(May 4, 1744 - December 13, 1812)
March is Women's History Month and in honoring the legacy of women composers, I here present a profile of Marianna Martines, a brilliant classical Viennese composer active in the time of Mozart.
Born Anna Catharina Martines in Vienna during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, “Marianna” was the name Anna Catharina chose for herself, and this is how the world came to know her. She was born to an Austrian mother and a father of Spanish descent, Don Nicolo Martines, who himself was born in Naples of a Spanish father.
Nicolo Martines followed in his father’s footsteps and developed a military career. He came to Germany with a regiment that supported the cause of Charles VI after the War of the Spanish Succession and married a German woman. In order to settle down, he obtained a civilian post as Master of Ceremonies in the Papal Embassy. So, Marianna grew up in an economically stable, comfortable Viennese home, with five brothers (who all went on to have distinguished careers related to the court and government) and one sister. When her brother, Joseph Martines, was appointed to teach Italian to Archduke Joseph (Maria Theresa’s son) in 1752, the Martines family became closer to the royal presence, and Marianna was often summoned to play music for the empress, who thoroughly enjoyed her keyboard and singing talents. In 1774, the Martines family was admitted to the nobility, and “von” was added to their name, as well as a family crest.
The family shared the third floor of the Altes Michaelerhaus with the highly influential Pietro Metastasio, who was famous for his writing throughout Europe, and came to be regarded as the greatest poet of Italian opera in the 18th century. Some have even called him the most successful librettist in the whole history of opera, as vast numbers of composers set his opera and oratorio libretti throughout the 18th century. Metastasio lived with the Martines family for over 50 years until his death, was an intimate friend to them, and a mentor to Marianna:
“But in all my studies, the chief planner and director was always, and still is, Signor Abbate Metastasio who, with the paternal care he takes of me and of all my numerous family, renders an exemplary return for the incorruptible friendship and tireless support which my good father lent him up until the very last days of his life.”
(Marianna Martines, December 1773 in a letter to Padre Martini)
Published in 1777, the imperial singer, composer, and teacher of Empress Maria Theresa’s children, Giambattista Mancini, described Marianna and her relationship with Metastasio:
“The noble Signora Marianna Martinez of Vienna endorses in the most emphatic terms the praise due to this famous master. This incomparable young woman, endowed with superior genius for music, was taught its principles and perfected by Sig. Bonno. Her progress was so remarkable and rapid that it awakened the admiration of all the most famous composers. Her compositions have been in great demand and applauded in Naples, Bologna, and in many of the most famous Italian cities. I heard her myself, when she was still very young, since and play the cembalo with astonishing mastery, accompanying her own compositions, sung and expressed with such force of musical emphasis that Sig. Abbate Metastasio himself felt again the emotion that he had been able to excite in the human heart with his inimitable librettos. Consequently, the celebrated Padre Martini, among other unanimous acclamations, was honored to enroll as a member of our Accademia Filarhomica of Bologna this woman, who, although a dilettante, can justifiably be called a great master and a rare genius of music.”
Despite her extraordinary musical talents, which became widely recognized in her lifetime, Marianna Martines never held any professional positions, because in the 18th century, women were not permitted to work as professionals. A woman of her class had a certain advantage in developing her talents in that 1) she had access to musical studies and influential people 2) did not have to worry about finding a husband in order to obtain financial security, which allowed her to focus on her music.
Even when her compositional talents became internationally recognized and she had achieved every possible accolade available to her, she was never paid for her work, as it was considered crass to pay a woman, and especially a woman of her class. Because she was already well-off financially and of the nobility, she had no need for patrons. Marianna Martines never married, and devoted her life to musical composition.
She began studying music at the age of seven and her two primary instruments were the keyboard and voice. The music historian, Charles Burney, spent time in Vienna in 1772 and described Marianna’s talents:
“Her performance indeed surpassed all that I had been made to expect. She sung two airs of her own composition, to words of Metastasio, which she accompanied on the harpsichord, in a very judicious and masterly manner; and, in playing the ritornels, I could discover a very brilliant finger.
