Six easy lessons for the harpsichord or piano, Six rondos for the harpsichord or piano, some cantatas, A favorite duet for two performers on one piano or harpsichord. The sources do not always agree on the publication dates, and the scores themselves are not dated.[1]


[1] - Martha Furman Schleifer and Sylvia Glickman, Women Composers: Music Through the Ages Volume 5: Composers Born Between 1700 and 1799, Cengage Gale, 1998

- Donald Burrows  William Savage, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980  


MARIA ROSA COCCIA  (1759-1833)

Maria Rosa Coccia, musician at the age of the Church supremacy in Rome, with a unusual courage claims to enter in the Congregation of St. Cecilia. Repeatedly rejected her application for examination, she stubbornly continued to present her application until they had agreed to do so to support the test, convinced that the matter ended there. But the little girl of fifteen made the task best of all, an exemplary counterpoint.

Thus she became the only woman Kapellmeister then known. Obviously, being a woman, they stopped her to perform the profession for which she qualified and she never had assignments in a Roman Church.

The publication of her biography in 1780 by Michael Mallia, a praise of the composer, tells how Mary Rose began to study music  showing young talents, she had unusual performing on the harpsichord and was able to transpose difficult compositions in all keys. At the age of thirteen she composed his first works, six sonatas for harpsichord and the  oratory Daniello, performed the same year in the Oratory S.Filippo Neri. It should be emphasized that this performance was an exceptional event, because usually women were not allowed to attend the Oratory, and the fact to a thirteen year old was given permission to compose one was certainly due to the spread of her fame in Roman environment, as child prodigy.

Her determination to take the exam to become Kapellmeister was due not so much the ambition of an award, as to practical needs. In 1716 Pope Clement XI had established that anyone who wanted to practice music in Rome had to observe the rule Congregation of St. Cecilia and that no musician or composer could make music in churches of Rome without the approval of a committee of four teachers selected from the chapel congregation and become a member was a necessity for all musicians active in the papal city. Despite her compositions were performed in various churches, despite the license obtained, the duty of Kapellmeister not ever be given her.[1]



[1] Felici, Candida  Maria Rosa Coccia Roma: Ed. Colombo 2004, Introduzione a cura di Patricia Adchins Chiti



Countess Maria Theresia Ahlefeldt was a German composer, writer, and pianist. Born the daughter of Prince Alexander Ferdinand of Thurn and Taxis, she spent her early years at her father's court at Regensberg. In 1780, she married the Danish diplomat Count Ferdinand Ahlefeldt. From 1780 the couple lived at the court of the last Margrave of Ansbach. It was at this court that the Countess became active in musical and literary spheres. Then, the couple moved to Dresden in 1798 and finally, in 1800, to Prague.

She came to public notice as a composer, and achieved a great deal of success with her four-act opera-ballet, Telemakpa Calypsos Oe, which she composed in 1792. She composed all the orchestral numbers for this work, as well as the vocal numbers found in Act Two.

It was a tremendous success, 37 performances were given up to 1812. Rooted in the period of galanterie and sensibility, Telemak also demonstrates the influence of operetta and, at times, has a classical shape reminiscent of Gluck.

Other works by the Countess Ahlefeldt include: Incidental music for Vaeddemalet for which the manuscript has been lost; the libretto and music to Lafolie, ou Quel conte!, for which the music has been lost; various vocal pieces, including a cantata entitled L'harmonie, two symphonies, in F and D; and an operetta entitled Romance de Nina  for voice and orchestra.

Countess Ahlefeldt is typical of the women composers of the eighteenth century in many ways. She was of noble birth, and was given musical training as a child. Her father, most likely, was a patron of the arts, and the Countess assuredly had exposure to the Kapelle at her father's court.   

The Countess then married a man of the musical world. Musicians were more likely to encourage their wives or daughters to pursue their musical abilities, at least as long as it did not interfere with their own career as a musician. In the case of the Ahlefeldts, obviously the Countess' talents and success could only add to her husband's success as superintendent of the theater.

