Maggalena Lombardini String Quartets deserve a second hearing

Maddalena Lombardini lived quite a life. Born in Venice in 1735, she was a renowned violinist by the age of 14. Guiseppi Tartini took her under his wing, and soon she had a thriving career as a performer and an instructor at the Mendicanti of Venice. At 31 she married violinist Ludovico Sirmen and the two toured France and England, playing jointly written concertos and works by Lombardini alone.

By the 1770s Lombardini had published several volumes of music, including violin concertos, violin duets, a violin sonata, and the six quartets features on this album.

The set was published in Paris in 1769, and they’re very much in the gallant style of their day. Five of the quartets are simple, two-movement works, with clear, appealing melodies and elegantly simple harmonies.

The fifth quartet is something of a puzzle. It’s a far more substantial work, with four fully-developed movements. This quartet reminded me of the Op. 2 quartets of Haydn. Lombardini’s Quartet No. 5 is lighter and a little shorter than Haydn’s, but it’s the same character.

Lombardini was a first-rate violinist, and her writing for strings shows it. Every quartet is well-crafted, with plenty of opportunities for the players to express themselves.

The Accademia della Magnifica Comunitá performs these works with zest, adding a liveliness that just adds to the enjoyment. Why aren’t these works better known? It’s easy to cite prejudice against women composers, but there may be another reason.

Lombardini’s career as a violinist peaked in the 1770s. By 1785 her playing was considered old-fashioned by Parisian audiences. She transitioned from violinist to singer for the latter part of her career. Lombardini retired from the stage and died in Venice in 1799. So her eclipse may have had more to do with changing fashion than gender bias.

Only recently has her music been revived. I’m glad it has. Do Lombardini’s quartets rival those of Mozart and Haydn? Not quite. But they’re finely crafted works that charm the ear. And sometimes, that’s enough.

Maddalena Lombardini: Six String Quartets, Paris 1769
Accademia della Magnifica Comunitá

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