Francesca Caccini

(1587 - 1645?)

Francesca Caccini, often called "La Cecchina" ("The Songbird"), was born in Florence, Italy, on the eighteenth of September, 1587. Music was a huge part of Francesca's life from almost before her birth, as her father, Guilio Caccini, was a well respected and prolific composer, and her mother, Lucia Gagnolanti, was a singer herself. After Lucia's premature death while Francesca was still quite young, Guilio married another singer, Margherita della Scala. Francesca's younger sister, Settimia, like Francesca was a singer and composer, and their brother, Pompeo, also was known as a singer during his time. With a background like that, coupled with her father's influence, a musical career utilizing the talents that seemed to run in the Caccini family must have been almost inevitable for Francesca.

Francesca's musical training began early, and she was known to have played the keyboard, lute, guitar, and harp, in addition to her singing for which she was most famous. In addition to her practical music skills, she was also well trained in composition, and it is reasonable to assume that her father was responsible for much of her musical instruction. However, Francesca's education was not limited to music, and she was also well versed in literature. In fact, she was known as a poet as well as a singer, and probably wrote the lyrics for most of the songs in Il primo libro, the known exceptions being "Difpiegate" (page 97) by Ceba, and "Laudate Dominum de Celis" (page 69), which is a setting of Psalm 148. It has been said that "Che defia di faper che cofa e amore" (page 90) was written by Chiabera, but there is no definitive evidence of this.

Francesca made her living as a performer as well as a composer, and her talents did not go unnoticed by the important musical figures of the day. Claudio Monteverdi, one of the founders of the early Baroque, heard her perform in 1610, and subsequently wrote to his friend Cardinale Ferdinando Gonzaga, "...udi a Firenze la signora figola di Sr. G.R. molto ben cantare e suonare di liuto chitaronato et clavicembalo.".(...I heard, in Florence, the daughter of Mr. G.R. (Guilio Romano Caccini) sing very well and play the lute, the guitar, and the harpsichord.).

It did not take long for people to start seeing Francesca as a musician in her own right, as opposed to simply being known as the musical daughter of an accomplished man. In 1605, Francesca received an offer of a job as a salaried court singer for King Henry IV of France. However, it is apparent that Grand Duke Ferdinand of Florence refused to release Francesca from his service, as her father was also employed there. After a few other attempts at gaining a permanent independent position, Francesca finally remained at the Florentine court, as she had become engaged to Giovanni Battista Signorini, another court singer. The two were married on November 15, 1607, and had one child, Margherita, in 1622. Less than a year after Giovanni's death in 1626, Francesca married an aristocrat named Tomaso Raffaelli. They had a son, also called Tomaso, in 1628, but the new family would soon be torn by another premature death, as Francesca's new husband died in 1630.

Francesca's first music for the stage, La stiava, was performed in 1607 at the Florentine Carnival. Unfortunately, the music has not survived. Over the next few years, she contributed incidental music to various compositions by other composers. However, her first surviving independent work, Il primo libro delle musiche was not published until 1618, coincidentally the year of her father's death. Few of her other works have survived, with the notable exception of the opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina. Francesca is known as the first female composer of opera, and is one of the most prolific female composers of her time, if not of all time.

Francesca continued to perform, compose, and teach at least until May of 1637, when she resigned from the Medici court. After that there are conflicting reports of her location and eventual death. It is likely that she stayed in Florence, where some say that she died in 1640. Regardless of this, she was probably dead by February 1645, when the guardianship of her son Tomaso passed to his uncle Girolamo Raffaelli. Francesca shares a tomb in San Michele Visdomini with her father Guilio, sister Settimia, and an unidentified person known as Dianora. 6.Francesca will remain known as one of the greatest female composers of all time, but I believe that quality of her music speaks for itself, regardless of the gender of the person who wrote it.

Facsimile of Il primo libro delle musiche

A Partial Francesca Caccini Discography |  VA: Monody and the Vocal Concerto