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Nick Martin

Dr. Timothy Watkins

Music History I

17 March 2017

Women Composers of the Renaissance

The lack of a role of women in music during the Renaissance is

unfortunate, but luckily, there were still a few composers and virtuosi

of voice and instrumental music that stood the test of time. According

to most men during these years, women did not have a place in

composition. Instead, it was necessary for them to have a certain

demeanor and a specific, pre-determined role in life. Alternatively, for

numerous female composers from places like Italy and France,

breaking the mold of subjugation for women was very possible.

The image of the Renaissance woman was set fourth by Baldesar

Casiglione in his book The Book of the Courtier. Through this text, he

outlines a few ways in which women were marginalized in the sphere

of music. According to Casiglione, women are graceful, delicate

creatures that are not cut out for the same activities as men. It is

necessary for men to read music, play multiple instruments, hunt, and

play sports, but women only exist for decorative purposes; they cannot

handle the robust exertions of men. During this same time period,

womens only place in music was in the convent. They were not able to

join in with the choirboys and receive instruction in music. Instead,


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they were expected to fulfill their traditional roles as wives, mothers,

and household managers.

Although it was almost impossible for a woman of the

renaissance to make a name for herself in the musical world, it still

happened with a handful of female composers. For example, in the

world of Italian music, the women were not inactive. Born in Brescia

around 1540, Maddalena Casulana published two volumes of madrigals

in 1568 and 1583. Soon after, Vittoria Aleotti published her popular

work Ghirlanda dei Madrigali a 4 voci in 1593. Born in Bologna in the

same year, Orsina Vizzani composed and performed many pieces,

making them very popular for music lovers in Italy. In France, one

woman in particular during this time period stands out as not only a

sublime composer, but also as an instrumentalist and an intellectual.

Born at Lyons in the early sixteenth century, Clementine de Bourges

was a master of many instruments and a composer of beautiful

harmony, as shown in her four-part chorus in J. Paixs organ collection.

Whether it be their emphasis on improvisation rather than

reading music, their need for gracefulness over skill, or their pressure

to be housekeepers instead of intellectuals, women faced numerous

obstacles in the way of being successful. Despite this, many

Renaissance women overcame their difficulties and made a name for

themselves in the history of music.


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