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Presenze femminili

A repertoire of female names in the Noseda collection of Milan Conservatory library
edited by Pinuccia Carrer


The pink database is the beginning of a project that aims to improve the knowledge of the role of women in the history of music, particularly in the Italian history of music.

The idea was born in 2007 with the students in my class of history of keyboard music.

A first step was the research of musical works for a Concert dedicated to women and music, based of sources of the Noseda Collection preserved at Milan Conservatory Library. I had the assistance by my students Francesca Rivabene and Lidia Cremona.

The scores were very interesting and we decided to continue a systematic research, creating a simple database. The Conservatory librarian Licia Sirch was a partner in this work. As usual Massimo Gentili-Tedeschi helped me and offered to host the online database on the website of the Ufficio Ricerca Fondi Musicali of the National Braidense Library.

This work was presented at the annual conference of the Italian Musicological Society (Pescara-Chieti, October 2007, and at the annual conference of the International Association of Music Libraries (Naples, July 2008).

Since 2009, Giovanna Cembalo collaborates to the update of the database.

The data are brought out investigating the Noseda Collection, that derives its name after Gustavo Adolfo Noseda, a roman-tic artist and a typical Lombard businessman, born in Milan in 1837 and dead in 1866, aged only 29. Graduated in piano, he settled to Naples to study composition with Saverio Mercadante. In San Pietro a Majella he decided to create "the largest Italian Archive": not only he ordered copies - possibly sometimes obtaining scores in an "oblique" way - but he also purchased the collections of the most important noble Neapolitan families. Returned back to the North, he bought the music of various aristocratic families. During journeys in France and Switzerland his collection increased: it reached twelve thousand items, including eight thousand manuscripts and five hundred books on music, some dating back to the late sixteenth century; after his death, the collection were donated to the city of Milan. Thanks to the interest of the Conservatory librarian Eugenio de' Guarinoni and director, the violinist Antonio Bazzini, the collection later was acquired by the Conservatory Library. A printed catalogue was published at the end of the 19th century. Claudio Sartori in the Nineteen sixties reordered the collection. Now the national online catalogue SBN includes almost all the Noseda catalogue. But the Fondo Noseda has never been investigated "al femminile", looking for women themselves.

A first result of the research has brought to light many little known works linked to female musical world. At present the pink database includes 1121 titles linked to women and the feminine names alone are 750, without the variants.

In the main search form, it is possible to search one or two names, the titles, to sort the material by call mark, search the entire range of titles or names or the feminine names only. Clicking on the button: cerca nome nome (search name-name) you will see a list of all names that have a connection with a selected one, excluding the titles, so showing the multiple relations of one single name in the entire collection.

I have tried to find the most complete form of names and to indicate in a note field the way they were mentioned in the sources.

The relationships I have found for the women in the whole collec-tion are: Arranger, Author of the text or librettist, Composer, Editor, Dedicator, Dedicatee, Publisher, Per-former, Honouree, Owner and when the relation is not clear I have coded it as Other.

Browsing the list of names, it is possible to select by relation and gender, e.g. obtaining a list of women composers, dedicatees, etc.

Elena Viscontini was one interesting example of a research developed around the database. The Noseda collection includes a Fantasia per due pianoforti by Benedetto Negri dedicated to his pupil Elena Viscontini; she composed the "tema", the principal melody, and with her teacher developed some variations. Francesca Rivabene has reconstructed Viscontini's biography starting from the Noseda source: she discovered a musical world linked to the "giardiniere", the feminine part of the patriotic Secret Society Carboneria during Milan Risorgimento.

In Noseda, we have many patriots-musicians-woman. The Viscontini-Negri duo is also an interesting example of didactic methodology in the first half of 19th century.

Concerning performance practice in the Neapolitan area an important work is link to the performer Geronima (Gerolama) Dardanelli. Gerolama is dedicatee of an Aria with coloratura com-posed by Carlo Assensio. A similar example is Millico's arietta arranged by the famous Crescentini for the singer Adelaide Tosi.

A last example of a Noseda feminine source: a nice portrait on the book edited by Charlotte Vanhove, the "veuve Talma".

The database highlights the role of feminine musicians - not only composers - in the society and in the history to the years Eighteen sixties. The relationships among feminine names, roles, type of documents and various aspects suggest different and sometimes new investigation themes.

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