Skip to content

Camilla de Rossi in NTRZaturdayMatinee: three centuries late premiere

After years, my ranting about the invisibility of women composers is beginning to bear fruit. Thanks in part to the movement, composing ladies are also finally being taken seriously and performed. The NTRZaturdayMatinee is even making them a spearhead of its programming this season.

This post is over a year old, so it may have been overtaken by time by now.

Last Saturday, the world premiere of Salto di Saffo by Calliope Tsoupaki (1963). She composed this double concerto for pan flute, recorder and orchestra as a 'companion piece' for La mer by Debussy. Her visual music was given a dazzling performance by Matthijs Koene, Erik Bosgraaf and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Markus Stenz. NRC rewarded the piece with the maximum five stars.

Bach, Bach and more Bach

On Saturday 13 October, the Nederlandse Bachvereniging plays the Dutch premiere of Il sacrifizio di Abramo by Camilla de Rossi (c 1670-1710). Although she composed this oratorio as early as 1708, it did not have its Dutch premiere until more than three centuries later. Female composers were overlooked for centuries, but De Rossi was certainly not the only one of her kind.

When you think of the Nederlandse Bachvereniging, you think of Bach, Bach and more Bach. Initially focused on Johann Sebastian, the repertoire gradually expanded to include Bach's composing ancestors, children and contemporaries. Only in 2014 were the first 'female notes' on the lecterns, with the world premiere of Oidípous by - yes - Calliope Tsoupaki. She wrote this oratorio commissioned by Pierre Audi and the Holland Festival.

From highest fame to oblivion

Dead ladies have thus far been conspicuous by their absence at the Bachvereniging. Thus, while music by Handel and Vivaldi sounded, the colourful cantatas and madrigals by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) remained unplayed. She had a beautiful soprano voice and studied composition with Francesco Cavalli. Self-consciously, she published eight collections of exclusively her own compositions.

A full member of the Venetian Accademia degli unisoni (Academy of the Like-minded), she led philosophical discussions and performed her own pieces. The musicologist Charles Burney (1726-1814) even called her the inventor of the cantata - a development that later authors naturally attributed to men.

Sun King amends law

Her younger French colleague Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729) gratefully embraced this new-fangled genre. As a musical prodigy, she attracted the attention of the Parisian beau-monde. King Louis XIV was so impressed by her virtuosity that he changed the law forbidding women to play music in public. She joined his entourage and became his protégé.

She composed operas, ballets and cantatas in addition to harpsichord music. Pearls include the biblical cantata Jonas and the secular cantata L'isle de Délos, which have not yet reached the Bach Society's music stands. A pity, because Jacquet de la Guerre brims with lively vocal lines and dramatic orchestral accompaniments full of unexpected harmonic turns. On her death, a French historian placed her on his 'Mount Parnassus' alongside Marais, Lalande and Lully.

Noble ladies

In Germany and the Netherlands, it was mostly noble ladies who took up composing pens. Such as Wilhelmine Markgräfin von Bayreuth (1709-1758), the eldest daughter of 'soldier king' Friedrich William I. Together with her husband, she founded an art academy in Bayreuth and initiated a vibrant musical life at her court. Many operas were performed, including her own Argenore. Her younger sister Anna Amalia (1723-1787) was also a gifted composer, whose works include the 'Singspiel' Erwin und Elmire wrote.

In our country, Baroness Josina van Boetzelaer (1733-1797), as court lady of the princes of Orange, became captivated by the opera performances they organised. She published four collections of compelling arias full of sparkling melodies and expressive orchestral accompaniment. Belle van Zuylen (1740-1805) also composed several operas, but all of them are lost.

Camilla de Rossi

So Camilla de Rossi was certainly no lone exception in her day as a female composer. Unfortunately, little more is known of her than that in the early 18e century was active in Vienna. She described herself as 'Romana' and presumably came from Rome. Although she was not employed by Emperor Joseph I, he commissioned her in 1707 for the oratorio Santa Beatrice d'Este.

A year later, it stood Il sacrifizio di Abramo on the lecterns of the Viennese court chapel. For this, Camilla de Rossi used a libretto by Francesco Maria Dario, which performs four characters. Central are Abraham (tenor) and his son Isaac (alto); smaller roles are for Sara, Abraham's wife, and an angel (both soprano).

Smooth recitatives

Rossi writes smooth recitatives and moving arias. Noteworthy are the two chalumeaux that accompany Abraham's peaceful dream just before God orders him to sacrifice his son. The chalumeau is a precursor of the clarinet, which had been introduced in Vienna only a year before.

De Rossi was thus very up-to-date and also had a fine sense of timbre. In her other operas, too, she deploys certain instruments for dramatic effect. For instance, trumpets represent the villainous warriors in Santa Beatrice d'Este and a theorbo symbolises the innocence of the protagonist of her oratorio Sant'Alessio.

A godsend to hear her brilliant music live now in the NTRZaterdagMatinee. Hopefully, her other three oratorios will soon follow. - And perhaps a renewed performance of Oidípous By Tsoupaki.

Good to know Good to know

Saturday 13 October 2018, NTRZaturdayMatinee, 2pm
Dutch Bach Society: Il sacrifizio di Abramo by Camilla de Rossi. Info and tickets here.

This article is an adaptation of a piece I wrote for the Friends of the Dutch Bach Society. 

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: https://www.boekenbestellen.nl/boek/een-os-op-het-dak/9789012345675 In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

Small Membership
175 / 12 Maanden
Especially for organisations with a turnover or grant of less than 250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
5 trial newsletter subscriptions
All our podcasts
Have your say on our policies
Insight into finances
Exclusive archives
Posting press releases yourself
Own mastodon account on our instance
Large Membership
360 / Jaar
Voor culturele organisaties
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
10 trial newsletter subscriptions
All our podcasts
Participate
Insight into finances
Exclusive archives
Posting press releases yourself
Own mastodon account on our instance
Collaboration
Private Membership
50 / Jaar
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Have your say on our policies
Insight into finances
Exclusive archives
Own mastodon account on our instance
en_GBEnglish (UK)