To say that her voice was naturally well-toned and sweet, that she had an excellent shake, a perfect intonation, a facility of executing the most rapid and difficult passages, and a touching expression, would be to say no more than I have already said, and with truth, of others; but here I want words that would still encrease the significance and energy of these expressions. The Italian augmentatives would, perhaps, gratify my wish, if I were writing in that language; but as that is not the case, let me only add, that in the portamento, and divisions of tones and semi-tones into infinitely minute parts, and yet always stopping upon the exact fundamental, Signora Martinetz was more perfect than any singer I had ever heard: her cadences too, of this kind, were very learned, and truly pathetic and pleasing.”
Joseph Haydn (who for a time lived in the attic of her building) taught her musical rudiments, and keyboard playing and singing. She learned counterpoint from Giuseppe Bonno, composer of the imperial court, who studied in Naples under the celebrated composers, Francesco Durante and Leonardo Leo - two composers who contributed crucially to the rise and dissemination of the elegant galant style (emphasis on melody with light accompaniment rather than on equal-voiced part-writing and fugal texture). Marianna dearly valued her lineage to this Neapolitan School. Nicolò Porpora, the famous singing teacher, taught her voice and composition. In addition to her musical studies, apart from speaking German and Italian natively, she taught herself French and English, and was so fluent in these languages that she could correspond and converse well in both.
She studied daily the compositions of galant style masters such as Hasse, Jommelli, and Galluppi. Galluppi in particular, likely influenced her keyboard music, to which she devoted much of her compositional attention. Though Galluppi was Venetian, Hasse and Jommelli were both products of the Neapolitan conservatories to which she traced the origins of her musical style. She also studied the “older” masters of her day: Handel, Lotti, Caldara.
In the second half of her life, Marianna maintained her own vocal studio where she developed excellent singers, of whom Frau von Dürfeld, who unfortunately died in child birth, stood out. The warm and grateful memories of her students kept Marianna’s legacy alive well into the 19th century, and thanks to these women, her name was not entirely forgotten, enabling curious music historians of the future to unearth her story.
Although she was unable to hold professional positions, Marianna Martines' fame as a master composer and performer gained her friendships with the leading musicians of her day, including Amadeus Mozart, and even amounted to commissions, which as mentioned earlier, she was never financially compensated for. Here is an abbreviated list of some of her associates:
Saverio Mattei (1742-95): Marianna composed her Italian psalms Miserere mei Deus and Quedmadmodum desiderat cervus to his translations of these sacred texts. Although she was not present to witness it, these pieces were played in Florence and Naples to much acclaim during her lifetime, and contain some of her most widely disseminated pieces: "Manuscripts of those two works amount to 13 sources held today by 10 libraries in 8 cities, from Münster to Naples. The greater part of that dispersion probably occurred fairly early” (Godt, 131). Other composers, such as Jommelli, Cafaro, and Nicolo Zingarelli also set Mattei’s poetry to music. Although Marianna composed for four of his poems, only the two mentioned above survive.
Amadeus Mozart attended her private musical gatherings, and played keyboard duets with her. In his memoirs, published in the 1820s, Irish tenor Michael Kelly, (who also attended her gatherings and who created the roles of Basilio and Curzio in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro) wrote that “Mozart was an almost constant attendant at her parties, and I have heard him play duets on the piano-forte with her, of his own compositions. She was a great favourite of his.”
Farinelli, the famous castrato singer, was very good friends with Metastasio, and so was acquainted with Marianna’s compositions and she with his music. After Metastasio’s death, the two corresponded as friends, and continued to musically inspire each other.
Padre Martini, an active and highly regarded musical scholar and Franciscan friar, nominated Marianna for membership to the prestigious and exclusive Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, which had never elected a woman to membership in any capacity whatsoever in the 108 years since its founding. But when Marianna was invited to submit a request for membership, it was clear that her talents had been recognized. In 1773, she became the first woman to ever be admitted to the academy. Her friend Amadeus Mozart was also a member of this academy.
