Marianna Martines (1744-1812) was the rare female composer in 18th-century Vienna. Her prodigious musical gifts were recognized and developed early on, owing to her family’s fortuitous–and musical–living arrangement.
The Martines family lived on Vienna’s famous Michaelerplatz. As was common at the time, the floors of the building corresponded to the social class of the inhabitants: on the bottom floor were the rooms of the dowager princess of the wealthy Esterházy family; the Martines family occupied the third floor, sharing it with Nicola Porpora, a well-known Italian singing teacher and composer, and Pietro Metastasio, a renowned poet and opera librettist, who was a friend of the Martines family. And high in the cold, leaky attic lived a struggling young composer named Joseph Haydn.
Impressed with the young Marianna’s talents, Metastasio oversaw her education, asking Haydn to give the four-year-old piano lessons, which he did for three years in exchange for leftover food from the Martines dinner table. At age ten, Marianna began singing lessons with Porpora, with Haydn accompanying on the harpsichord. She became a highly accomplished keyboardist and singer, frequently performing upon request for the Empress Maria Theresa.
Metastasio arranged for Martines to study composition with Johann Adolph Hasse and the Imperial court composer, Giuseppe Bonno, and brought Marianna to the attention the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. In 1774 at age 29, she became the first woman to be elected in its 100 year history. Her Dixit Dominus, considered by many to be her masterpiece, was written for this occasion.
That same year, Martines became acquainted with Mozart, and they remained lifelong friends. In Martines, Mozart found a duet partner of equal talent in Vienna, spurring him to write some of his finest compositions for four hands, and Mozart may have written his Piano Concerto #5 for her.
Though she is never known to have left Vienna, Martines became widely known and esteemed across Europe during her lifetime. She would create some 200 compositions, many of which were lost in a fire in 1927, leaving only about 69 in existence today. We are delighted be performing her music with Classical era instruments, giving audience members a chance to experience Dixit Dominus as would it would have been heard during her lifetime.