Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Maria Teresa Agnesi, Composer and Performer

Maria Teresa Agnesi Pinottini (born 17 October 1720)


Born in Milan on 17 October 1720, Maria Teresa Agnesi was the younger sister of Maria Gaetana, a mathematical prodigy. (The household eventually included twenty-three children from Pietro Agnesi's three wives--yikes!)

Maria Gaetana Agnesi had followed her father's lead in her pursuit of mathematics (Pietro Agnesi was a mathematics professor at the University of Bologna). Maria Teresa, however, followed a career in music.

Maria Teresa first gained renown as a harpsichordist, earning the patronage of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. (Milan was ruled by the Habsburgs in the eighteenth century.) Agnesi was also known as a vocal performer.

By the age of twenty-seven, she was also gaining recognition as a composer. In addition to chamber music, her first major work was a cantata; Il ristoro d’Arcadia, composed in 1747 but now lost, was dedicated to imperial delegate Gian Luca Pallavicini. 

Her first opera, Nitocri, was composed in 1752 and survives. In the same year, Maria Teresa Agnesi married Pier Antonio Pinotti.

In the following year she composed another opera, Ciro in Armenia, which was produced at the ducal theater in Milan for the king of Poland. Her opera La Sofonisba (1765) was dedicated to the Habsburg emperor Francis I for the name day of his wife, the Empress Maria Theresa.

Maria Teresa Agnesi Pinottini died on 19 January 1795.

Although much of her music is lost and little information is available about her life, you can hear some performances of her work by clicking here (the first movement of a harpsichord concerto), here (the overture to her opera Ulisse in Campania), and here ("Accostumai bambini," also from Ulisse.)

And you can access scores here--for a harpsichord sonata and for Ulisse in Campania.