Maddelena Casulana (1540-1590) was a Sixteenth Century composer, singer, and lutanist. She is the first female composer to have had her works published. Born in Casola d’Elsa, Casulana received musical training during her childhood, and later continued to study music in Florence. In 1566 four of her madrigals appeared in il Desiderio, a book published by Girolamo Scotto of Venice. In 1568 First Book of Madrigals for Four Voices was published, consisting entirely of her work. In the dedication of this book, Casulana makes clear her intention to prove her talents as a women in a male dominated field. In the second half of the Sixteenth Century, Casulana considered herself a professional composer, a classification not easily accepted for a woman. In 1570 her Second Book of Madrigals for Four Voices appeared followed by two reprintings of the first, and in 1583 her First Book of Madrigals for Five Voices was printed.

As a composer Casulana is mentioned by several members of the aristocracy, including one of her patrons, Isabella de’ Medici. Her personal life, however remains mostly unknown. Her musical activity seems to have dropped of entirely between 1570 and 1580. There is some indication that she may have been married during this period. In 1583 Casulana moved to Venice where she made a living giving music lessons, composing, and possibly performing as a lutanist in private circles. After 1586 it is possible she joined a convent. There is a 1591 catalogue reference to two volumes of sacred madrigals composed by a ‘Maddalena Casulana”.

Women and Music ed. Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, 1991.

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