Listen to the music of the first female composer: Kassia a 9th-century Byzantine abbess

6 January 2017, 12:06

Saint Kassia of Constantinople, 1990s. Artist: Kis

By Lizzie Davis

Kassiani (also known as Kassia) was a ninth-century abbess and composer born in Constantinople around 810 AD. And her music is heart-stoppingly beautiful – just listen…

She was one of the first composers – and is the earliest female composer whose music has survived to the present day.

Around 25 of her pieces survive, along with a wealth of verses and epigrams.

She was famous in her own day, partly because of legendary story of her encounter with the emperor Theophilus.

The emperor is said to have met Kassia as a potential bride. He said to the young Kassia: ‘Through a women came forth the baser things’ (referring to the biblical story of Eve eating the forbidden fruit).

To which she replied, almost certainly with a steely glint in her eye: ‘And through a woman came forth the better things,’ referring to Christ’s mother, the Virgin Mary.

ZING. 

Reader, she did not marry him. Instead she became a nun and wrote some of the most haunting music of all time.

And her music is absolutely sublime. Here’s a taster.