Casulana, Maddalena

Maddalena Casulana (c. 1544-c. 1590) was an Italian composer, singer and lutenist. She was the first female composer that saw her music printed and published in the history of Western music.
Very little is known about her life. Most likely she was born in Casola d’Elsa, near Siena, but this knowledge is only derived from her name. In the 16th century most artists had a suffix to their name indicating from where they came, e.g. Giovanni Croce (Chiozzotto) and Girolamo Conversi (da Correggio).
Her first work appeared in 1566 in Florence: four madrigals in a collection (Il Desiderio). Two years later she published in Venice her first actual book of madrigals for four voices (Il primo Libro di Madrigali). The famous Venetian music printer Girolamo Scotto published this book.
Maddalena Casulana (in early editions her name was spelled Madalena) must have been close to Isabella de’ Medici, because she dedicated some of her music to this noble lady. In one of the dedications to Isabella she expresses her frustration about male composers: “I want to show the world, as much as I can in this profession of music, the vain error of men that they alone possess the gifts of intellect and artistry, and that such gifts are never given to women.” She must have visited Verona and Milan, based on dedications of her work.
Casulana’s style is moderately contrapuntal and chromatic, reminiscent of some of the early work by Marenzio as well as many madrigals by Philippe De Monte, but avoids the extreme experimentation of the Ferrara school composers such as Luzzaschi and Gesualdo. Her melodic lines are singable and carefully attentive to the text. Other composers of the time, such as Philippe De Monte, thought highly of her; that Lassus conducted a work of hers at a wedding in Bavaria suggests that he also was impressed with her ability.
Cees Wagemakers