- Musical Voices of Early Modern Women: Many Headed Melodies, and: Monteverdi's Unruly Women: The Power of Song in Early Modern Italy
I read Thomasin LaMay's excellent collection of essays from start to finish, or rather from finish to start, led by my curiosity to jump around to each of the different sections. Happily, I found my methodology validated in the editor's introductory essay. This addition to Ashgate's Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series fills in important gaps in our knowledge. The book, subtitled Many Headed Melodies, is divided into five sections: "Introduction to the Many Headed Ones," "Women En-voiced," "Women on Stage," "Women from the Convents," and "Women, Collections and Publishing." Many of the authors display a wonderful sense of humor in their essays, making their prose a delight to read. These essays show how individually and collectively early modern women made their voices heard despite strictures that actively sought to silence them. It shows that the tension between silence and sound that is fundamental to music's power is amply displayed by women's work.
Suzanne Cusick's closing essay, "Epilogue: Francesca Among Women, a 600 Gynecentric View" is a continuation of Cusick's previous works which take the requirements of women's lives as their departure, using Cristoforo Bronzini's publication Della dignita e nobilita delle donne. Bronzoni's publication was commissioned by the Florentine regents Archduchess Maria Maddalena d' Austria and her mother-in-law Granduchess Christine de Lorraine. It put forth a worldview in which women ruled through piety and thereby created a more peaceful world. [End Page 145] Rather than valorizing professional over amateur music-making as do so many androcentric music histories, Bronzoni's work — and therefore Cusick's essay — shows a continuum of musical ability and experience that helps us understand Francesca Caccini as seen by her contemporaries.
Too often composers and historical figures are seen in isolation, but it is the connections among people that make a culture. The role of connector has often been assigned to women throughout history, especially where dynasty was concerned. "Patronage and Personal Narrative in a Music Manuscript: Marguerite of Austria, Katherine of Aragon, and London Royal 8 G. vii" by Jennifer Thomas convincingly ties this manuscript to the ceremonies, rites of passage, and other events in the lives of these two powerful Renaissance women, thereby providing satisfying answers to questions that have puzzled other researchers.
Linda Phyllis Austern's "Portrait of the Artist as (Female) Musician" discusses how music-making by women was portrayed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As anyone who has done research on historical personages knows, "Portraits ultimately served as political propaganda, and means of linking individuals across time and space. They helped to solidify or advance the social status of artists, sitters and owners alike." (31). Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Artemisia Gentilleschi are here, along with others who showed women musicians to be as honorable and worthy of respect as their male counterparts.
Italian music is further represented by Shawn Marie Keener's "Virtue, Illusion, Venezianità" which reveals, so to speak, the figure of the courtesan as she was seen and heard toward the beginning of the early modern period. Beth Glixon's portrait of the seventeenth-century prima donna Caterina Porri reveals a strikingly modern singing entrepreneur whose story could inspire today's artists. LaMay's "Composing from the Throat: Madalena Casulana's Primo Libro de madrigali, 1568" gives us a portrait of a feminist composer. She was determined to be seen and heard as a virtuosa, and as a serious professional singer on a par with her male colleagues. Casulana "was . . . well aware...