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- Sinfonia II
- Coro di Damigelle I
- Coro di Damigelle II
- Coro di Cavalieri liberati
For Francesca Caccini, often called "La Cecchina" ("The Songbird"), music was a huge part of her life from almost before her birth, as her father, Guilio Caccini, was a well respected and prolific composer, and her mother, Lucia Gagnolanti, was a singer herself. After Lucia’s premature death while Francesca was still quite young, Guilio married another singer, Margherita della Scala. Francesca’s younger sister, Settimia, like Francesca was a singer and composer, and their brother, Pompeo, also was known as a singer during his time. With a background like that, coupled with her father’s influence, a musical career utilizing the talents that seemed to run in the Caccini family must have been almost inevitable for Francesca.
Her father began to teach her about music when she was a very young child. He instructed her in singing, harpsichord, lute, music theory, and composition. He refers to teaching his family to sing in his book Le Nuove Musiche, discussing his wives’ perfection of his developed tremolo. In addition to her practical music skills, she was also well trained in composition. However, Francesca’s education was not limited to music, and she was also well versed in literature. In fact, she was known as a poet as well as a singer, and probably wrote the lyrics for most of the songs in Il primo libro.
The fact that this new style of singing and musical thought was taught to Francesca from her childhood was to her advantage, as she was born into a period of radical musical transition. Surely her knowledge of the new style allowed her to stay on top of this transition and to know first hand the most popular Italian musical trends in singing and composition. One example of Francesca Caccini’s up-to-date style can be heard in the canzonetta "Chi desia di saper."
Francesca made her debut when she was just thirteen years old, singing in her father’s opera Euridice, Francesca sang this pioneering music in the new singing style so well that the king of France wanted to employ her in his Parisian court. This offer demonstrates the positive response to music in the seconda prattica. It also shows that Francesca had the extraordinary talent to put forth this exceptional music. Obviously, intimate training in the new style, along with the talent and the professional name that she inherited from her musical parents, contributed to her successful beginnings as a professional musician.
Florentine culture was concerned with humanistic principles for a very long time. While other Italian cities had shifted from republics to kingdoms as many as two centuries before, Florence remained old-fashioned and retained a republic system of government. The Medici were not successful in a complete take-over of the city until 1530. At this point in time, Florence finally became a dukedom. The late arrival of a monarchic form of government meant the late arrival of the “modern” culture that went with it. We must keep in mind, however, that Florentine culture certainly did not change overnight with the change in government. For the purposes of this paper, this point is crucial, for I propose that Renaissance mentality remained a part of Florentine culture even after the final Medici take-over. If the old humanistic culture and the modern culture of the Medici court are considered simultaneously, interesting issues arise that may render explanations for Caccini’s success. However, before these issues can be addressed, the court culture that had bloomed earlier in many Italian cities and the music within it is worth examining, especially because this tradition included women in music at court.
Florence’s Renaissance roots were still well planted in the sixteenth century, as it was still a republic in the fifteenth century. Writing on women in the Renaissance, Karen Pendle states, "The same factors that freed and empowered Renaissance Man caused the lines of separation to be drawn ever more closely around Renaissance Woman, and too many experienced not a rebirth but an increasingly confined existence". Although Pendle and other authors discuss the Renaissance as a time in which women’s limits were made clear and strict societal rules were the norm, we cannot deny Florence’s history of forward-thinking and radicalism. It is a myth that women were given equal opportunities during the Renaissance in Florence. The Renaissance promoted humanistic philosophies that were suited for life in the public sphere rather than in the private and, therefore, the Renaissance was a Man’s era. However, looking back on the history of Florence, one notices all of the new and radical movements that grew up there, such as Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch’s use of the Vernacular in their writings; Machiavelli’s revolutionary The Prince; visual artists’ pioneering studies. The situation of Florence being a republic, being “out of the loop” produced many unusual, extraordinary things. Florence was always innovative in its own context, always an intellectual center, invariably looking ahead, if not in a political respect, perhaps in a philosophical one. It follows, then, that reception of Caccini as a woman composer may not have been as earth-shattering as Florence’s tendencies toward Renaissance culture make it seem. Its "liberal" history may have allowed for flexibility.
