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Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court

Music and the Circulation of Power

A contemporary of Shakespeare and Monteverdi, and a colleague of Galileo and Artemisia Gentileschi at the Medici court, Francesca Caccini was a dominant musical figure there for thirty years. Dazzling listeners with the transformative power of her performances and the sparkling wit of the music she composed for more than a dozen court theatricals, Caccini is best remembered today as the first woman to have composed opera. Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court reveals for the first time how this multitalented composer established a fully professional musical career at a time when virtually no other women were able to achieve comparable success.

Suzanne G. Cusick argues that Caccini’s career depended on the usefulness of her talents to the political agenda of Grand Duchess Christine de Lorraine, Tuscany’s de facto regent from 1606 to 1636. Drawing on Classical and feminist theory, Cusick shows how the music Caccini made for the Medici court sustained the culture that enabled Christine’s power, thereby also supporting the sexual and political aims of its women.

In bringing Caccini’s surprising story so vividly to life, Cusick ultimately illuminates how music making functioned in early modern Italy as a significant medium for the circulation of power.

488 pages | 6 halftones, 1 line drawing, 13 tables, 43 musical examples | 7 x 10 | © 2009

The cloth edition includes a CD of music samples; the CD is not included in the paperback edition.

Women in Culture and Society

Gender and Sexuality

History: European History

Music: General Music

Women's Studies


“In Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court, Suzanne Cusick not only sheds light on the life and context of this exceptional woman, but unravels much of what we thought we knew about court patronage and aesthetic debates in general at this time. Few scholars reconstructing the history of women in music do so with Cusick’s sophistication or with her sensitivity to the relevance of women’s experiences to the cultural landscape itself. A brilliant contribution.”

Susan McClary, University of California, Los Angeles

“Suzanne Cusick makes an outstanding contribution to the study of music in early seventeenth-century Florence and of women’s musical and other lives. Her sensitive and subtle readings of Francesca Caccini’s music both reinforce her narrative and provide various counterpoints in ways that force us to rethink how we might view songs of this period. This riveting book will radically transform the ways in which all of us approach topics of this kind.” —Tim Carter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Tim Carter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“This is an extraordinarily original, painstakingly researched, and fascinating book. It is obviously the fruit of Suzanne Cusick’s long and passionate interest in her topic and represents a truly monumental achievement. It will inspire readers and performers for a long time to come.”

Ellen Rosand, Yale University

"Cusick’s groundbreaking study represents an important addition to recent musicological scholarship on the lives of female composers. . . . This book will be of interest to readers interested in music history, cuiltural studies, and the role of women in early modern Italy. By examining the historical and cultural elements, the author brings new, exciting, invigorating, and much-needed in-depth analysis, and provides a more accurate portrayal of tthe composer and her works than has been seen before."

Reba Wissner | Southwest Journal of Cultures

“Richly documented, sometimes provocative, often ingeniously imaginative in its engagement with feminist theory, this is a book that will occupy a highly distinctive position on the shelves alongside more conventional treatments of music and spectacle in Medicean Florence.”

Journal of the American Musicological Society

"Thanks to a massive collation of documentary material, as well as contextual evidence, Cusick’s multidisciplinary approach portrays Francesca’s existence while vividly describing her own society and its social duties. In other words,this volume provides a priceless study on a songstress and her audience or, as Cusick puts it, on ‘the musical centre of a women’s court.’"

Gender & History

“This is a very important, satisfying book. Caccini—artist as well as human being—comes to life.”

American Historical Review

“The achievement of Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court is extraordinary in its breadth, its detail, its insight, and its worth to all participants in early music, be they listeners, performers, or musicologists. Its contribution is not limited to the musical world, however, as Cusick’s remarkable command and analysis of her material . . . has immense value for scholars engaged in cultural studies, performance studies, history, politics, or the study of difference.”

Renaissance Quarterly

Table of Contents

Foreword by Catharine R. Stimpson 




Note to the Reader

Excerpts from Francesca Caccini’s Compositions on the Accompanying CD

1 Figliuola del celebratissimo Giulio Romano 

2 “To win the girl”; or, Francesca as Object of Desire 

3 Power, Desire, and Women among Themselves 

4 Musica to the Granducato 

5 Who Was This Woman? 

6 Voice Lessons: Introducing the Primo libro delle musiche 

7 Being, Doing, and Allegories of Voice 

8 After Arianna 

9 La liberazione di Ruggiero amid the Politics of Regency 

10 Performance, Musical Design, and Politics in La liberazione di Ruggiero  

11 Cataclysms of Widowhood 

12 Afterlives 

Appendix A. Francesca Caccini’s Known Performances and Compositions 

Appendix B. Letters of Francesca Caccini, 1610–1641 

Appendix C. Cristoforo Bronzini, Della dignità e nobiltà delle donne, I-Fn, Magl. VIII. 1525/1, 54–77 





American Musicological Association: AMS Best Book by a Senior Scholar

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