Monday 9 December 2013

Maddalena Sirmen: From Rags to Riches and Back Again

Maddalena Sirmen (Née Maddalena Laura Lombardini; Venice, Italy, 9th December 1745 - Venice, Italy, 18th May 1818)

Maddalena Sirmen

After a short-lived lady of the stage yesterday we remain in the world of the arts to hear the story of Maddalena Sirmen, who rose from the depths of poverty to the heights of success, only to return to obscurity.

Born in Venice to a poverty-stricken yet noble family, Maddalena was put into a church orphanage, Ospedale dei Mendicante, as her parents were unable to afford to keep her. The orphanage provided a home not only for children but for the elderly, the poor and those with disabilities and Maddalena was admitted on the strength of her natural musical ability which would prove a valuable fundraiser for her new home. The younger residents of the orphanage were educated in music and performed at weekly church services, with attendees paying a modest entrance fee that would in turn go back to fund the orphanage and its work. 

From the age of seven she undertook formal music training with the likes of Antonio Vivaldi and, later, Giuseppe Tartini, who became her greatest champion. Tartini saw in her a prodigious musical talent and financed her musical education, dreaming of a day when she would become a professional violinist and the toast of Europe. At the age of 21 Maddalena obtained permission to leave the orphanage and pursue her career; within the year she had married Ludovico Sirmen, a celebrated violinist, and the two became touring partners. Sirmen celebrated his wife's successes and encouraged her own compositions with the couple travelling across Europe and Russia, as well as appearing in London to great acclaim. Sadly the marriage did not last and Maddalena would eventually gain a new travelling companion and lifelong companion, a priest named Don Giuseppe Terzi. 

Celebrated not only as a violinist and composer but also a harpsichordist, Maddalena was not content with those successes and branched out into singing, appearing in operatic roles. By the age of 30 she had already published multiple compositions in in 1782 was named as an official court singer in Saxony though her skills as a vocalist never matched that she enjoyed as a musician. Eventually her career began to decline until she faded into obscurity yet her compositions live on, as vibrant as they ever were.


Unknown said...

Fascinating. We so rarely hear of female musical talent, particularly composers, from this period in history!

The Greenockian said...

Interesting woman!

Catherine Curzon said...

This is my little contribution to redressing the balance!

Catherine Curzon said...

Her music is beautiful; heartily recommended!