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  • Feeling the Feminine, Forming the MasculineAmateur Male Musicians and the Flute Sonatas of Anna Bon di Venezia (1738–?)
  • Kimary Fick (bio)

The North German Enlightenment saw an increase of published music composed by women, particularly in the realm of female domestic music making, such as lieder and keyboard works.1 Anna Bon di Venezia (1738–?), a virtuoso harpsichordist trained at the Ospedale della Pietà, contributed to this growing trend, though she chose a different and unusual route to success. Her op. 1 was a collection of six flute sonatas (1756) that would have been consumed and performed exclusively by male amateur musicians, since the flute was not considered an appropriate instrument for women.2 Rather than publish her first opus for her primary instrument, the harpsichord, Bon strategically chose to boost her reputation by attempting to gain acceptance among mostly male amateur flutists.

The title page of the collection, reading “composte da Anna Bon di Venezia, Virtuosa di Musica di Camera,” not only bore witness to Bon’s playing abilities but also alluded to her training at the famed Venetian Ospedale. Bon thereby capitalized on her femininity by carefully constructing her identity as one of the famed “vestal virgins of the Pietà,” as they were known, implying at once morality and sexuality through her virtuosity and youth. While this constructed identity may have intrigued buyers at the outset, the published collection also facilitated an interaction less documented in the era: an intimate experience between a young female composer and a male amateur musician. According to eighteenth-century concepts [End Page 130] of aesthetics and character, music was a critical practice for the formation of individual and moral identity. In this context, Bon’s collection can be interpreted as offering men an opportunity to develop an internal sense of feminine identity as a balance to the rational, hegemonic masculinity expected of men at the time.3

A reconstruction of Bon’s identity through the experiences of the audience that purchased her op. 1 reveals a complex concept of femininity both in her publication itself and in accounts by travel writers reporting on performances by the Ospedale musicians. By probing the historical concept of character in eighteenth-century musical and aesthetic theories, I propose a means to locate female character in Bon’s sonatas and identify how consumers may have internalized that character. Finally, an examination of editorial interventions in a manuscript copy of Bon’s sonatas preserved in the collection of Werner Hans Rudolph Rosenkrantz Giedde (1756–1816) offers a glimpse into one such interaction between a female composer and male consumer. Through the study and performance of Bon’s flute sonatas, male musicians of North Germany had a rare opportunity to feel the feminine in all of its complex manifestations, whether as noble, modest, sexual, or sensitive, in the safe boundaries of their own music rooms.

Anna Bon: Real versus Constructed Identity

In general, little is known about the individual girls trained at the Ospedales of Venice; however, Michaela Krucsay has been able to reconstruct Bon’s early life and education through extant archival documents.4 My purpose is not to duplicate Krucsay’s research here but rather to highlight those features of Bon’s biography relevant to her constructed identity. Bon came from a family of working artists and musicians. Her mother, Rosa Ruvinetti, was a court opera singer, and her father, Girolamo Bon, was a painter and theater set designer. Due to their court positions, much more is known about their careers than about Anna’s. Documents recovered by Krucsay clearly demonstrate that Bon’s education was designed to prepare her for a career as a court musician like her parents, who secured a prestigious position for their daughter at the famed Ospedale della Pietà in 1743 at the age of four years and seven months.5

In addition to the children who were abandoned to the institution at a young age, the Ospedale had two avenues for admittance of its young female students, either as a figlie in educazione (student in education), admitted by audition [End Page 131] as early as age six, or as a figlie di spese, an external student who took lessons...


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pp. 130-153
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