Written by: Julia Vide
Francesca Caccini was born on September 18, 1587 in Florence, Italy. As the daughter of Giulio Caccini, an ambitious musician, music was already in Francesca’s blood. Caccini was raised in one of the most cultured courts in Europe. Her father encouraged her musical development, holding her to the highest standards of a professional musician and the standards of a “lady.” Caccini learned to sing, play the lute, and write poetry in both Latin and Tuscan. Heavily influenced by her father who thought that counterpoint was outdated, she learned monody and adopted many of the same “rules” and musical stylings of her father.
In 1604, the Caccini family traveled to France. After an exceptional performance by Francesca at the wedding of King Henry IV and Maria de Medici, she was requested by Maria to stay at the French court as a singer and harpsichordist. In a letter written to Cardinal Ferdinand Gonzaga, Claudio Monteverdi says “at Florence [I heard] Signor Giulio Romano’s daughter sing very well and play the lute, the guitar and the harpsichord.” In 1607, she married the singer Giovannibattista Signorini in Florence and for some time after their wedding, she served the Tuscan court performing in sacred music festivals during Holy Week. The Cardinal was so impressed with her singing, she was one of three singers, including her husband, invited to Rome to perform. After her success in Rome, she toured across Italy. Her singing was, “heard as a marvel, without any dissension; and just in a few days her fame has spread far.’’
Caccini’s first publication and most notable piece of work is Il primo libro, a collection of short vocal songs. Included in this are 19 sacred solos, 13 secular songs, and four duets for soprano and bass. Not only is it the most extensive collection of solo songs by a single composer, but it is also the first body of sacred monodies. Il primo libro reflects Caccini’s unique style of composing – a strong and active bassline and the use of the diminished seventh chord, among other characteristics. Caccini’s output was not limited to solo songs, she also composed the opera La liberazione di Ruggiero, which reflects fiery and restlessness. Not only was she the first woman to compose an opera, she was also the first to have a major work published. Caccini had a gift for conveying the meaning of works in musical sound. This is perhaps best exemplified in her work Maria, dolce Maria, a piece about the Virgin Mary and her role as comforter.
In addition to composing and performing, Caccini also played a significant pedagogic role during the 1600s. Il primo libro contained songs in contrasting styles, moods, and with various technical demands all of which represented her responsibility for teaching the art of singing to other promising vocal students. She influenced not only other composers but also other singers and vocal teachers of her time and contemporaries. Her music played an important role in the development of the traditional Italian school of singing, becoming a step toward the development of the romantic “bel canto.”
- “Caccini, Francesca.” Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, June 1996, 126. http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.elon.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=b6h&AN=36199020&site=brc-live.
- Raney, Carolyn. “Francesca Caccini’s ‘Primo Libro’.” Music & Letters 48, no. 4 (1967): 350-57. Accessed June 24, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/733229.
- Lobato Miranda, Marina. “Francesca Caccini (1587-1641): Composer, Performer, and Professor Represented in Il Primo Libro Delle Musiche.” Thesis, Georgia State University, 2014. https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/music_theses/5.
- Silbert, Doris. “Francesca Caccini, Called La Cecchina.” The Musical Quarterly 32, no. 1 (1946):50-62. Accessed June 24, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/739564.