Francesca Caccini was a uniquely gifted musician and composer, the first woman to ever compose and publish an opera. Thankfully for us, Florence in the early 1600s was ruled by two women. Though composition was a field reserved for men, the women in power recognized her talents and raised eyebrows by promoting her to the highest paid musical position at court.
I was immediately drawn to her music, particularly the aria for voice and lute, Lasciatemi qui solo, for its depth of emotion and surprising freshness of harmonies. The haunting melody and the darkness of the text are daring for this period. Four hundred years later, her music is still moving.
Although the vast majority of her work has not survived, what remains are musical gems. Her opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Acina, made history as the first of its genre to be composed by a women. A book of songs, which includes Lasciatemi qui solo has a surprising variety of character that reveals her versatility as an artist. None of these masterpieces would exist without women helping other women in a world dominated by men.
Her patron, Christine de Lorraine, became the Regent, or de facto ruler of Florence after her husband, Grand Duke Ferdinando de’Medici, died when their son was too young to rule. Christine hired Francesca to serve as a court musician, where she rapidly rose through the ranks. She was praised for her vocal abilities and meticulous compositional process, which helped her produce surprisingly many compositions while simultaneously managing musical activities in the court. Christine’s daughter-in-law, Maria Magdalena of Austria, who co-ruled with Christine, commissioned the opera, an unprecedented task for a woman.
Francesca continued to be a working musician throughout her life, even after marrying and bearing children. Although not much is known about her life after she left the Medici court, her pioneering legacy inspires centuries of women to break through any barriers to the expression of their skills and talents.