August 16, 2020

Virtual Virtuosa

Infusion Baroque

four women sit in front of green wall


A program of music written by or for women, performed by Montreal’s Infusion Baroque.

Baroque Flute, Recorder Alexa Raine-Wright
Baroque Violin Sallynee Amawat
Baroque Cello Andrea Stewart
Harpsichord, Vocals Rona Nadler


The Broom of Cowdenknows/Bonny Christy (Grave, Adante-Grave, Grave, Presto) by Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762)

L’Heraclito Amoroso by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)

Concerto “per Anna Maria” in A Major, RV 343 (Largo) by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), as performed by the girls and young women of l’Ospedale della Pietà

Cello Sonata in C Major, D-B, KHM 5528 (Andante) by Antonio Vandini (1691–1788), as performed by cellist Henriette de Schnetzmann

Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 (Prelude, Gigue) by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), transcribed by Alexa Raine-Wright

Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011 (Gavotte I & II) by J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Divertimento No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 3 (Presto) by Anna Bon (1739-?)

Rona Nadler on Barbara Strozzi

Composer, poet and performer Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) was born in Venice, the illegitimate daughter of musician Giulio Strozzi. Giulio encouraged his daughter to develop her musical talents, including arranging for her to study with Francesco Cavalli, one of the most prominent Italian musicians of the day. By her late teens, Barbara was well known as a performer in Venetian noble households, accompanying her own singing on the harp or lute. In her lifetime, she published eight books of songs and cantatas, making her the most prolific published composer of secular vocal music among her contemporaries. She also wrote the lyrics for many of her own compositions, which often adhere to the conventions of contemporary love songs while also hinting at a certain ironic perspective.

The speaker in “L’Heraclito Amoroso” or “Heraclitus in Love,” having been abandoned by his/her lover, is caught in that quintessentially Baroque state where pain and pleasure mingle and become indistinguishable. The song employs various musical devices to convey the emotions of the text – the descending tetrachord bass, typically used for laments; clashing cross-relations between the melody and harmony; a plunging leap to depict the singer ’s descent into the grave. But in the face of all this drama, it does seem a bit tongue-in-cheek to imagine this expression of emotional delirium coming from the mouth of an ancient Greek philosopher.

Sallynee Amawat on Anna Maria della Pietá

The “Concerto for Violin in A Major, RV 343” is one of 28 concertos composed by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) and dedicated to a violinist who went by the name of Anna Maria dal Violin in her childhood, and Anna Maria della Pietá as an adult. She was one of the many orphan girls who came to live at the Ospedale della Pietá in Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries. This institution was one of several charitable organizations that provided social services to the citizens of Venice. The Ospedale della Pietá functioned as an orphanage specifically for girls, and provided food, housing and education. The children who came to live at the orphanage were often brought there by mothers who were employed in the sex industry and were unable to raise their children and continue to work. The babies could be dropped off anonymously through a hidden door at the orphanage. If someone was present inside the orphanage, they often tried to counsel the mother to keep the child, but no children were ever turned away. If the mother chose to do so, she could leave a personal token with her child in order to claim them later when she had the means to care for them.

While many of the orphanages provided for the children only until they were old enough to leave and find work, the Ospedale della Pietá allowed their girls to remain into adulthood if they wished. One of the skills taught at this orphanage was music, and the girls were trained to perform at religious services held every day. This in itself was remarkable, since musical education for girls was usually limited to only the wealthiest of families, and even then, public performance and participation in religious service was strictly taboo. The women at the Ospedale della Pietá had a rigorous training schedule headed by Antonio Vivaldi between 1703 and 1740, and archival records list the girls according to their instrument. Anna Maria dal Violin was one of Vivaldi’s prized students, and at the age of 24 she attained the position of “Maestra,” leader of the orchestra. In addition to the violin, she played the cello, lute, harpsichord, mandolin, viola d’amore and oboe. Anna Maria remained at the orphanage her whole life and died at the age of 86. During her lifetime, tourists flocked to Venice from all over Europe to hear her perform, and she soon gained a reputation as one of the finest virtuoso violinists in all of Europe. An anonymous poet once wrote that when Anna Maria played, “countless angels dared to hover near.”

