Marianne Martines (1744–1812). Psalm 51 (1768)
Martines. Symphony in C (1770)

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Metastasio, the leading playwright of the age, introduced her to everyone. She performed for the empress. She knew Mozart. And Haydn, who gave her keyboard lessons, lived in the attic. Marianne Martines, the first woman to compose a symphony, on this month’s Fleisher Discoveries.

Composer, keyboardist, singer Marianne Martines

Hi everybody, I’m Kile Smith, and welcome to Fleisher Discoveries. Fleisher Discoveries is a podcast from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection.

In Fleisher Discoveries, we uncover the unknown, rediscover the little-known, and take a fresh look at some of the remarkable treasures housed in the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world. There’s a new Fleisher Discoveries podcast up every month on SoundCloud and on Spotify; search “Fleisher Discoveries” and find every one of our podcasts.

Beethoven lives upstairs, according to the fictional children’s story and movie, but in the real life of singer, pianist, and composer Marianne Martines, the composer Joseph Haydn actually did live upstairs. What is it with composers and starving artists and top floors, anyway? The answer is simple, actually.

Today, top floors are where the rich people live. The penthouse, executive, or presidential suites of hotels hold the best views and the farthest distance from the noise of the street. But these days, we have elevators and air conditioning. Before those were invented and generally available, large residences with multiple dwellings were divided by class and money. The rich lived on the ground floor. The lower your rank in society, the more steps you had to climb to get to your apartment. Living areas shrank the further up you went. The top floor, sometimes literally the attic under the roof, was the coldest part of the building in winter, and the hottest in summer.

In 1750s Vienna, between his choirboy years and his employment at the Esterházy estate, this is where Haydn lived for a time, tucked under the roof of an impressive house in Vienna. Marianne Martines, 12 years his junior, lived with her family in the same house, but on the second floor, which immediately tells us that hers was a family of some stature in society.

And it was. Marianne’s father managed the pope’s embassy in Vienna. He wasn’t the ambassador—those come and go—he was the major-domo for the papal nuncio. He ran the shop. His son, Marianne’s brother, was allowed to purchase a certificate of nobility from the Empire, which is why we sometimes see the last name as “von Martines.” So this was a well-placed family.

Not only that, one of the most famous poets of the age, Metastasio, lived with them. He had moved there from Rome in 1734 when he was appointed Poet Laureate of Vienna. His friend from the old days in Italy, Nicolo Martines, offered him his home. Nicolo was Marianne’s father.

Pietro Metastasio, whose poems and plays were set to music by just about everyone in this late Baroque–early classical period, knew everyone in music, or everyone made sure to know him. He befriended the young Haydn, the lodger in the attic, and arranged for him to give the seven-year-old Marianne harpsichord lessons.

Also living in the building, above the Martines clan but below Haydn, was the famous composer Nicola Porpora. He isn’t so well known now and his star had begun to fade by them, but he was still a force, and was the voice teacher for the brightest star at the time, the castrato Farinelli. He taught voice and composition to Haydn, who remembered him fondly as an excellent teacher. Metastasio got him to teach voice to Marianne Martines, and who would accompany her lessons but Joseph Haydn.

We should move on from this household, as Haydn would in three years’ time anyway, who would, by 1761, move to the country estate of the Esterházys to take over the music there. Oh, but before we do, who lived on the first floor? Who was the grounding of this remarkably artistic building in Vienna? A widow. A princess, actually. Her last name? Esterházy.

So it was in this intensely musical Viennese milieu that Marianne Martines came to be a composer. She was an excellent keyboardist, and because scholars believe that she was the first to sing the virtuosic songs she composed, she must also have been quite the accomplished singer. We are going to hear now one of her many works for voices and instruments, her setting of Psalm 51. The text is in Italian, and so is also known by the first word of the text, “Miserere,” appropriate for Lent, which we’re now in. In English it begins, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”

Cappella Clausura, directed by Amelia LeClair, performs this now, from a live concert in Emmanuel Church, Boston. On Fleisher Discoveries, Psalm 51 by Marianne Martines.

[Marianne Martines (1744–1812). Psalm 51 (1768)]

A work from 1768 by the 24-year-old Viennese composer Marianne Martines, Psalm 51. A live performance from Emmanuel Church in Boston, Cappella Clausura, conducted by Amelia LeClair. This is Fleisher Discoveries and I’m Kile Smith.

Marianne Martines grew in reputation in Vienna and beyond because of the beauty of her works like that Psalm 51. She wrote a number of cantatas, sacred and secular, motets, oratorios, four masses, three keyboard concertos and three sonatas for solo keyboard, and one work for orchestra called an Overture, but “overture” was a name used interchangeably by composers at that time for what we now call “symphony.” Her Symphony in C major, which we will now hear, from two years after Psalm 51, is, in fact, the very first symphony composed by a woman. It’s a delightful work in three movements, two Allegros sandwiched around an Andante. The Salzburger Hofmusik is conducted by Wolfgang Brunner. The Symphony in C by Marianne Martines.

[Marianne Martines. Symphony in C (1770)]

The Symphony in C by Marianne Martines. A work from 1770, it is the first symphony to be composed by a woman. Wolfgang Brunner conducted the Salzburger Hofmusik.

Because of her rising fame as composer and performer (she often played for the Empress Maria Theresa), and the fact that she lived in Vienna, Martines knew many of the musicians of her time. We already mentioned Haydn and Porpora, and she also knew a fellow named Mozart.

She and her sister never married, and when good friend Metastasio died, he left his entire fortune to the Martines family. Despite Marianne’s renown and talents, she never took any musical leadership appointment. Being not only a woman, but a woman of one of the higher social classes, it would’ve been unheard-of as well as inappropriate for her to accept employment. Marianne Martines, living just one floor above an Esterházy, would never accept a position like that fellow in the attic, Joseph Haydn, did.

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And thanks for joining me on Fleisher Discoveries, a podcast produced by the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Every month we have a new Fleisher Discoveries podcast for you on Spotify and SoundCloud. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection, and I’m Kile Smith. Stay well, and I’ll catch up with you next time on Fleisher Discoveries.