All new members were required to compose a setting of the Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109, or 110 in The King James Bible) for performance at the annual celebrations in honor of the academy’s patron saint. Her Dixit Dominus is regarded as her masterpiece, its six movements a mixture of vigorous choruses, melodious solos, masterful orchestral textures and exciting contrapuntal work. It could “easily hold a place today as a standard work in the choral concert repertory” (Godt, 153).
Composer Antonio Salieri also regularly attended her private musical gatherings.
Finally, Marianna Martines supported the compositions of Maria Rosa Coccia of Rome and Dutch Baroness Josina van Boetzelaer, praising their work to Metastasio, to whom the composers had sent some of their pieces for approval.
The following is a list of the kinds of compositions she created. Although not all of her work has survived, it is known and documented that Marianna Martines wrote:
2 Litanies of Loreto
4 Italian Psalms (two which are among her most disseminated works)
other sacred works with chorus and/or orchestra, which includes her masterpiece, Dixit Dominus, and two other pieces with SATB chorus.
7 solo motets
27 Italian arias (all to texts by Metastasio), of which 24 are included in a collection of Metastasio arias.
7 chamber cantatas
4 keyboard concertos
3 keyboard sonatas
From the ages of 16-24 she enjoyed writing church music which was probably intended for performance during mass: masses, solo motets. Most of her surviving keyboard sonatas and Italian arias come from this phase of her career. Because she was an excellent and gifted singer, she often wrote for the voice in some capacity, whether it was church music, arias, psalms, or oratorio. Her solo cantatas were mostly written for Metastasio’s texts and all of them were composed for soprano and evoke pastoral scenes, as was the Italian cantata tradition of the 17th century. In her arias, she often used a combination of oboes, horns, and strings. Another of her favorite aria combinations was flutes and muted violins.
On March 17 and 19, 1782, her oratorio, Isacco figura del Redentore, was performed at Vienna’s Tonkünstler-Sozietät in two concerts during Lent. This was the first and perhaps only time in her life that she had the opportunity to present a major work in a completely public setting, allowing her music to be compared to other leading professional composers. The piece was set to a text by Metastasio and held a “Metastasian” view that the words and vocal line should not be overshadowed by the orchestral accompaniment.
Because of her prolific vocal music output, the vocal music genre could be considered her preferred musical form, but given the variety and frequency of her compositions, it is difficult to determine exactly what her favorite form was. She had a penchant for writing keyboard music, being an excellent player herself. Her keyboard concertos and sonatas thrived in her private music gatherings, known in Vienna at the time as Akademien. Concert life in Vienna was then not as developed as in London or Paris, prompting music lovers to hold their own gatherings in private concerts. As stated above, Marianna’s parties attracted composers like Salieri and Mozart, with whom she often played keyboard duets. She held these gatherings every Saturday night by the mid 1790s, where string quartets, keyboard music, and vocal music accompanied by keyboard were most frequently played. Sometimes, wind ensembles performed throughout the night, encouraging conversation between the guests. So, it can be said that Marianna Martines thrived in her vocal music and keyboard compositions. It may be noted that she did not write works for the string quartet, however.
Despite writing great vocal music and diligently studying the great operatic composers, Martines never wrote an opera, as this genre was reserved exclusively for professional composers: being a woman, the field of opera was closed to her. Her two surviving oratorios, Sant'Elena al Calvario (1781?) and Isacco figura del Redentore (1781) do however, give a sense of her dramatic compositional skills. Her settings of Italian arias also hint as to what she could have been capable of if the stage had been open to her.
Musical tools and style: Partimenti and Galant Schemata
As stated earlier, Marianna Martines wrote in the galant style, which was popular in the 18th century: this style employed light accompaniment, periodic melodies, and an elegant manner of performance, which sought to please the listener through its clarity, lightness, and natural gracefulness. There was an emphasis on melody with light accompaniment rather than on equal-voiced part-writing and fugal texture.
Marianna employed the following compositional tools and techniques in her galant-style writing:
Partimenti: “bass lines, with or without figures, consisting largely of phrases, cadences, and sequences that every accompanist and composer was expected to use over and over in various combinations (Godt, 25).”