Andrea Stewart on Henriette de Schnetzmann

Italian cellist-composer Antonio Vandini (1691–1778) was a celebrated master of the cello, great friend and colleague of the famous violinist Giuseppe Tartini, and collaborator of Antonio Vivaldi. Vandini’s “Sonata for Cello in C major (D-B, KHM 5528, Berlin)” is one of seven surviving works for cello by the composer. Vandini was one of a group of important cellists in Italy, and accounts of his performances and his music were found in cultural literature and reviews, including in the memoirs of the great adventurer Giacomo Casanova. The latter’s relationship with Henriette de Schnetzmann, an “adventuress,” was significant – they corresponded throughout their lives, likely until Casanova’s death. Casanova met Henriette in 1748 in Cesena, Italy, at a local inn. Running from an unhappy marriage (and chasing adventure), she was disguised as a male soldier in order to gain entry into the room of her lover, a Hungarian captain. This meeting between Casanova and Henriette marked the beginning of a three-month love affair, punctuated by a particularly charming musical event.

In 1749, in Paris, they attended a concert together, and heard a pupil of Vandini perform a cello concerto. Henriette (“dainty” and daring) approached the young cellist before the applause had even finished. As Casanova tells it, Henriette told the performer that “she could bring out the beautiful tone of the instrument still better.” Taking his cello and his seat, she asked for the orchestra to begin the concerto again. Casanova was overcome with emotion: “I was trembling all over, and almost fainting … she suddenly made the strings resound. My heart was beating with such force that I thought I should drop down dead. But let the reader imagine my situation when, the concerto being over, well-merited applause burst from every part of the room!” Henriette complimented the young man on his fine instrument and asked the audience for forgiveness for her vanity. Casanova recounted: “My happiness was so immense that I felt myself unworthy of it.”

Despite Henriette’s apparent skill, a woman cellist was still not a common sight. Henriette learned the cello to please her mother (surprisingly a cellist herself) at the convent; however, she wouldn’t have had permission from the abbess to practice the instrument were it not for an order from her father, sanctioned by the bishop. The abbess’ objection? “That devout spouse of our Lord pretended that I could not play that instrument without assuming an indecent position.” Although Henriette de Schnetzmann did not necessarily perform one of Vandini’s sonatas that night, the story of her performance and the events surrounding it inspired us to include this sonata on our program highlighting historical virtuosas.

Alexa Raine-Wright on Anna Bon

Anna Bon (1738 – after 1769) was one of the few successfully employed and published women composers of the 18th century. Very little is known about the details of her life, but the few records that exist place her in some of the most important musical centres in Europe. At the age of four, her parents – a librettist/scenographer and an operatic soprano – enrolled her at l’Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, where she studied harpsichord, viola, singing, and composition as a tuition-paying student. After her training, she rejoined her parents as they travelled from court to court. By 1756, Anna Bon and her parents were at the court of the Margravine Wilhelmine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, where she was employed as “Virtuosa di Musica di Camera,” contributing to a fascinating community of accomplished and passionate musical women. Wilhelmine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth was a multi-instrumentalist, a composer, an author, a painter, a playwright, an actor, and a director. Her sister, Anna Amalia of Prussia, was also very musically inclined: she was both a multi-instrumentalist and a composer, and she curated a vast music collection. Though Anna Bon was only at the Bayreuth court for the last two years of Wilhelmine’s life, it is easy to imagine that Anna Bon may also have performed for Anna Amalia.

In 1762, Anna Bon and her parents moved to the Esterházy court to work with Joseph Haydn, where she remained for at least three years – in fact, Haydn wrote several opera roles for Bon’s mother. Anna Bon also wrote an opera during her stay at the Esterházy court, though it is now lost. The last we know of the life of Anna Bon is that by 1767, she had settled down in Hildurghausen to marry an Italian singer.

Supported by Bureau du Québec à Toronto

Keywords Music