One has also to consider the element of time. In other cities like Ferrara, where courts had been established for centuries, development of court culture would have taken place slowly. Developments would have been taken for granted as parts of the whole of cultural change. The novelty of Ferrara’s concerto delle donne, in which women were being hired as professional singers perhaps for the first time, was enough to make people take notice of and copy what was happening. The point is that it took a long time for Ferrara to adapt itself to the idea of women as professional singers. This means that women were not being specifically trained to sing professionally until around this time. And if we accept that the Renaissance put limits on women, and that they may have studied singing or lute for mere purposes of making good matches for future husbands, we can eliminate the prospect that women studied composition, much less trained to be professional composers. This simply would not have been natural in the evolution of the culture.
By 1600 when Caccini made her debut in her father’s opera, Florence was indeed an established monarchy. Yet one must keep in mind that it was an instant monarchy. It had switched from one culture to another without having time to “catch up” with the other cities’ centuries of monarchic cultural development. Florence had to adopt this new culture, and there was no time for a slow, cultural evolution. Therefore, if the Medici were catching on to trends of other courts, they were doing it in the context of Florentine disarray. With everything moving as fast as it was, with all of the change that had taken place in the past seventy years, having a woman as a professional composer may not have seemed as strange as it might have in the established cultural pace of a place like Ferrara. An old-fashioned Florence was suddenly made new, and the newness of a woman composer might not have been so incredibly shocking, especially since that woman composer had a known and respected family name to help lead her way.
Francesca made her living as a performer as well as a composer, and her talents did not go unnoticed by the important musical figures of the day. Claudio Monteverdi, one of the founders of the early Baroque, heard her perform in 1610, and subsequently wrote to his friend Cardinale Ferdinando Gonzaga, “...udi a Firenze la signora figola di Sr. G.R. molto ben cantare e suonare di liuto chitaronato et clavicembalo.” (...I heard, in Florence, the daughter of Mr. G.R. (Guilio Romano Caccini) sing very well and play the lute, the guitar, and the harpsichord.).
It did not take long for people to start seeing Francesca as a musician in her own right, as opposed to simply being known as the musical daughter of an accomplished man. In 1605, Francesca received an offer of a job as a salaried court singer for King Henry IV of France. However, it is apparent that Grand Duke Ferdinand of Florence refused to release Francesca from his service, as her father was also employed there. After a few other attempts at gaining a permanent independent position, Francesca finally remained at the Florentine court, as she had become engaged to Giovanni Battista Signorini, another court singer. The two were married on November 15, 1607, and had one child, Margherita, in 1622.
Francesca’s first music for the stage, La stiava, was performed in 1607 at the Florentine Carnival. Unfortunately, the music has not survived. Over the next few years, she contributed incidental music to various compositions by other composers. However, her first surviving independent work, “Il Primo Libro delle Musiche a una e due voci” (1610), was not published until 1618, coincidentally the year of her father’s death. It is a collection of short vocal works for one or two voices with basso continuo, including 19 sacred solos, 13 secular solo songs, and four duets for soprano and bass. The songs are indexed by the composer according to the first line and also by the form of the poems, most of which she wrote herself.
Few of her other works have survived, with the notable exception of the opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina. Other works by Caccini include the aria, “Dove io credea” in Constantini’s “Ghirlandetta Amorosa” (1621), and the aria, “Ch’io sia fidele,” in Robletti’s “Le Risonanti sfere” (1629). Francesca is known as the first female composer of opera, and is one of the most prolific female composers of her time, if not of all time.
