Caccini, Francesca (1587-ca.1645)

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Francesca Caccini grew up and worked in Florence as a musician for the Medici family, following in the footsteps of her father, Giulio Caccini. She was the first woman to compose opera and the most well-paid musician in the court at the height of her career in the 1620s. In addition to opera she composed songs, incidental music, and music for the theatre, but few of her works survive.

Francesca was born into a musical family in Florence on 18 September, 1587. Not only was her father a reputable and prolific composer, her mother Lucia Gagnolanti, younger sister Settimia, and stepmother Margherita della Scala were all talented singers. Together they performed chamber music and entertainment for the court, including parts in Jacopo Peri's L'Euridice and Giulio Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefala, as well as wedding music for Maria de' Medici and Henri IV of France. Beyond being a virtuosa singer Francesca played guitar, lute, harp, and keyboard and taught singing, instrumental performance, and composition to younger women of the court. Caccini was also a poet and is known to have written poetry in both Italian and Latin, probably including lyrics for most of her published songs. Francesca's growing renown brought her job offers from the court of King Henry IV in 1605 and from Princess Margherita della Somaglia-Peretti, sister-in-law of Cardinal Montalto, both offering a substantial salary and dowry. But she remained in Florence on the orders of Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany, serving under the patronage of the Medici court from 1607 to 1627, where she married fellow-singer Giovanni Battista Signorini on 15 November, 1607. In 1622 Francesca gave birth to their only child Margherita, who lived to become a singer and a nun. After Giovanni's death in December, 1626, Francesca left Florence to enter the service of Lucchese banker and diplomat Vincenzo Buonvisi. In Lucca she married patron and aristocrat Tomaso Raffaelli and a year later, in 1628, gave birth to a son, also named Tomaso. Widowed once more in 1634, Francesca and her children returned to Florence, where she served under Grand Duchess Christine of Lorraine and the new Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere until her resignation in May of 1637. It is unclear when she died, although a likely date is February, 1645, when guardianship of her son passed to his uncle, Girolamo Raffaelli.

Two major works by Caccini survive: Il primo libro delle musiche a una e due voci, a collection of 32 songs and four soprano and bass duets; and her opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, which was first performed on 3 February, 1625, at the Ville Poggio Imperiale in Florence. Other surviving work includes the arias "Dove io credea" in Constantini's Ghirlandetta amorosa (1621) and "Ch'io sia fidele" in Robletti's Le risonanti sfere (1629). She is also known to have contributed music to several court entertainments, including Rinuccini's La mascherata delle ninfe di Senna (1611), Buonarroti's comedies La Tancia (1611), Il passatempo (1614) and La fiera (1619), Ferdinando Saracinelli's Il ballo delle Zingane (1615) and Jacopo Cicognini's Il martiro di S Agata (1622).

La liberazione di Ruggiero, which has been performed as widely as Cologne (1983), Ferrara (1987), Stockholm (1990), and Minneapolis (1991), is derived from Orlando furioso, the romantic epic by 16th-century poet Lodovico Ariosto. It was commissioned by Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria and first published in 1625. A setting of the feminist libretto by Ferdinando Saracinelli, it uses both stylistic and tonal contrasts to set apart the androgynous female sorceress protagonist, who sings mostly in conservative C major recitativo; the evil and sexually-charged sorceress antagonist, who engages in wild tonal flights in flat keys; and the young male knight, over whom the two women are fighting, as well as other male characters, whose parts are in mostly sharp keys. Her compositional style shares with Montiverdi a deft use of affective dissonance and an attention to tone, while it follows upon Jacopo Peri's in its through-composed elaboration on dramatic musical motifs. Caccini's restraint and apt use of well-known genres earned praise for her work by contemporary listeners. La liberazione so pleased Prince Władisław, whose visit to Carnival 1625 occasioned the work, that he commissioned two new operas from Caccini in 1626, neither of which has survived.


Submitted by Nate Zuckerman, The University of Chicago, 2004.

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