Partimenti helped budding composers build up a repertory of essential musical gestures and also helped train singers, whose music was often notated in the form of vocal scores consisting only of vocal part and bass.
Romanesca: “…a voice leading schema in which the bass descends from the first scale degree to the sixth, and then down to the third. Like many galant composers, Martines liked to use the Romanesca at the beginning of melodies (Godt, 25)." The Romanesca was also effective as closing material.
“Do-re-mi”: a galant voice-leading schema made of a melody that ascends from the first scale degree to the third over the harmonic progression I-V-I.
“Sol-Fa-Mi”: “a schema that resembles the Do-Re-Mi in its harmonic implications but in which the melody descends from the fifth degree to the third (Godt, 28). The sol-fa-mi was used by galant composers as the basis for singles phrases but often also as the framework for antecedent-consequent phrases.
“Often she used her favorite abb’ phrase structure to build a melody in which phrases a and b together are based on the Sol-fa-mi, and phrase b’ continues its melodic descent to the tonic (Godt, 28).”
Fonte: “a sequence involving two statements of a musical unit, first in the minor mode and then, one step lower, in the major mode (Godt, 28).”
“The Fonte could also be used within a single phrase, as a way of harmonizing a descending scale segment in the treble… (Godt, 28).”
“the Prinner”: This was a melodic descent from the sixth scale degree to the third, over an accompanying line that descends from the 4th scale degree to the first.
“the Meyer”: This schema was a melodic descent from 1 to 7 (tonic to leading tone) answered by a descent from 4 to 3 over a harmonic framework moving from I to 2 and then from 7 back to 1.
In her lifetime, Marianna Martines achieved international acceptance and recognition for her compositional work. Internationally famous scholars, poets, monarchs, and musicians lauded her musical genius. The music historian Charles Burney of London published a book in England (quoted above) about his musical travels that was translated and widely read in Germany, and in it, he praised her exceptional gifts as a singer, keyboard player, and composer. Two of her piano sonatas had been printed in Nuremberg, one of her masses had earned the admiration of Viennese connoisseurs in the Michaelerkirche, her music was played in Italy, and by 1748, her Dixit Dominus and admission to the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna had solidified her achievement of every possible recognition available to a woman of her rank and position. But “the modern concert business, with its regular concert seasons and a dependable market, had not yet come into existence. The permanent middle-class audience that developed in the 19th century might possibly have made room for Marianna even though her proximity to the court might have barred her from ever accepting the role of a professional artist. The world of music as it then existed offered no public space to a woman of her class” (Godt, 134). It is only in the late 20th century that musical historians began unearthing her story, and in 2010 Irving Godt wrote a book about her life and music, which is cited multiple times in this article. Most of her vocal oeuvre is available at NYU’s Bobst library, currently making her work accessible to the people of the tri-state area.
In 1782, just three weeks after her oratorio, Isacco figura del Redentore’s public performance in Vienna, Metastasio died, leaving Marianna an inheritance of 20,000 Gulden that enabled her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Marianna Martines never married and lived with her younger sister Antonia, who also never married, for the rest of her life. She died of tuberculosis just two days after Antonia’s death in 1812.
To listen to an example of her work, click on the Source link below to hear her Ouverture in C. Written in 1770, this work is comprised of three movements following the standard convention of early symphonies: a fast movement followed by a slower, more lyrical second section, and a lively closing movement. Although a cataloger called this work a sinfonia, Martines marked it as Ouverture on the first page of her autographed score.
Some of her music is currently available in recorded form, so be sure to seek it out and discover this musical genius, that for political and social reasons, was nearly forgotten and still remains largely unknown to music lovers. Brava, Marianna Martines! You continue to be an inspiration. Thank you for forming an important part of the legacy and history of great composers.
The oft' quoted book in my article is Irving Godt's Marianna Martines: A Woman Composer in the Vienna of Mozart and Haydn. University of Rochester Press, 2010. Go read it!