The Countess is unusual in that she wrote major works, for orchestra and ballet, rather than concentrating on the composition of lieder. This trend may be explained, however, by her tremendous success in the public sphere, as well as the support given to her by her husband and father.

Her music is characterized by well-formed and sensitive melody in a simple harmonic and compositional frame, influenced by French opera comique tradition. She was praised by her contemporaries for her orchestration.[1]



[1] - Inge Bruland, Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers

- Women, Gender and History UCLA Historical Journal Volume 14 1994 Regents of the University of California


Markgräfin Wilhelmine


Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine, Princess of Prussia was a daughter of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia and sister of Anna Amalia and Frederick the Great. In 1731 she was married to Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. The baroque buildings and parks built during her reign constitute much of the present appearance of the town of Bayreuth, Germany.

Wilhelmina shared the unhappy childhood of her brother, Frederick the Great, whose friend and confidante she remained, with the exception of one short interval, all her life
This marriage was only accepted by Wilhelmina under threats from her father and with a view to lightening her brother's disgrace. It was happy at first, though it was clouded at first by narrow means, and then by the infidelities of the future margrave with Dorothea von Marwitz, whose rise at the court of Bayreuth was bitterly resented by
Frederick the Great and caused an estrangement of some three years between Wilhelmina and the brother she so devotedly loved.
When Wilhelmina's husband came into his inheritance in 1735, the pair set about making Bayreuth a miniature Versailles. Their building operations included the rebuilding of their summer residence, the Ermitage, the great Bayreuth opera-house, the building of a theatre   which attracted Wagner there a century later. 
The margravine made Bayreuth one of the intellectual centres of the Holy Roman Empire, surrounding herself with a little court of wits and artists which gained added prestige from the occasional visits of Voltaire and Frederick the Great, emulating the musical and cultural standards Frederick had acheived at the Prussian Court.

Wilhelmine was a gifted composer. She wrote an opera, Argenore, performed in 1740 for her husband's birthday, but now sadly lost, as well as some chamber music that still survives.[1]



[1] Uwe A. Oster: Wilhelmine von Bayreuth. Das Leben der Schwester Friedrichs des Großen, Piper, München, 2005


EMMA STEINER  (1850-1928)

Emma Steiner has composed and had performed over a dozen comic operas, has conducted orchestras, and exhibited a fine musical talent. She was the first women conductor in the US to establish and maintain full careers.

In the operatic field, Emma Steiner stands at the head. Born at Baltimore, she showed a taste for music at an early age, and was able to read and write notes when only seven. Her parents objected to a musical career for her, but she continued her practice, and earned money for further study by writing waltzes and other popular dance music. She became proficient in making orchestral arrangements, and has been eminently successful as a leader of many large New York organizations. Among her operettas are "The Alchemist," also a version of the old French romance, "Fleurette," and an adaptation from Tennyson, called "Day Dreams." She is also the author of many songs.[1]



[1] - José Antonio Bowen,  The Cambridge Companion to Conducting. Cambridge University Press 2007

- Arthur Elson, Woman's Work in Music, Bibliobazaar, 2007 Original copyright 1903

- They write music, The Daily Argus News - 27 ago 1895:,4060425


MAY AUFDERHEIDE  (1888-1972)

One of the most successful and best-known women composers of ragtime, May Frances Aufderheide was from Indianapolis, Indiana. Ragtime flourished in many parts of the United States during its golden years (ca. 1896-1920), and Indianapolis was a major center for the development of white ragtime. Aufderheide made an impressive contri­bution to its development with her seven fascinating piano rags, two of which became best-sellers.

May Aufderheide was born on 21 May 1888. The family was middle class and of German heritage. Like many other young women of her generation, May took piano lessons. While young May's piano studies focused primarily on classical music, she loved playing and composing popular music. It is said that she composed and played by ear.

