Francesca Caccini Biography

(Italian Composer, Lutenist and Singer of the Early Baroque Era)

Birthday: September 18, 1587 (Virgo)

Born In: Florence, Italy

Francesca Caccini was an Italian composer, poet, and singer best known for composing La liberazione di Ruggiero, the oldest opera composed by a woman. Born into an affluent family of musicians, Francesca became interested in doing music early in her life. She was taught the basics of music and singing by her father and began performing when she was a teen. She joined her father on many of his performances and eventually joined him at the Medici Court, where his father held a position as the court composer. She produced 17 theatrical works during her lifetime, but only a few of them survived. She is also known for composing dozens of smaller pieces. Her most widely renowned opera is titled La liberazione di Ruggiero. It was massively successful when it was performed in 1626 and remains the oldest opera ever composed by a woman. Francesca also wrote poetry and held the highest-paid position at the Medici court for years. In addition, she also taught and studied music from her home. She stopped working at the Medici court in 1641 and passed away a few years later.

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Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In September

Died At Age: 53

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Giovanni Battista Signorini

father: Giulio Caccini

mother: Lucia Gagnolanti

siblings: Pompeo, Settimia

children: Margherita

Born Country: Italy

Composers Italian Women

Died on: 1641

place of death: Florence, Italy

City: Florence, Italy

Childhood & Early Life

Francesca Caccini was born on September 18, 1587, in Florence, Italy. His parents were Giulio Cassini and Lucia Gagnolanti. His father was a popular composer who gave Francesca and her sister Settimia early lessons in composing. Francesca’s mother and stepmother were also into singing. Hence, for Francesca, the stage was set to make a career in music and singing since she was a child.

In school, she learned literature, Greek, Latin and mathematics. In addition, she also participated in the musical competitions that her family used to stage frequently. Early in her life, she had performed on-stage for Jacopo Peri's L'Euridice and Giulio Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefala. She also did wedding music during the marriage function of Maria de' Medici and King Henri IV of France. She was 13 years old then and she performed as a singer in her father’s opera titled Euridice was being performed at the event

She had her own style of presentation, which caught the attention of King Henry, who then offered her a position as the court singer. The French King was so impressed by her singing that he called her the best singer in France. However, she denied the offer due to her father. For the next few years, both Francesca and her sister attempted to secure work outside Florence but they didn’t secure any job. Eventually, they finally joined their father at the Medici Court who was a court musician there.

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Career

As a court musician, Francesca’s main job was to play and teach music to the court members. She was a trained singer and was proficient in multiple musical instruments. She taught music to all members of the court, irrespective of their social class and stature. Within a few years, she had become the highest-paid court musician in Medici.

The  Medici court also attracted several intellectuals from different fields. She met Galileo Galelieduring one of those gatherings.

She is also revered as a music teacher along with being a singer. Her publication titled Il primo libro delle musiche is known to serve both artistic and pedagogical purposes. It is known as one of the accounts of her teaching methodology. The book of madrigals has a wide variety of genres adhering to both the secular and sacred forms of music. The book also deals with her explicit notations for vocal ornamentation.

Mostly though the book serves as a collection of 36 solo songs that are vivid in terms of style, and compositions and had several moods. Many songs were written as witty strophic songs about the joy and perils of romance while others were emotional and moving.

She used the book to teach mostly to teach her female students the basics of vocal techniques. The songs in the book were written by a woman, for a woman and gained a reputation among the top Medici women.

It is estimated that she has executed about 17 theatrical works during her lifetime, most of which are lost. In addition, she has also composed several shorter vocal works which were frequently performed by her female students.

She lived a few minutes away from her father and the two worked together frequently. She operated from where she taught, composed and studied music.

In the late 20th century, her scholarly book invited a great deal of attention owing to the biographical elements written in it. In the book, Francesca also shed light on romanesca, a genre which was highly common in her compositions.

Francesca was known to be an extremely talented and fast composer. She was equally productive as her contemporaries working at the court, such as Jacopo Peri and Marco da Gagliano. She composed a great volume of work but most of her work has since been lost.

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She composed stage musical pieces such as La Tancia, Il passatempo and La fiera, which were most often set to the comedies written by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. The esteemed poet was the grand-nephew of the famed artist Michaelangelo.

In 1625, she composed one of the most renowned musical works of her. Titled La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, the opera was performed on the occasion of the visit of crown Prince of Poland to Italy. It was an experimental 75-minute long four scene comedy ballet that combined parodical elements of stock scenes from early operas and narcissist characters that had surprisingly good emotional depths. Thus she exhibited her maturity and versatility and it also shows that she had mastered many devices of the musico-theatrical genre that gave her a completely fresh outlook in comparison to her contemporaries.

The prince of Poland liked the performance of her opera so much that he had it staged again in Warsaw, Poland, a few years later. This was the opera which is credited as the first opera ever written by a woman. However, it is still doubted whether she also wrote the poems or not. But it was well known that she must have gotten a helping hand from poets such as Michelangelo Buonarroti, Andrea Salvadori and Francesco Gualterotti that were her peers.

Her being a woman also impacted her position in the Italian musical world. As a successful female composer, she solidified the agency and cultural programs of her patron, Christine of Lorraine, who herself was a woman.

Among her surviving works are the arias titled Dove io credea and Ch'io sia fidele. Her style of music and compositions has been frequently linked with the work of great artists such as Monteverdi and Jacopo Peri. She was one of the pioneers of the baroque period in music, which started as the renaissance period was dying off slowly. Hence, Baroque influences were clearly visible in her style.

Her writing style was quite innovative as well. While most the composers were doing music and poetry that was tragic, romantic or very deep in nature, Francesca’s poems often had a hint of humour in them. This quality made her stand apart even from her male contemporaries.

After the success of La Liberazione in 1626, she kept working at the Medici court. In 1626, she relocated to Lucca after her husband died. She had received the commission for two-stage performances by Prince Wladyslaw. 

She worked at the Medici Court until 1641 and after that, she disappeared from the public scene. 

Personal Life & Death

Francesca Caccini met Giovani Battista Signorini while working at the Florence court. He was also a court musician there. The couple married in November 1607 and had a daughter in 1622. After the death of her husband, she married Tommaso Raffaelli, a nobleman. She had a child with him named Tomaso. Her second husband also passed away in 1630.

In May 1641, she left the Medici court. The exact time of her death is debated, but it is said that she died in 1645.

See the events in life of Francesca Caccini in Chronological Order

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