In the mid-18th century, a building stood in the Viennese Michaelerplatz that boasted particularly auspicious tenants.
The dowager princess of the Esterházy family lived on the ground floor. The third floor was home to the poet laureate of the Austrian Empire, a man known professionally as Metastasio; he roomed with the Martines family, whose daughter Marianna was a musical prodigy. The leaky attic housed the building's poorest resident, an up-and-coming composer named Joseph Haydn. (When Marianna took lessons from him, he was paid by Metastasio in table scraps.)
Both Haydn and Martines went on to become greatly admired composers in their lifetimes. But while modern audiences enjoy endless opportunities to hear Haydn, the same can't be said of Marianna Martines especially in Minnesota.
Happily, that's about to change. This month, Minneapolis-based soprano Andrea Leap, director of the seven-member Leap Ensemble, is mounting a series of performances of Martines' Berenice, ah che fai for soprano, string quartet, harpsichord and two oboes. The ensemble also will be performing Maria Teresa Agnesi Pinottini's Non piangete amanti rai, for soprano, strings and harpsichord.
Whenever historical works by women are programmed, an inevitable question arises: Why has it taken so long to hear this music? Is it simple sexism?
"I don't think it's simple sexism; I think it's…complex sexism," Leap says. "It's not that people don't want to hear music written by women. It's bigger than that. If you're going to be a composer who writes music down, at any point in history, of any gender, you need a few things in order to succeed: You must be educated, both generally and musically; you must have access and the finances for musicians to play your pieces; and you must have a venue where people will hear your work."
Leap explains that Martines was fortunate to have Metastasio in such close proximity. He oversaw her education and also introduced her to the wealthy figures who would grant her access to the resources that she needed to compose.
Leap also points to the difficulty of securing scores to work by women: a stumbling block even today, and one she ran into with the Martines family. Some of Martines' scores are online and in the public domain, but they are handwritten and not performance-ready. Only two copies of the single modern edition of the work exist in North America: one in Toronto and one in New York, and both are reference copies.
But thanks to the help of a University of Minnesota librarian, Leap was able to secure an interlibrary loan and ultimately transcribe the full score into parts for her players. Leap and company going above and beyond to do this kind of musicological detective work is the reason that Minnesotans will be able to experience the work for the first time.
What will those lucky listeners hear? Leap describes Berenice as "quite Mozartean."
"It's playful; it has some twists; there's a great drive to the piece, and fun interplay between the oboes and the strings and voice. Martines was a singer and pianist, and it shows in her writing. She knows just how far to push the virtuosity."
Pinottini's work stands out, too, but for different reasons: "The Pinottini feels more like late Baroque, with very expressive vocal writing."
Leap calls the text setting "theatrical and affecting." And the violins, she says, play "a terrific dovetailing of themes that will tear your heart out."
Strikingly, these two works won't be siloed into a concert featuring just the work of female composers. Instead, they will appear on the program alongside music by mainstays Mozart, Scarlatti and Handel.
Was Leap intending to send a message?
"I really didn't set out to make this a concert with an agenda; I just liked the pieces," she says. "I don't need to advocate for them beyond programming them right next to those of their peers. These pieces more than hold their own when you program them next to Mozart and Handel and Scarlatti, and I just wanted people to have the opportunity to experience that much in the way a salon audience in 1700s Vienna could."
That said, audiences are certainly free to decide what the presence of these works might mean about listeners' changing relationships with marginalized composers.
"In my own formal music education, I can count the number of women composers introduced to me on one hand; that is no longer the case in most music schools," Leap says. "But I look forward to the day when this kind of programming isn't so novel."
• 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. 4th St., Duluth (tickets $15-$20)
• Noon Wednesday, Sept., Thelma Hunter Recital Room, Schubert Club, 75 W. 5th St, St. Paul (requested donation, $10)
• 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, (preshow at 6:30 p.m.), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Baroque Gallery, 2400 3rd Ave. S, Minneapolis (standing room free, reserved seats $5-$10)
• 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Ave., St. Paul (tickets $15-$20)
• 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, Trinity Lutheran Church, 609 Lincoln Ave. S., Owatonna (requested ticket donation, $10)