Born: May 4, 1744, Vienna, Austria
Died: December 13, 1812, Vienna, Austria
Marianna Martines (also known as Marianna von Martinez) was an accomplished composer of oratorios, masses, sacred choral works and secular cantatas, as well as works for orchestra and keyboard. By 1761, Martines had composed three large Catholic masses and a motet for performance at Michaelerkirche (St. Michael’s Church), the imperial court church, and was gaining a reputation outside Vienna. After 1765, she primarily wrote chamber cantatas, motets and arias for solo voices. She was greatly influenced by Pietro Metastasio and set many of his texts, including La tempesta, a cantata, and Isacco, figura del redentore, an oratorio. She likely performed many of her works herself as noted by Englishman Charles Burney while visiting Vienna in 1772. He wrote:
Her performance indeed surpassed all that I had been made to expect. She [sang two arias] of her own composition, to words of Metastasio, which she accompanied on the harpsichord … and in playing the ritornels [instrumental refrains], I could discover a very brilliant finger….
The following year, Martines was honored by the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna for her successful completion of Dixit Dominus, a large motet for chorus, soloists, and orchestra. She was the first woman to join this society of musicians and composers. Martines successfully carved out a life for herself as a single woman with a career in composing and teaching at her home, having never formally been employed at any court. This was unheard of at that time.
Martines’ accomplishments were due, in no small measure, to Metastasio, the famous imperial poet who became a mentor and supervisor of her education. Martines’ family, of Spanish descent, had moved from Naples to Vienna when her father became master of ceremonies for the papal embassy at the imperial court. On the grounds of the court, Metastasio and the Martines family lived in the same building, the Altes Michaelerhaus, for over 50 years. Metastasio willingly oversaw the studies of all six Martines children, four boys and two girls. He arranged for the versatile Marianna to study harpsichord with Joseph Haydn, as well as singing and composition with Nicolò Porpora and Giuseppe Bonno. Talented and intelligent, Martines became conversant in German, Italian, French and English.
When Martines’ father died unexpectedly, Metastasio helped the Martines children establish their careers. Martines and her sister, Antonia, reciprocated by caring for Metastasio in his later life. Because of their dedication and companionship, Metastasio arranged to leave his estate to them. Independent and financially secure, the two unmarried sisters managed a large home where they regularly hosted musical events attended by performers and composers including Haydn and Mozart. Martines also established a singing school for young women where she successfully trained many first rate musicians. She died at 68 years of age leaving behind a large body of music with an international reputation as a fine singer, composer and keyboardist.