In her late teens, Aufderheide became intrigued with piano rags. In addition to per­forming rags, she began improvising some of her own. It is not surprising that she decided to try her hand at composing.   In 1908, as the age of nineteen, May Aufderheide published her first rag, entitled “Dusty”. Considered the first major rag of the Indianapolis-Ohio Valley area, it was a big success and became one of her best-selling compositions. Infact, it was so commercially successful that her father decided to purchase the rights and start his own music publishing company. The year 1908 was a significant one for May, not only did she publish her first two rags, she also married Thomas Kaufmann, an architect from Richmond, Indiana. Her second rag, Richmond Rag, must have been named in honor of her husband’s hometown. Over the next several years she published more rags along with several waltzes and at least eight songs. Her younger brother, Rudolph, was the lyricist for some of her songs. All of her compositions were published by J. H. Aufderheide & Co., which also published the ragtime compositions of two other Indi­anapolis women composers, Julia Lee Niebergall and Gladys Yelvington.

Aufderheide's rags, like most, feature syncopated rhythms, duple meter, and a "rag­ged" (syncopated) melody line against a steady even eighth-note accompaniment pattern. Harmonically they stay dose to the tonic, subdominant, and dominant in major keys. Aufderheide's rags are distinguished by the melodic chromaticism, open chords (espe­cially for endings), syncopation, and pedal point that are prevalent in many of her com­positions.

Like "Dusty," the rag "The Thriller!" was popular for decades in sheet music, piano rolls, and orchestrated versions and lent themselves to jazz performances, although not all rags do. It is said that "Thirty-five years after their publication the great New Orleans trumpeter Bunk Johnson could play both from memory, so popular had they been with the early New Orleans jazz bands" (Blesh and Janis, 221).

Aufderheide was fairly typical of the more than two hundred women composers who published rags during the ragtime era. She composed and published while in her twenties (some of her peers published into their thirties), and her composing career ended shortly after she married. Like the majority of women ragtime composers, she was white and a classically trained pianist, while ragtime in general was a black, male-dominated field. Her brief career accounts for the fact that she and many of her fellow women composers did not earn lasting reputations as composers. It was not until the ragtime revival of the 1970S that these women were rediscovered.[1]



[1] - Carolynn A. Lindeman, May Aufderheide in Historical Anthology of Music by Women. James R. Briscoe, ed. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1986



Germaine Tailleferre was born April 19, 1892 near Paris. The young Germaine began studying piano with her mother at home and also composing short works.

Despite her father's opposition, she was encouraged by her mother and began studying piano and solfege at the Paris Conservatory, where she would win first prizes in Solfege, in Counterpoint and Harmony, in Fugue (more first prizes  than any other member of Les Six). This initial success also lead to her father's acceptance of her musical vocation, although he would refuse to support her studies financially and she had to earn money by giving private lessons . Her revenge came later when she changed her last name to "Tailleferre" to spite her father who had refused to support her musical studies.

Tailleferre was something of a prodigy as both a pianist and a composer, and she had an excellent ear and memory. As a young wornan, she often played her own Stravin­sky ballet transcriptions in salons.

Tailleferre met Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric and Arthur Honneger at the Paris Conservatory in 1912. Milhaud introduced her to contemporary composers;  she eagerly devoured their music and carne to detest the reactionary atmosphere of the Conservatoire. She was even expelled from Eugène Gigout's organ class for improvising in a style inspired by Stravinsky. Also she began to be seen with the artistic set in Montmartre and in Montparnasse, which included Apollinaire, Laurencin, Picasso and Modigliani.

