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date: 08 March 2021

Agnesi, Maria Teresafree

  • Sven Hansell
  •  and Robert L. Kendrick

Updated in this version

updated and revised

(b Milan, Oct 17, 1720; d Milan, Jan 19, 1795). Italian composer. As a girl she performed in her home while her elder sister Maria Gaetana (1718–99; she became a distinguished mathematician) lectured and debated in Latin. Charles de Brosses, who heard them on July 16, 1739 and was highly impressed, reported that Maria Teresa performed harpsichord pieces by Rameau and sang and played compositions of her own invention. Her first cantata, Il restauro d’Arcadia, was written in honour of the Austrian governor Gian-Luca Pallavicini in Milan in 1747. About 1750 she was in correspondence with the acoustician and music theorist Giordano Riccati, who cited passages from her works in a 1762 treatise. At about this time, she sent her tragic opera seria La Sofonisba to Vienna for possible performance on the nameday of Empress Maria Theresa, who reportedly sang other arias that Agnesi had sent her. After marrying Pier Antonio Pinottini on June 13, 1752, her next opera, Ciro in Armenia, was produced at the Regio Ducale in 1753. In 1766 her Insubria consolata was performed in Milan on the engagement of Beatrice d’Este and the Archduke Ferdinand. Her final years were spent in poverty and isolation from the local musical scene. Her portrait hangs in the museum of La Scala; other depictions are reproduced in the encyclopedia Storia di Milano (vols. xii, xiv).

Agnesi’s activity as a theatrical composer was, on one hand, made possible by the changes in women’s status taking place in Austrian Lombardy, but on the other, limited by social norms preventing female professional careers, which restricted her to occasional festal commissions. Her talents seem to have found a warmer reception in Vienna and Dresden than in her native city, to judge by the elegant copies of La Sofonisba, Il re pastore, and the arias produced for these courts. That two of the operas focus on queenly protagonists suggests her interest in female characters; the title role of La Sofonisba might have been intended for the great Afro-Italian contralto Vittoria Tesi Tramontini. Il re pastore and Ulisse feature lengthy ritornellos and use da capo form almost exclusively; several of the arias in the former and in La Sofonisba are miniature two-part scenas. The latter opera includes some of Agnesi’s most powerful writing; Sofonisba’s last aria before dying, ‘Già s’appressa il fatal momento’, is a particularly moving and dramatic close to an opera seria without a happy ending. Agnesi’s keyboard music, which evidently had respectable circulation, is sometimes technically challenging, in a generic north Italian style.

Works

Dramatic

II restauro d’Arcadia (cant. pastorale, G. Riviera), Milan, Regio Ducale, 1747, lost

La Sofonisba (dramma eroico, 3, anon), ?1747–9 (evidently never performed), A-Wgm, Wn

Ciro in Armenia (dramma serio, 3, ?Agnesi), Milan, Regio Ducale, Dec 26, 1753, Act 3 frags. I-Mc (not identical with anon. Milanese lib of the opera for carn. 1754 in Mb, US-Wc etc; version of this lib set in I-IBborromeo probably by I. Balbi (see Stangolino)); RUS-Mrg (probably autogr, with ded to Friedrich August III of Saxony)

Il re pastore (dramma serio, 3, P. Metastasio), ?1755, A-Wn, ed. in Kaegi, 2001

L’Insubria consolata (componimento drammatico, 2), Milan, May 9, 1766, F-Pn, lib I-Mb and elsewhere

Nitocri (dramma serio, 3, A. Zeno), Act 2 frags. Mc

Ulisse in Campania (serenata, 2), Naples, ?1768, I-Nc, ed. G.P. Chiti and D. Carboni (Milan, 2006)

Other works

Editions: solo kyb works, ed. P. Carrer and B. Petrucci (Parma, 2003); kyb conc, ed. P. Carrer and B. Petrucci (Parma, 2007)

12 arias, S, 2 vn, va, bc, D-Dl, F-Pn

Aria en Murki: Still, stille Mann!, 2vv, kbd, Dl

4 concs. (F, F, F, D), hpd, 2 vn, b, A-Wgm, Wn, B-Bc, D-Dl (str pts missing in A-Wn, D-Dl), 1 cited in 1766 Breitkopf catalogue

Sonata, G, kbd, D-KA, I-BRs (with variants), A-Wn, cited in 1767 Breitkopf catalogue; Sonata, F, kbd, CH-Zms

Allegro ou Presto, kbd, D-B; Dl

Allemande militare & Menuetto grazioso, kbd (with special stops), H-Bn; ed. F. Brodszky, Thesaurus Musicus, xvii (1962)

Fantasias; in G and F, D-Dl

Minuet, D-LEm

Partita, G, SI-Nf

6 sonatas, org (?; ‘Sonate Agnesa’), I-Mdemicheli

Allegretto, G, HR-KLf

Lost

conc., E♭, hpd, cited in 1766 Breitkopf catalogue; sonata, G, kbd, cited in 1767 Breitkopf catalogue

Bibliography

  • G.M. Mazzuchelli: Gli scrittori d’Italia, 1 (Brescia, 1753), 198–9
  • C. de Brosses: Lettres historiques et critiques sur l’Italie (Paris, 1798–9)
  • M.G. Agnesi: Letters (MS, I-Ma)
  • G. Barblan: ‘Il teatro musicale in Milano: il Settecento’, Storia di Milano, 12 (1959), 965–96
  • C. de Jong: The Life and Keyboard Works of Maria Teresa d’Agnesi (diss., U. of Minnesota, 1978)
  • R.L. Kendrick: ‘La Sofonisba by Maria Teresa Agnesi: Composition and Female Heroism between Milan and Vienna’, Il teatro musicale italiano nel Sacro romano impero nei secoli 17 e 18 (Como, 1999), 341–62
  • G. Kaegi: Die Komponistin Maria Teresa Agnesi und ihre Oper ‘Il re pastore’ (MA thesis, U Fribourg [CH], 2001)
  • M. Brusa: ‘Storia e fortuna di un’attribuzione: il “Ciro in Armenia” per il Regio Ducal Teatro di Milano (1753) Giovanni Battista Sammartini and his Musical Environment, ed. A. Cattoretti (Turnhout, 2004), 25–36
  • T. Oaks: ‘The Serenata at the Bourbon Court: Maria Teresa Agnesi’s Ulisse in Campania’ (MM thesis, Bowling Green State U., 2004)
  • P. Carrer and B. Petrucci: Donna Teresa Agnesi compositrice illustre (1720–1795) (Genoa, 2010) [with docs]
  • S.E. Stangolino: ‘Ciro in Armenia’ di Maria Teresa Agnesi: Tra dilettantismo e professionismo nel Settecento milanese (Ariccia, 2015)
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