Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maddalena Lombardini

Maddalena Lombardini (Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen) was an Italian violinist, harpsichordist, singer, and composer born (in Venice) on December 9, 1745 (Bach was 60 years old and would live an additional five.)  Today, she is remembered thanks to a well-known (and lengthy) letter which her teacher, Giuseppe Tartini wrote to her on March 5, 1760, outlining several details of violin technique.  The letter is often quoted in music journals and Tartini biographies.  From age seven (1753), she was trained in one of the four hospitality homes (orphanages or Ospedale) in Venice.  This one was called the Ospedale dei Mendicante – Home for the Indigent.  (The orphanage where Antonio Vivaldi usually taught was called the Ospedale della Pieta.)  These institutions, begun in the sixteenth century, were combination orphanages and churches.  They not only took in orphans, but the elderly, poor, and infirm as well.  Music instruction for girls was important to these institutions for both its educational value, and for the income from public attendance of church services at which excellent music performances were featured.  The student body consisted of between sixty and eighty girls.  Although Lombardini was not an orphan – she was the daughter of impoverished aristocrats - she was admitted to the music school of the Ospedale based on her musical talent, as were a few other children who were not orphans.  Her teachers at the orphanage were Antonio Vivaldi, Baldassare Galuppi, and Nicola Porpora.  While at the Ospedale, Lombardini was occasionally allowed to leave the orphanage to study both violin and composition with Tartini in Padua (about twenty five miles west of Venice.)  It has been said she was his favorite pupil.  Lombardini could have become a nun but, in 1767, she chose to marry a violinist-composer by the name of Ludivico Sirmen.  She was 22 years old.  They took off on a tour together and were well-received everywhere.  However, she also concertized by herself to great public acclaim.  Lombardini and Sirmen eventually separated and from that day forward, her constant travel companion was a priest - Don Giuseppe Terzi; according to one source, they died within nine days of each other.  Sirmen established a personal relationship with someone else, too - a now-forgotten Countess.  Lombardini and Terzi's travels took them to London, Paris, and St Petersburg (Russia), among other places.  She first played in London on January 9, 1771 and was highly praised.  Curiously, on April 15 of that year, instead of playing a violin concerto, she played a harpsichord concerto at a benefit concert.  By the time she was 28, she had turned her attention to singing (for reasons known only to herself) but was not able to duplicate her earlier violinistic successes.  In London, she played in the Italian opera orchestra and sang leading opera roles as well.  Nine years later, she was appointed concert singer to the Court of Saxony (Dresden, Germany, 1782.)  In 1785, she appeared at a Concert Spirituel in Paris for the last time. She was 40 years old and her star power had dimmed.  However, at least one source states that by then, she was already a wealthy woman - she had been since 1798.  Her compositions - most of them works which included the violin - were well-regarded by her contemporaries.  Interestingly, most of her pieces were published (in England, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany) before 1774.  There is speculation that some of them may have been written while she was still a student at the Ospedale.  In any case, she was not yet thirty years old at the time of publication.  Even Leopold Mozart praised her writing after hearing one of her concertos played in Salzburg in April of 1778.  Her string quartets have been compared to Joseph Haydn's.  YouTube has several examples of her music - violin concertos and string quartets - here, here, and here.  Recordings of her music are not hard to find on the internet.  Lombardini, who had once been compared to the great Pietro Nardini, apparently died in obscurity (in Venice) on May 18, 1818, at age 72.  Nonetheless, her compositions (and Tartini's letter) have made her immortal.  

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