Women in Music | Female Musicians | World of Music | Classical

The most famous female musician and poet of ancient Greece was Sappho (b. c. 612 bc) from the island of Lesbos. Her music has not survived, but she is known to have accompanied her poetry on a variety of harp-like instruments. Sappho’s work includes love songs to other women and epithalamia (choral wedding songs).

Elsewhere in ancient Greece women worked as instrumentalists, singers and dancers. Many professional female musicians were slaves or courtesans, such as the hetairai, highly educated and cultured women who regularly provided the musical entertainment at parties. Although there were renowned female performers who were regarded as respectable women, the association of women musicians with prostitution doubtless led to their exclusion from singing in the church services of the early Christian era.

Nevertheless, several women are known to have composed Byzantine chant. The best known is Kassia, born c. ad 810 into an aristocratic family. She was a potential bride for Emperor Theophilos, but displeased him with her quick wit and therefore retired to a convent. At least 23 of her liturgical works have survived with words and music.

Styles & Forms | Greece & Rome | World of Music | Classical
Women in Music | Female Minstrels | Medieval Era | Classical


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