By 1623, Francesca Caccini was the most highly paid singer at the Medici court. Extraordinarily, she was also a lead composer. She was the first woman to compose opera. Francesca’s one surviving opera, “La Liberazione di Ruggiero”, first performed in Florence in 1625, is derived from the same source — the 16th-century poet Lodovico Ariosto’s romantic epic, Orlando furioso — as Handel’s Alcina, but of course the music of Francesca Caccini’s opera is much closer in style to Monteverdi. It is also unique in its use of tonal contrast to reflect gender: Alcina and her attendant sing in flat keys, Ruggiero and other males in sharp keys, and the androgynous sorceress Melissa is mostly confined to C major. The score consists largely of mellifluous arias and choruses separated by recitative and instrumental passages.
Although composed in 1625 in Rome, “La Liberazione di Ruggiero” still bears the imprint of the Florentine “intermedii.” Here song takes precedence over dramatic development but gives rise to scenes of pure magic (the Mermaid’s lamento). The canzonetta, however, suggests a heritage that may not even be Italian. The roots of this type of solo song can be traced back to the lute song of John Dowland (1563–1626), perhaps, or to the Elizabethan ayres, or to the earlier French ballate, which were dance songs combining popular poetry and music.
Less than a year after Giovanni’s death in 1626, Francesca married an aristocrat named Tomaso Raffaelli. They had a son, also called Tomaso, in 1628, but the new family would soon be torn by another premature death, as Francesca’s new husband died in 1630.
Though Francesca Caccini’s success was much due to her talent, the fact that she was Giulio Caccini’s daughter certainly must have aided her, especially in her unusual endeavors as a composer. From childhood, she was able to learn the ever-developing, increasingly popular seconda prattica, which allowed her to be on top of the latest musical trends in both singing and composition. The fact that Cosimo II’s wife and mother were ruling during some of Francesca’s time at court also helped to establish her, especially in the role of composer. When Cosimo II died in 1620, his mother and wife ruled in place of Cosimo’s ten-year-old son. Caccini must have had some weight with the Medici women, as is demonstrated in the following story of Caccini’s falling out with a librettist, Salvadori.
...Caccini began publicly ridiculing Salvadori’s sexual adventures with women singers at court. Salvadori retaliated by refusing to write the libretto of La Liberazione di Ruggiero. ...Caccini’s revenge was to persuade the Medici women to cancel an opera by Salvadori...
This entertaining story casually sheds some light both on Caccini’s relationship with the Medici women, and her comfort with her high position at court. The Medici women may very well have given Caccini opportunities that she would not have gotten, had she not been a woman. She was probably considered in some ways their “lady in waiting,” and she may have had somewhat of an intimate relationship with them, as this story alludes.
Francesca continued to perform, compose, and teach at least until May of 1637, when she resigned from the Medici court. After that there are conflicting reports of her location and eventual death. It is likely that she stayed in Florence, where some say that she died in 1640. Regardless of this, she was probably dead by February 1645, when the guardianship of her son Tomaso passed to his uncle Girolamo Raffaelli. Francesca shares a tomb in San Michele Visdomini with her father Guilio, sister Settimia, and an unidentified person known as Dianora. Francesca will remain known as one of the greatest female composers of all time, but I believe that quality of her music speaks for itself, regardless of the gender of the person who wrote it.
To integrate Francesca Caccini into the musical tradition that she inherited seems on the surface an easy task; just assign her a place with her father’s contemporaries in the Florentine Camerata, with Giulio Caccini himself, or with Jacopo Peri (1561–1633), or include her with the Venetian composers Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) and Francesco Cavalli (1602–1676); or put her with the Roman composers Stefano Landi (1590–1655) and Luigi Rossi (1597–1653). This would be chronologically and culturally correct, considering that early Baroque music was dominated by Italian ideas from the leading musical cities and courts of Florence, Venice, Naples and Rome.
(Contribution by Hein Moors <email@example.com>.)