«Io vorrei essere innanzi un Asino che una Donna»: modelli sociali e creatività musicale femminile in età moderna*

  • Gioia Filocamo


The most inflexible discipline has always been demanded of women, together with the absolute domination of the senses and the serene acceptance of their own intellectual inferiority. All this, of course, to ‘safeguard’ personal dignity and family honor. In the modern age, the restraining attitude was mainly directed at female creativity, considered a sort of threat to the ‘natural’ social order, in which woman is a mere social and cultural mirror with the specific function of affirming, and especially confirming, the male identity of reference. Although at the end of the 16th century some female musical groups existed in Italy (following the example of the Concerto delle dame in Ferrara), their social reputation was not always adamantine, due to the inevitable exhibitionistic aspect connected to musical performances. Apart from the rare cases of independent composers such as Maddalena Casulana and Barbara Strozzi, who were in any case considered suspect women, there was basically only one place where female respectability could be safeguarded and at the same time artistic creativity could be exercised: the cloister. Isabella Leonarda - Ursuline of Novara - was not only the most prolific woman composer of the seventeenth century, but also the first to have published instrumental music, while the Ferrarese Augustinian, Raffaella Aleotti, was the author of the first print of polyphonic sacred music ever published by a woman. Dissident voices also arose from the monasteries, such as that of Arcangela Tarabotti, a vehement character who had intense contacts with the literati Incogniti and perhaps even influenced the most famous of their librettists: Giovan Francesco Busenello.