Monthly Archives: March 2015

Beautiful Music—by a Woman!

MCtp“I want to show the world, as much as I can in this profession of music, the vain error of men who believe they alone possess the gifts of intellect and artistry, and that such gifts are never given to women.”

This quotation greeted me when I opened a book of madrigals (poems set to music for several voices) in a bookshop near my home. My father needed to pick up a book, and, knowing my love of books, took me along. Even though I’m not much of a singer, the author’s name (Maddalena Casulana) drew me to the madrigal collection. Soon I discovered three more books of her madrigals.

I had never heard of a woman composer, but my father said he recognized Maddalena’s name, that she had visited Venice. According to Papa, women have been writing music for years, but in places I wouldn’t know about. He told me Venice’s convents are full of composers, and he’s heard rumors about this city’s famous courtesans, who also write and perform music.

I went home happy to know that Maddalena Casulana found success as a published composer. I hope other women have such illustrious careers, but doubt that I’ll be one of them. Although I play the harp, I’m no composer. Someday I’d love to hear Maddalena’s madrigals sung in Venice.



Marietta Tintoretto Artist unknown, (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Artist unknown, (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

“Have you heard about an illustrious young lady in Venice, not much older than you? Nobles and emperors compete to sit before her. Shall I tell you more?” My father had just delivered glum news about my prospects for a university education, and I knew he wanted to cheer me up.

One of Venice’s great painters, Jacopo Tintoretto, had a favorite daughter he called Marietta. (People also called her “la Tintoretta,” because her grandfather was a fabric dyer.) By dressing as a boy, she could stay with her father and learn at his side.

Marietta must have learned well, because Emperor Maximilian and Spain’s King Philip II requested her as a painter at their courts. But Marietta’s father didn’t let her leave Venice, so she’s still in our city, busy painting portraits for the nobles.

I enjoyed hearing about a successful Venetian woman, and I’m glad Marietta is getting the attention she deserves. But Papa’s not an artist, and I can’t hope someday to become a respected physician like he is—so I’m still searching for my place in the world.