Marianna Martines was one of the most famous composers of Mozart’s time and was acclaimed as a child prodigy at a young age. The British music scholar Charles Burney, who had witnessed many talented musicians on his travels through Europe, considered her the “most perfect singer” he had “ever heard”. He also praised her “excellent compositions” and her piano playing of a “masterly kind”.
Marianna Martines was born in Vienna in 1744. Her father Nicolò was master of ceremonies to the apostolic nuncio in Vienna, resulting in the family having close contacts with the Viennese court – including the court poet Pietro Metastasio, who also lived in the Martines’ house. It was he who recognised the extraordinary talent of the young Marianna and personally ensured that Joseph Haydn became her harpsichord teacher and Nicola Porpora her singing teacher. In 1761, the 17-year-old caused a sensation in Vienna when her Third Mass was performed in the Michaelerkirche. A good decade later, Martines – by now a composer, harpsichordist and singer who was highly regarded in Vienna – became the first woman to be admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. In 1782, her oratorio [Isacco, figura del redentore], based on a text by Metastasio, was performed – a few weeks before the death of the poet, who left Martines and her siblings his fortune. Only a few years later, the composer seemed to have given up writing new works. Nevertheless, she took a lively interest in Viennese musical life, and the singing school she led is considered the forerunner of the Vienna conservatory. She also appeared as part of her weekly “musical evening entertainments”, which became a centre for the cultivation of music in the city. The Irish tenor Michael Kelly reported in his memoirs in 1826: “Mozart was a regular guest at her salon, and I heard him playing his own compositions with her four-handed at the pianoforte. He was very much taken with her.” Marianna Martines died in Vienna on 12 December 1812.