It was her artistic connections which lead to her initial success: in the Montparnasse atelier of one of her painter friends where the initial concert of the "Nouveaux Jeunes" took place, which also included Francis Poulenc and Louis Durey,   with Tailleferre's Jeux de Pleine Aire as well as her Sonatine for String Quartet, which was later to become the String Quartet. Satie had overheard Tailleferre and the pianist Marcelle Meyer practice her jeux de plein air for two pianos (1917); when he discovered that Tailleferre was the composer, he al­legedly kissed her, called her his "fine musical daughter". The publication of Jean Cocteau's manifest for a typically French Music Le Coq et L'Harlequin in 1918 paved the way for Henri Collet's articles in 1920 in the French journal Commedia. It was also Collet who choose the name Les Six, in direct reference to the Five Russians of the 19th century nationalist movement. These two articles, which appeared in January of 1920, lead to overnight fame for the famous group Des Six, which only officially participated in one project together, an album of Piano works. The six musicians remained close for the rest of their lives, however.

Tailleferre's First Violin Sonata was written for Jacques Thibaud, a French Violinist with whom she had a close friendship and was premièred in 1922 by Thibaud and Alfred Cortot in Paris. As is typical with Tailleferre, this work is essentially tonal, although chords may not resolve in the traditional manner, and she occasionally experimented with bitonality (following Stravinsky and Ravel's lead) with fondness for modally inflected. During 1923, her ballet Le Marchand d'Oiseaux scored a great success with the Ballets Suédois and  was performed 94 times, while the famous Cocteau’s Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel only 50.

The Princess de Polignac commissioned Tailleferre to write a Piano Concerto in same neo-classical style as "Le Marchand" which was premièred to great success by Alfred Cortot.

In 1923, Tailleferre began to spend a great deal of time with Maurice Ravel (who advised her on orchestration), much to Satie's disapproval. Ravel championed Tailleferre's work, even encouraging her.

Tailleferre decided to try to establish herself as a composer and teacher in the United States in the wake of this success. However, she was unable to find enough work to support herself and her elderly mother, and returned to Paris in May 1925. She returned to New York in 1926 and met and married the American caricaturist Ralph Barton, establishing herself in  New York. During her marriage to Barton, she also became close to Mr. Barton's best friend, Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin and Tailleferre enjoyed improvising at the piano together, and the movie star wanted her to return to Hollywood with him and write music for his films. Barton did not appreciate his wife's reputation as a serious composer and it was difficult for her to compose during her marriage for Barton’s jealousy, who made it clear that he would not tolerate being "Monsieur Tailleferre." The couple moved to France in 1927; Barton's manie-depressive tendencies carne to the surface, and three years later he threatened to short the baby Tailleferre was carrying. This provoked a miscarriage, and Tailleferre was never to see him again, as he fled to New York and committed suicide in May 1931, a month after their divorce was pronounced.

Her Six Chansons Françaises may be seen as a reaction to her divorce, using texts from the XV to XVIII centuries which speak of the problems of women in decaying relationships. Each of the six songs was dedicated to one of her female friends and may be seen as a rather rare expression of feminism in Tailleferre's work.

By this time Tailleferre had married for a second time (her new husband was a lawyer, Jean Lageat) and had given birth to a daughter, Francoise. Again, this marriage did not have a positive effect on her composition because of her husband's critical attitude towards her musical life.  There is evidence that her second husband beat her and their daughter and spattered her manuscripts with ink. In spite of his opposition, she was extremely productive during this period, composing the Suite for Chamber orchestra "Divertissement dans le style de Louis XV", her Violin Concerto which has been lost in it's original form, the famous Ouverture which was one of her most frequently performed works, and her masterpiece, the Concerto Grosso for Two Pianos, Saxophone Quartet, Eight Solo voices and Orchestra. 

One of her happiest memories as a musician was her collaboration with Paul Valéry, with whom she wrote a cantata, Narcisse, in 1937, although her husband would constantly interrupt her work. Also in the 1930’s, she established herself as a film composer; her ability to write quickly to commission eased her constant financial worries, though it could be argued that this very facility and lack of self­criticism has harmed her reputation.

