Marianna Martínes (1744–1812): Classical Composer in Vienna
Pre-concert lecture, March 8, 2018 Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, NYC On this program, we feature the music of another so-called “forgotten” woman composer of the past, Marianna Martínes. The details of Martínes' life, while not widely clear, are fairly well-documented. Her father, Nicolo Martínes, was the Spanish envoy to the Esterházy court, a role that ultimately landed the family in Vienna. Those who know Vienna well today can probably appreciate how much the city bears the imprint of its past. The walls that once encircled the city are down, but the ring that they left are traced today by wide boulevards that pulse with traffic and trams. Many of the grand houses and palaces are still there, even though they are used mostly today as cultural institutions and museums. And most of the streets in the center of town still follow their old courses, paths that knew the footsteps of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, and Schubert. Within this Pantheon of great voices of classical music, Marianna’s story is especially poignant for its singularity and its exceptionality.
The family lived on the Michaelerplatz in the center of the city in a stately building whose residents, true to 18th-century fashion, were situated in accordance with social class, wealthier residents on the bottom floors, poorer up top. On the grand bottom floors were some minor Esterházy princesses, and in the other extreme, in the top drafty attic rooms, lived a young Joseph Haydn, then a struggling musician.
Marianna Martínes (1744–1812)—Overture (“Sinfonia”) in C Major
The Martíneses lived in the middle floors, in rooms that adjoined those of composer Nicola Porpora and court poet Metastasio — great librettist to Caldara, Hasse, Handel, Porpora, and later, of course, Mozart. Metastasio discovered young Marianna’s talents after hearing her play the harpsichord as a child, one presumes through the walls — he suggested she take lessons from Porpora — and through Porpora Marianna ultimately met Papa Haydn, who accompanied her early music lessons and would eventually teach her, himself.
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)—Symphony No. 49 in F Minor; Hob.I:49
Marianna writes about her mentors in an autobiographical letter that we have, dated 1773, which she wrote as a 30-year-old. She writes,
“I was born in the year 1744 on the 4th day of May. In my seventh year they began to introduce me to the study of music, for which they believed me inclined by nature. Its rudiments were taught me by Signor Giuseppe Haydn, now Maestro di Cappella to Prince Esterhazy... But in all my studies, the chief planner and director was always, and still is, Signor Metastasio, who, with the paternal care he takes of me and all of 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.”
Metastasio was equally impressed with the young Marianna and he was fascinated with her compositional processes and saw to it that she knew the music of important composers. His own letters draw attention to the “rich store” of music Marianna never tired of augmenting and occasionally give us wonderful anecdotes, such as that she regularly played and wrote with a copy of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater beside her on her harpsichord desk. Metastasio would bequeath to her, in addition to a hefty sum of money that would ensure a lifetime’s independence, the sum and parts of his own substantial music library.
At this point, Viennese musical society knew the grown Marianna as a gifted aristocratic singer and virtuoso keyboardist who had performed for the Empress Maria Theresa — you'll hear in our clips that there is a vocality and lyricism even to her instrumental music. She held a regular salon with her sister which attracted the crème de crème of Viennese musical society, including Mozart, who not only was a frequent guest but composed four-hand piano sonatas to perform with her there. But unlike many salonnières in her day, Marianna, we think, widely disseminated her music in manuscript — and this is a crucial point in the history of women in print culture and of intellectual history. Already in the 1760s, for example, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, one of Maria Theresa’s daughters, was singing Marianna’s arias, likely from a manuscript she had purchased in Vienna when she married King Ferdinand in 1768.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)—Divertimento in D Major, K.136
Whether via print networks or by word of mouth — though likely both — Marianna’s reputation extended beyond the walls of Vienna, as well. The English diarist and critic Charles Burney wrote the following of his travels:
“I went to Metastasio, for the last time! I found with him much company, and the St. Cecilia herself, Martinetz [sic], at the harpsichord, to which she had [just] been singing. … She had been so kind as to have transcribed for me…a song of Metastasio set by herself, with which I had been greatly struck in a former visit.”
Those of us who follow classical music in the news will have likely seen in the last months the articles chastising the Philadelphia Orchestra for not including a single female composer in its 2018–2019 season. Granted, until the 20th century, most western art music was written by men, and we cannot change history; but we can change our narrative and our approach to that history, choosing to find out why things were the way they were, instead of relegating the question to a footnote. What if, instead of comparing numbers, we considered the relevance of social spaces that women like Martines created, spaces that allowed men and women to feely associate where they otherwise would not have been able to, and which ultimately led to the creation of new music and to the spread of ideas?
We see that we can chart specifically feminized priorities within music history, with regard to collecting, patronage, domestic concertizing, and mutual influence — all of which were integral to the mobility and development of music. And yet, it’s true that most of the time, women’s names do not appear on the documents — the inventories, account ledgers, or other official papers upon which canonic history so often relies. The importance of minority voices in history, and not just those of women, is especially relevant now in our current political climate, when a domineering voice tries to squelch the very nuance and variety that comprises us all at every turn — yet if the noticeable lack of these voices is not consciously addressed, the past will only continue to remain obscured.
— Elizabeth Weinfield, 2018
Further Reading: Godt, Irving. Marianna Martines: A Woman Composer in the Vienna of Mozart and Haydn. Rochester, University Rochester Press, 2010.
Prompted by a desire to respond to our political climate, each concert of 2017–2018 will be devoted to work by female composers from the early modern period. In so doing, we are performing a quintessential task of feminist musicology: shifting the point of power away from a domineering force and toward a minority voice—letting it sound, and letting it speak.