American-Ethiopian writer Maaza Mengiste once said in an interview, while reflecting on the lost stories of her great-grandmother fighting in a war: “The stories of women (are) told in the spaces of women. They’re told in the kitchens, in the bedrooms, in the places where women gather to talk amongst themselves. And they never make it into the classroom. They don’t make it into textbooks or into libraries.”
In the same sentiment, the women composers of the Baroque era are not exactly household names. And that is not because they were not equally accomplished as many of their male counterparts whose names have been celebrated over the centuries. Take, for instance, Isabella Leonarda (1620–1704), Baroque’s most prolific woman composer with more than 200 compositions to her name.
Rather, it’s because, there were few opportunities at the time for women composers to obtain an institutional post, be it church, court or theatre. On top of this, many women were not taken seriously nor fortunate enough to have their works published, according to music journalist Nahoko Gotoh.
The Early Music Society of the Islands is helping right that wrong by presenting some of their music in a concert by the Montreal ensemble La Cigale on Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Victoria. The concert is titled “Gratzia della Donna – Women Composers of the Baroque.”
“Composers such as Isabella Leonarda, Vittoria Aleotti, Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi flourished at the centre of the musical community of their time,” said Bill Jamieson, the society’s executive and artistic director.
“Their music was published, performed and celebrated to the extent allowed by the society and times in which they lived. Yet until recently, they have largely been ignored by music scholars, performers and audiences. We are pleased to be able to bring the works of these brilliant composers to Victoria audiences.”
The instrumentation of La Cigale includes a recorder, violin, cello, theorbo and the Baroque triple harp, a rare and exotic instrument. The group will also be joined by soprano Stephanie Manias, a rising star in North America who specializes in the genre and will bring the music, known to be energetic and grandiose, to life.
Tickets for the Nov. 18 show are $30 to $33, but students and youth can get in free at the door. For more information and to buy tickets, visit earlymusicsocietyoftheislands.ca/concert/la-cigale-montreal.