World War II greatly affected Tailleferre's career. She left France for the United States in 1942, escaping the Occupation, and wrote an informative article for the journal Mod­ern Music about the pressures on French musicians, highlighting the appalling treatment of her Jewish colleagues and more mundane practical difficulties, which included a short­age of manuscript paper. In the United States she was cut off from her professional con­tacts, and she composed nothing more until her return to France in 1946. She wrote during this period her Second Piano Concerto, which has been lost, her famous Harp sonata, the Concerto for flute, Piano and Orchestra, as well as an impressive number of film and television scores. The majority of this music was not published until after her death.

This rate of production is all the more extraordinary because 1957 was also a year of personal crisis; in 1955, Lagaet and Tailleferre finally officially divorced and Germaine's daughter Françoise gave birth to her daughter, Elvire de Rudder. Due to her daughter's personal life estranged from her, Tailleferre became the guardian of Elvire, her granddaughter.  

During the sixties, she composed a large number of scores for films and television as well as her Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra, (which has recently been found at Radio France and which is now available through Musik Fabrik) and Hommage à Rameau for Two pianos and two percussionists.  

From 1970 on, it became increasingly difficult for her to support herself and her granddaughter and in 1976, at the age of 84, she took the post of accompanist for a children's music and movement class at a private school in Paris. She worked there until shortly before her death, at the age of ninety-one, on 7 November 1983.

It was this financial security which allowed her to complete her last series of works, which include the Sonata for Two Pianos, the Sérénade en La mineur for four winds and piano or harpsichord, Choral et Variations for Two Pianos or Orchestra and the Sonate Champêtre for three Winds and Piano. Her last major work was a commission from the French Cultural Ministry which was intended merely to be a charitable gesture, but which lead the 89 year-old composer to write her Concerto de la Fidelité for high voice and Orchestra, which is a reworking of her harp sonata and an earlier work for high voice and orchestra. Tailleferre continued to compose up until a few weeks before her death, on November 7, 1983 in Paris.  

If Germaine Tailleferre is known at all nowadays, it is because in 1917-1921 she was the only female member of the famous Group des Six, a loose association of composers grouped around Erik Satie, with Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Francis Poulenc.

An idea has been put forward is that Tailleferre wrote a series of short charming works, especially for the piano, during the 1920's-1930's and essentially stopped composing after the end of World War II. But she continued composing almost until the end of her life, and many of her best works were written after the heyday of Les Six.

While Tailleferre did write many shorter works for the piano, as well as songs and chamber music, she also wrote two piano concerti, as well as the Three Études for Piano and Orchestra, a Violin Concerto, Three Vocal Concerti, a Concerto Grosso for two Pianos, Eight Solo Voices, Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra, four full-length ballet scores, Four full lengths Operas as well as many shorter operas, two musical comedies as well as a great deal of orchestral and chamber music. Much of this music was written in the period between 1945 and her death in 1983. The majority of this music has been, up until the recent past, unpublished and unrecorded. It has only been recently possible to have a more complete picture of Tailleferre's work and her value as a composer.

Tailleferre was evidently determined to pursue her vocation as a composer despite dreadful personal crises, including her father's staunch opposition to her career and two failed marriages.  

It is also fair to say that in her lifetime she suffered from prejudice against women composers, as many reviewers were unable to see beyond the fact that she was the only woman in Les Six.[1]  



[1] - Laura Mitgang Germaine Tailleferre : Before, During and After Les Six in The Musical Woman, Vol. II Judith Lang Zaimont, editor (Greenwood Press 1987)

- Germaine Tailleferre, Mémoires à l'emporte-pièce Revue International de Musique Franpaise 19, 1986

- Caroline Potter/Robert Orledge : Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) : A Centenary Appraisal" Muziek & Wetenshap 2 (Summer 1992) 

- Georges Hacquard,  Germaine Tailleferre : La Dame des Six. L'Harmattan, Paris 1997