Francesca Caccini's Il Primo Libro Delle Musiche of 1618: A Modern Critical Edition of the Secular Monodies
Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
(1587-after June 1641)
Francesca Caccini was one of the best-known female composers and performers of the Baroque era. Moreover, she is the first woman known to have written an opera. Unfortunately only one of her operas, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, survives.
Little is known about Francesca Caccini’s education, but, judging from her accomplishments, it was of a high quality. Not only could she sing and play keyboard, guitar, and harp, but she must also have learned Latin and studied literature (she wrote Italian and Latin poetry in later life). She probably performed from an early age: it is believed that she and her younger sister Settimia, along with their stepmother Margherita, were members of an ensemble known as the “donne di Giulio Romano” (i.e., Giulio Caccini). This group took part in several of the earliest operas, including Jacopo Peri’s Euridice and Caccini’s own Il rapimento di Cefalo.
Searching for Employment
From 1604 to 1605, the Caccini family visited France, where they were hosted by Queen Maria de’ Medici. The queen offered Francesca a position at the French court, but Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany, Maria de’ Medici’s uncle, seems to have refused to release his talented employee. Princess Margherita della Somaglia-Peretti, sister-in-law of the well-known music patron Cardinal Montalto, also wanted to hire Francesca. Giulio Caccini accepted on Francesca’s behalf but, in 1607, decided not to honor the contract. Instead, Francesca became a Medici employee in November 1607, receiving both a salary and a dowry from her patrons.
The dowry enabled Caccini to marry a fellow singer at the court, Giovanni Battista Signorini, in that same month. Such marriages were often arranged by a singer’s employer, but there is no evidence that this was the case between Caccini and Signorini.
At the Medici Court
Caccini embarked upon a busy career of composing, singing, and teaching. Her students included the Medici princesses and their ladies-in-waiting. In 1611, her father’s ensemble, of which she was presumably still a part, was replaced by one consisting of her and her own students. This group sang at court until the late 1620s.
A major part of her duties in Florence was the composing of music for court spectacles, including operas. Her surviving opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina was written to celebrate the visit of Prince Wladislaw of Poland. It received its first performance on February 3, 1625.
Caccini occasionally traveled to other parts of Italy. In 1617, she and her husband visited Genoa, Savona, and Milan. She went to Rome in 1616 and again from 1623 to 1624 at the behest of Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici. On the second visit, he had Caccini take part in a contest with another female singer-composer, Andreana Basile. Judging the exhibition, the poet Giambattista Marino concluded that while Basile had the better voice, Caccini knew more about music.
Signorini and Caccini’s only child, Margherita, was born on February 9, 1622. Margherita was to become a singer as well, although her mother did not want her to appear on stage. Four years later, Signorini died.
Less than a year after Signorini’s death, on October 4, 1627, Caccini remarried. Her second husband, Tomaso Raffaelli, was of much higher social status than her first, as he was an aristocrat and a landowner. The couple settled in his hometown of Lucca. There Caccini may have been employed by Vincenzo Buonvisi, scion of a prominent banking family. It is also possible that she wrote intermedii for her husband’s and Buonvisi’s academy, the Accademia degli Oscuri.
A year after their marriage, Caccini and Raffaelli had a son, also named Tomaso. Her husband died in April 1630, leaving Caccini a wealthy woman. At around the same time, there was an outbreak of plague in Lucca, which meant that she could not leave the city until 1633.
Once the quarantine was lifted, Caccini decided to move from Lucca, returning instead to the service of the Medici. She resumed her former duties, joined by her daughter Margherita, who sang chamber music. In January 1637 Margherita was asked to appear in a staged production, but Caccini protested, saying that it would ruin Margherita’s – and her half-brother Tomaso’s – social standing.
Caccini departed from the Medici court again on May 8, 1641. It is not known exactly what happened to her after that. In February 1645, however, Tomaso became the ward of his uncle Girolamo Raffaelli. This event would indicate that Caccini had recently died.
Cusick, Suzanne G. “Thinking from Women’s Lives: Francesca Caccini after 1627.” The Musical Quarterly 77 (1993): 484-507.
Cusick, Suzanne G: 'Caccini: (2) Francesca Caccini', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 4 May 2006), <http://www.grovemusic.com>
Hill, John Walter. “Oratory Music in Florence, I: ‘Recitar Cantando,’ 1583-1655.” Acta Musicologica 51 (1979): 108-36.