Women in Classical Guitar History

A Lady with Guitar William Edward Millner - Date unknown

Most recent update 2/22/2021

A Little Background Information

In 2006, I presented a lecture at the Bethlehem Guitar Festival celebrating the contributions of women to the world of guitar as performers, composers and philanthropists. I shared biographies and music from female musicians associated with a variety of musical styles. Since that time, I have continued to study such contributions within the classical genre. I completed my doctoral thesis titled "Ida Presti as a Solo Performer and Composer of Works for Solo Guitar," at Shenandoah University in December 2012 and I have had the opportunity to give lectures for concert series, guitar festivals, libraries and public school events.

Much has changed since I first began collecting information. In the years since the Bethlehem lecture, the internet has made available resources that were once quite difficult to obtain. I reflect upon sitting on the floor of a library physically searching through decades of journals; mail-ordering used, out-of-production recordings and books at expenses that were difficult for a graduate student to manage; and graciously being gifted LP’s and other saved treasures that assisted my search for information. Although my doctoral thesis focused on Ida Presti, I collected resources about other guitarists, especially items pertaining to Luise Walker and Maria Luisa Anido. I look back on this decade with nostalgia and I am very happy to have physical evidence of my searches, however, the digital age has made possible an incredible ability to access, store and share information.

About the Essays and Posts

In addition to sharing my studies through lectures, I began during Women's History Month 2015 to share short essays on my public Facebook page highlighting the contributions of women guitarists with a primary focus on historic figures who also composed. By using Facebook, I was able to post direct links to sources, sheet music, recordings and videos in the comments area.

I am in the process of revising the essays and several will be published Soundboard during 2021. For each essay, I hope you will explore the lists of works cited and additional resources where applicable, and that you will be drawn to the projects and writings of those people who have been working in this area of research and performance. The blog template presents word processing limitations therefore footnotes are numbered with parentheses. Citations appear in an adapted Turabian style. If you use my writing as a resource, your citation is appreciated.

This project is ongoing and I revisit it from time to time with updates to this page. Clearly, it is not a definitive list: it is simply a beginning. It is a labor of love and, over time, it will grow. Please continue to check back and you are welcome to share resources with me.


If you would like to support my work, you can "buy me a coffee" at https://ko-fi.com/candicemowbray. Your support helps me to purchase books, subscriptions and other research materials.


Essays About Women in Classical Guitar History

(Listed in chronological order)

Francesca Caccini (1587-ca. 1645)

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Raised in a musical household in Florence, Italy, Francesca Caccini was a composer and virtuosic singer who played guitar, lute, theorbo, harp and harpsichord. Francesca's mother and sister were accomplished musicians and her father, Giulio Caccini (1551-1618), was a singer and composer who played lute, harp and viol. He was a key figure in the early development of opera, having participated in the famed discussions of the Florentine Camerata and is credited with establishing the use of monodic texture and creating stile recitativo.(1)

Francesca Caccini worked for the Medici court in Florence from 1607-27, and again from 1633-1641. She was highly valued by her patrons as a composer and performer, as well as a music teacher, eventually becoming “the highest paid musician at the Florentine Court.”(2) She is known to have given chamber performances throughout Europe as a celebrated contralto singer. Her compositional output is said to have included over 300 titles by 1614, though only a small portion of her work has survived.(3) Surviving works include a book of songs and duets from 1618, an opera, and some individual songs that survived in anthologies.(4 )Published in 1618, her Il primo libro delle musiche (First book of music) was dedicated to the Cardinal de' Medici and consists of 36 songs including solos and duets for soprano and bass. Her opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero (The liberation of Ruggiero) from 1625, is the first known opera by a female composer. At least two sources state it was the first Italian opera performed outside of Italy.(5) She also contributed music to court works by Ottavio Rinuccini (1562-1621), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1568-1646), Ferdinando Saracinelli (1640-unknown) and Jacopo Cicognini (1577-1633).(6 )

Francesca Caccini'sIll primo libro delle musiche of 1618: A Modern Critical Edition of the Secular Monodies by Ronald James Alexander and Richard Savino was published by Indiana University Press in 2004. The book contains seventeen secular monodies for one and two voices with figured bass accompaniment as well as biographical information, commentary on performance practices, text translations and an extensive bibliography. Savino's ensemble, El Mundo, recorded works by Caccini on their album, What Artemisia Heard, for the Sono Luminus record label in 2015. Another resources for Caccini’s music is the The New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, also published by Indiana University Press. It includes Doris Silbert's edition of “Aria of the Shepherd" from La Liberazione di Ruggiero and Carolyn Raney's transcription of "Maria, dolce Maria" from Il Primo Libro as well as a biographical essay by Suzanne Cusick and a list of suggested readings.

