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Discovery of the first opera composed by a woman in Spain

First opera composed by a woman in Spain found
Francesc Cortès, (left), Maria Teresa Garrigosa and Francesc Bofill, with the Schiava e Regina score.
The manuscript score of Schiava e Regina, which Maria Lluïsa Casagemas composed when she was 17 years old, was located by experts in Musicology of the UAB. It was the first of her works programmed for a large opera theatre in Europe. The attack on the Liceu in 1893 however thwarted its premiere.


The original Schiava e Regina, the opera which Maria Lluïsa Casagemas (1873-1942) composed when she was only 17 years old and which was long thought to be lost, was recently recovered. It was located by Maria Teresa Garrigosa while she was researching for her PhD thesis on Catalan composers of the 19th century under the direction of Francesc Cortès, professor of the Department of Art and Musicology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

The score was fully composed for piano and the manuscript, with annotations, was dedicated to whom was her professor at the Liceu Conservatory, Francesc de Paula Sánchez i Gavagnach. In addition to the musical score with three acts, the volume includes the index, which was added at a later time to the original binding, as well as a photograph of the composer and a dedication written to her professor. In addition to the score, Garrigosa found a photo dedicated to Sánchez i Cavagnach dating back to the year in which the opera was composed.

“The discovery is of great importance to the investigation of this author's trajectory and to the recovery of the legacy of composers from that generation, currently unknown despite their enormous talent”, explains Maria Teresa Garrigosa, for whom Casagemas “was a genius who composed her first piece, an Ave Maria, when she was only 11 years old”.

“Now we will be able to study and give this opera the value and representation it deserves, the first opera composed by a woman in Catalonia and Spain and also the first to be programmed for one of the great opera houses of Europe, the Liceu. This was a highly exceptional feat for her time and says much about the quality of her music”, Francesc Cortès highlights.

The Opera Which Never Premiered

With an Italianate style, very in line with the musical cannons of the operas of the time, Casagemas' piece received a warm acclaim in the first partially private auditions held and in the end-of-the-year performances of the Liceu Conservatory. Music critics and composers such as Amadeu Vives, Felip Pedrell and Isaac Albéniz praised the young composer and her work publicly and created great expectation. She was also awarded a prize for her opera at the Chicago World's Fair held in 1893.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu programmed the opera's premiere for the 1893-1894 season, but the anarchist attack on the theatre in November prevented it from ever being performed. What researchers have now discovered is that the opera was reprogrammed for the following season, but was not performed then either. If the opera had premiered, it would have been the first to be composed by a woman in the 19th century and represented in one of the most important opera houses in Europe.

“By studying the documents of the historical archives of the Gran Teatre del Liceu Society which we have at the UAB, we can see that this was a very difficult period for the Liceu. The fear of the audience and the fact that the fourth floor was closed due to the bomb attack made the Liceu lose money and forced them to change the programming to include the top artists of the time, and that went in detriment of the opera's premiere", Francesc Cortès explained. At that time, women composers were almost invisible publicly and this fact also went against the possibility of the opera to be represented once the initial excitement had worn off.

The full score of Schiava e Regina has never been performed. Only in the month of April 1893 parts of the score were represented at the Royal Palace of Madrid, in front of the royal family and other members of the Spanish aristocracy and, previously, it had been auditioned in various halls of Barcelona to present it in society and to some of the most important musicians of the time.

An Insistent Search

After years of searching for the opera in archives and asking friends and family of the composer, Maria Teresa Garrigosa was finally compensated for her efforts. After finishing one of her concerts, in which she sang the classical pieces of the composer which she was studying for her PhD thesis and also talks about the lost score with the audience, she received a message from a man named Francesc Bofill, guardian of part of the Sánchez i Gavagnach legacy, to inform her that he conserved a document which could be the one she was looking for. Researchers from the UAB identified the score and confirmed that is was the valuable document they had so insistently been searching for.

Researchers already organised a first representation of the arias and duets performed by the most renowned sopranos and tenors, which took place on 27 October at Barcelona's Teatre de Sarrià.

Over 300 pieces composed

Researchers were able to verify that the Catalan composer, born into a bourgeois family and sister of the painter Carles Casagemas, composed more than 300 pieces. In her diary, which researchers were able to consult, they found an interview from a newspaper of the time in which she herself stated that number. This makes her one of the great European composers of the 19th century.

It is a figure Garrigosa and Cortès already suspected, given that the located scores already reached more than 270. Currently more than 100 titles are known, which correspond to the ones she composed when she was 18 to 20 years old, but only some 50 of these scores have been conserved.
“Casagemas was a virtuous artist and she was taught by the best, coming as she did from a well-to-do family. Catalonia's female composers form the Art Nouveau period had their own private channels in which they offered recitals and their own musical journals. It was considered eccentric for a woman to create classical music, but there were many who did just that and were very talented at it. Her legacy is worthy of being recovered and her name placed in the position it deserves within the history of music of our country”, Maria Teresa Garrigosa concludes.

Imatges. Credits: UAB - Francesc Bofill
Score of Schiava e Regina, by Maria Lluïsa Casagemas. Front page and inside pages.
Index of the score, added posterior to the original binding of the score.
Photograph of Maria Lluïsa Casagemas found with the score.
Photograph with Maria Lluïsa Casagemas' dedication to her professor Sánchez i Gavagnach found together with the score. The date found is 1891, when the composer had written the score and was 17 years old.