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date: 14 May 2021

Virtuosa (It., from Lat. virtus: ‘excellence’, ‘worth’; Ger.: Virtuosin)locked

  • Ellen T. Harris


(It., from Lat. virtus: ‘excellence’, ‘worth’; Ger.: Virtuosin)

A woman musician of extraordinary talent and accomplishment, counterpart to the male Virtuoso (which term is also often applied to women). The term seems to have come into use in the late 16th century with the rise of the professional female singer, before which time opportunities for women musicians were extremely limited. Among the first women identified as virtuose were the singers in the famous concerto delle donne established by Duke Alfonso II of Ferrara in 1580. In 1598, the music publisher Giacomo Vincenti praised the young women of the Venetian Ospedale della Pietà as ‘virtuose giovani’ (Baldauf-Berdes, 1993, p.107). As in these early examples, the term has always been associated with performance rather than composition; such 17th-century women composers as Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini were called virtuose primarily on account of their vocal prowess. By the mid-17th century, the term became associated particularly with operatic singers, among whom Anna Renzie (...

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Music & Letters
Early Music History