May 2024

The Steiny Road to Operadom | Karren LaLonde Alenier |

Forth from Her Pen

Karren Alenier

The Steiny Road to Operadom is always on the lookout for programs that highlight the genius of women artists, especially those that were denied proper recognition. Many aficionados of classical music are unaware that there were women composers in the Baroque period. On April 13, 2024, the Steiny Road Poet attended Musica Spira’s concert centered around the music of seventeenth-century Italian women composers who worked in the royal courts of that time, the specially endowed convents of cloistered
nuns, and the private academies formed to support the musical works of men. The chamber concert and a lecture that followed by Dr. Paula Maust, a co-artistic director of Musica Spira, was part of WoCo Fest, a three-day conference at the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in Bethesda, Maryland.


The excellent concert musicians included sopranos Grace Srinivasan and Crossley Hawn, Paula Maust, harpsichord, and Amy Domingues, viola da gamba. Grace Srinivasan is a co-founder and co-artistic director of Musica Spira with Paula Maust.


The one-hour concert entitled “Forth from Her Pen” featured seven compositions from six composers:

Maria Xaveria Perucona (c.1652-after 1709) “Vox aure suaves” & “O vos omnes”

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677) “O quam tristis”

Francesca Caccini (1587-after 1641) “Chi desia di saper”

Antonia Bembo (c.1640-c.1720) “Lamento della Vergine”

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) “Lagrime mie, Op 7”

Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) “Ad arma, o spiritus Op.13”


The selections enchanted Steiny given the exuberance of the performers. The performances consisted of soaring vocal solos and duets sung by Srinivasan and Hawn and masterfully accompanied by the continuo of Maust’s harpsichord and Domingues’ viola da gamba. Particularly memorable were the lively compositions by Caccini, who was a court composer and teacher, and by Leonarda, who was a nun who attained status as the Mother Superior of her convent. Dr. Maust noted in her lecture that Caccini, working in the Medici court, was the first woman to write an opera. One way that women were able to break into the field was that music was often a family business. Caccini started her music education/career at the age of four. Leonarda, similarly, came from a
well-to-do family that, according to Dr. Maust, allowed her entrance into
a well-endowed convent where she could obtain a music education and enjoy the relative freedom to work creatively. Maust noted that Leonarda, though the most productive woman composer of her time with over 200 known works, was said to have done most of her composing while others slept.


Worth noting is that the Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi broke into a males-only academy because her father insisted; later he formed an academy solely to promote his daughter’s work. She was one of the first women to have had her work published under her own name. Dr. Maust pointed out that many women composers remained unknown because their work was issued under the name of a man who might have been a teacher, colleague, or relative.


This program and lecture were part of the sixth annual WoCo Fest, a musical festival sponsored by the Boulanger Initiative which advocates for women and all gender marginalized composers.


Photos: Ceylon Mitchell



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Karren Alenier is a poet and writer. She writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. Read her blog.
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©2024 Karren Alenier
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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