An additional resource of interest to guitarists is Mariette Stephenson's Arrangements for Solo Guitar from Francesca Caccini’s Il primo libro delle musiche a una, e due voci. The collection was self-published in 2016 and the selections were originally written for one or two voices with continuo accompaniment. In the preface to the publication, Stephenson said she created the arrangements for intermediate-level guitarists and suggested players who are more advanced may choose to ornament or add notes to chords. This collection as well as Alexander and Savino’s critical edition of Il primo libro offer great resources for incorporating Caccini’s music into performance and or educational activities.

Sources Cited:

(1) K. Marie Stolba, The Development of Western Music: A History, Brief 2nd ed. (Madison: Brown and Benchmark, 1995), 199-200.

(2) Andrew Clements, “Caccini: La Liberazione di Ruggiero CD review – first opera by a woman stands firmly on its own feet,” The Guardian, March 8, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/mar/08/francesca-caccini-la-liberazione-di-ruggiero-cd-review-elena-sartori.

(3) Suzanne Cusick, “Francesca Caccini (1587-after 1641),” in New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, ed. James R. Briscoe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 48-59.

(4) Cusick, 48.

(5) Stolba and Clements.

(6) Nate Zuckerman, “Caccini, Francesca (1587-ca.1645),” Italian Women's Writers, University of Chicago Library, 2004, https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/efts/IWW/BIOS/A0083.html.

Additional Resources:

• Ronald James Alexander and Richard Savino, Francesca Caccini's 'Il primo libro delle musiche' of 1618: A Modern Critical Edition of the Secular Monodies (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004).

• “Giulio Caccini,” Naxos Records, accessed June 20, 2020, https://www.naxos.com/person/Giulio_Caccini/25238.htm.

• Mariette Stephenson, Caccini Works for Solo Guitar (Self-published, 2016).

Selection of Compositions:

  • La liberzione di ruggiero

  • Ch'Amor sia nedo

  • Dov'io credeo

  • O chiome belle

  • Lasciatemi qui solo

  • Chi desia di saper

Selection of Recordings:

  • What Artemisia Heard by El Mundo and Richard Savino (CD)

  • Italian Sirens by Ars Lyrica Houston (Youtube)

  • Francesca Caccini - Sacred and Secular Songs by Elena Cecchi Fedi (CD)

Additional Info:

Mariette Stephenson's arrangements are available at https://www.stringsbymail.com/caccini-francesca-caccini-works-for-solo-guitar-pdf-download-16144.html

Ronald James Alexander and Richard Savino's book is available at https://www.amazon.com/Francesca-Caccinis-primo-libro-musiche-ebook/dp/B00272ML2E

Regina Strinasacchi (ca. 1761-1839)

Facebook Post: https://www.facebook.com/candicemowbray/posts/10153116257465902?fref=nf Regina Strinasacchi is best known as the violinist for whom Mozart composed the Sonata in B-flat Major, k454 but she was also a guitarist of exceptional skill. She was born near Mantua in 1764 and trained at the conservatory of the Ospedale della Pieta (the institute of Vivaldi fame) in Italy. She also received some training in Paris. While in her 20's, Strinasacchi traveled through Italy. In 1784, she went to Vienna for two performances at the National Court Theater and performed the Sonata in B-flat with Mozart during a second concert. Her female contemporaries include Maria Anna Mozart (Wolfgang's sister), Maria Theresia von Paradis (a virtuoso pianist who wrote concertos and whose operas were staged) and Nancy Storace (soprano). She married an cellist and mandolinist, Johann Conrad Schlick, of the ducal chapel at Gotha and, after his death, moved to Dresden. She died in 1839. Although Strinasacchi's successes are most associated with violin performance, multiple biographical resources include reference to her skill as a guitarist, placing her in the same time frame and geography of many figures in this golden age of the guitar. Resources:

Other Possible Resources:

  • Violin Virtuosas cites Musical Times, October 1, 1906, Vol. 47.

  • Mentioned in Andrew Robinson's Sudden Genius? The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs, (United Kingdom: OUP Oxford, 2010), 10.

Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi (1813-1850)

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Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi established herself as a virtuosic guitarist and composer, following in the footsteps of her father Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) and earning veneration for her performances. Emilia was born on April 23,1813 in Vienna, Austria and was one of three children born to Mauro Giuliani and Anna Wiesenberger, the woman with whom he was in a relationship while in Vienna although not his legal wife.(1) Wiesenberger died in 1817 and Emilia went into the care of a Viennese orphanage and foster mothers.(2)

Information about Emilia’s education and training is not readily available and it is fascinating to consider that she joined her father in Italy in 1828 at the age of 15, making her concert debut in duet with him at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples. A review of the performance in the Giornale del Regno delle Due Sicilie on February 13, 1828 stated, “the guitar pieces executed by him and by one of his daughters named Emilia…pleased so much, that he and this young lady, for whom we have great hopes, were repeatedly applauded, and ultimately [given a curtain call] by the public.”(3) In October of the same year, Emilia gave a solo performance between acts of an opera with the same journal reporting that she showed herself to be “not only a worthy disciple but also an emulator of her father.”(4) One can contemplate the possible role Mauro had in Emilia’s young life and the way it may have been concealed due to his marital status.

The author of the announcement in the Giornale delle Due Sicilie mourning Mauro’s death cites Emilia’s musical promise as a comforting force upon the passing of the great musician: “On the morning of the 8th of this month [May 1829] Mauro Giuliani, the famous guitarist, died in this capital…He has left us a daughter of tender age, who shows herself to be the inheritor of his uncommon ability–a circumstance which alone can mitigate the sadness of this loss.”(5)

Emilia performed in cities such as Vienna, Pest, Naples and Florence where, in 1839, she performed during a concert that also featured the famed pianist and composer, Franz Liszt (1811-1886).(6) The reviews for this and other concerts by Emilia are very favorable, reporting unrivaled abilities, adoration from distinguished audiences and encores. Reviews also credit her with the invention of a double-harmonic technique.

Emilia’s compositions show a virtuoso’s understanding of guitar mechanics and share some traits with her father’s work. Whereas he wrote Rossiniane, works based on themes by Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868), she composed Belliniane, works based on themes by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) as well as other operatic-based works. Her variations on the theme “Non piu mesta accanto al fuoco” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, were dedicated Luigi Guglielmi, whom she married in 1839. In Emilia’s setting, guitarists are faced with the challenge of utilizing their technical prowess while maintaining the lightness and spirit of the original aria. While the notes and tempo can be achieved by a late-intermediate guitarist, the ability to maintain the original light spirit of the aria requires an excess of ability accompanied by the musicality of an experienced performer. Giuliani’s Variations on a Theme of Mercadante requires the skills of a very advanced player and offers ample opportunity for virtuosic display. Her Six Preludes are more accessible to the developing performer and could be incorporated into a curriculum alongside advanced studies by Mauro Giuliani, Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) or Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853).

The Six Preludes are opus 46 in her catalog. Opus numbers 1-11 were published by Giovanni Ricordi between 1834 and 1837, leaving 35 opera unaccounted for. Modern publications of Giuliani’s compositions include Variations on a Theme of Mercandante by Berben in 1989 and Prelude No. 1, which is included in Annette Kruisbrink’s Guitar Music by Women Composers (D’Oz). All of Giuliani’s surviving scores have been published by DGA Editions in Emilia Giuliani (1813-1850). This book by Nicoletta Confalone and Robert Coldwell, with foreword by noted Mauro Giuliani scholar Thomas Heck, includes biographical information, lengthy annotations, concert reviews, a timeline, and a catalog of Giuliani’s works.

Sources Cited:

(1) Michael Lorenz, “New Light on Mauro Giuliani's Vienna Years,” Michael Lorenz Blogspot, April 15, 2015, http://michaelorenz.blogspot.com/2015/04/new-light-on-mauro-giulianis-vienna.html.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Thomas F. Heck, Mauro Giuliani: A Life for the Guitar (Austin: Guitar Foundation of America, 2013), chap. 4.3.2, Kindle.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid., 4.3.4.

(6) Nicoletta Confalone and Robert Coldwell, Emilia Giuliani (1813-1850), (Dallas: DGA Editions, 2013), 21, E-book.

Additional Resources:


Variations on L'amo from I Montecchi ed i Capuleti by Bellini op. 1, Milan 1834

Belliniana no. 1, ossia varii pezzi tratti dale opera di Bellini, ridotti e variati op. 2, Milan 1834

Variations on Ah perchè non posso odiarti by Bellini op. 3, Milan 1836

Belliniana no. 2, ossia varii pezzi tratti dalle opere del Maes. Bellini, ridotti e variati op. 4, Milan 1835

Variations on Non più mestaby Rossini op. 5, Milan 1836

Belliniana No. 3, ossia vari pezzi tratti dalle opere de Maes. Bellini, ridotti e variati op. 6, Milan 1835

Belliniana No. 4, ossia vari pezzi tratti dalle opere del Maes. Bellini, ridotti e variati op. 7, Milan 1835