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Maria Theresia von Paradis

by sarah - March 27th, 2011.
Filed under: composers, women's history month. Tagged as: , , , .

Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824) was an Austrian composer, famous for her blindness and her friendship with Mozart. She was the daughter of Joseph Anton Paradis, the Imperial Secretary of Commerce and Court Councilor to the Empress Maria Theresa, after whom this composer was named.

Her education included music theory, composition, piano, and voice. Among her teachers was Antonio Salieri. Known as a singer and pianist in salons throughout Vienna, von Paradis commissioned several works in her lifetime, including concerti from Salieri, Mozart, and Haydn. After making a name for herself in Vienna, von Paradis also toured Paris, London, Germany, and Switzerland.

She began composing during her European tour and her compositional output increased as her touring schedule slowed. Her first works were for keyboard or voice and keyboard, but she also completed five operas and three cantatas. Von Paradis composed by using a composition board that was invented by her business partner and librettist Johann Riedinger.

In 1808, von Paradis founded a music school in Vienna and taught young girls singing, piano, and theory. She continued to teach until her death in 1824.

Sadly, her music is little known.  The one exception just proves the rule. Her famous Sicilienne, is not by von Paradis, but rather was apparently composed by the violinist who claimed to have discovered the work, Samuel Dushkin.  It can be considered in the context of musicians in a practice of composing lovely pieces, and then drawing attention to them by claiming to “discover” a work of previous centuries.  The “charming piece should be put on the same shelf as Pugnani’s Prelude & Allegro (Fritz Kreisler), Albinoni’s Adagio (Remo Ghiazotto) or Caccini’s Ave Maria (Vladimir Vavilov).”  The Sicilienne was recently played at the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  Here is the Sicilienne (not by Maria Theresia von Paradis) performed by Jacqueline due Pré:

One would hope that interest in the Sicilenne would draw attention to the surviving pieces that are actually by von Paradis, but that has not been the case.  In 1994, The Women’s Philharmonic performed the Overture to Paradis’s opera Der Schulkandidat (1792) — now there’s a lead to follow!.

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