Francesca Caccini (September 18, 1587 – c. 1640) was an Italian composer, singer, lutenist, poet, and music teacher of the early Baroque era. She was the daughter of Giulio Caccini, and was probably the most famous and influential female European composer, in any genre, between Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century and the 19th century. Her opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero, was the first opera by a woman composer.
Caccini was born in Florence, most likely receiving her early musical training with her father. Her first recorded appearance in public is as a singer at the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de Medici in 1600; her father took part in organizing and composing the music for the sumptuous entertainment involved. In 1604 when the entire Caccini family visited France, Henry praised her singing effusively—"you are the best singer in all of France"—and asked her to stay at his court; however the Florentine officials denied his request, and she returned to Italy, where her fame continued to grow. Shortly afterwards she attracted the attention of Claudio Monteverdi as well, who praised her singing and instrumental performance. In 1607 she married a member of the Florentine Camerata, Giovanni Battista Signorini.
In her early life Caccini performed with her parents and brother and sister, under the name Concerto Caccini. Later, as she became more of a virtuoso performer, she formed a Concerto delle donne (similar to the Concerto de donne of Ferrara) with her sister Settimia Caccini and the Roman performer Vittoria Archilei (1550 – c.1620). She performed in the second opera ever, Jacopo Peri's Euridice, although the parts she sang were by her father Giulio. At this time she was sometimes referred to as La Cecchina.
During this time she was also developing her skill as a composer. In conjunction with the librettist Michelangelo Buonaroti the Younger (grand-nephew of the artist) she wrote the music for many intermedi at the Medici court, and she also began writing in the then-new form of opera. By 1618 she was one of the highest paid employees of the court, and was receiving more than her father had.
One of her greatest successes came in 1625 when she wrote an opera for a visiting prince from Poland, Ladislaus Sigismondo (later Władysław IV). This opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, was also performed in Warsaw in 1628; this is the earliest verified performance of an Italian opera outside of Italy.
Records of her later life are sparse. Florentine records show that a Francesca Caccini, wife of a senator, died in 1640, which would imply that she remarried if this was her; alternatively that may have been someone else, and she may have died earlier. A death date of 1630 is given in some sources.
Francesca wrote five operas, four of which have been lost (only La liberazione di Ruggiero has survived). Of her numerous smaller compositions, sacred, secular, vocal and instrumental, the only surviving collection is her publication of 1618, Il primo libro delle musiche, which contains pieces for one or two voices and basso continuo. They include madrigals, canzonette, settings of sonnets, strophic variations, as well as several sacred pieces which can be classified as early Baroque motets. In style they are monodies, and in some ways she exceeds her father in melodic and harmonic daring; clearly she was writing for her own voice, and for her own virtuoso singing capabilities much of the time.