On the trail of Carlotta Cortopassi

Carlotta Cortopassi was one of the first ‘lost composers’ that I came across in my research into the use of statistics in music history (as described in this article), and I have often mentioned her as an example of one of the many thousands of names that have disappeared from music history. So I was delighted last week to be contacted by Mickey Cortopassi, a descendant of Carlotta and Luigi who emigrated to the USA in 1908, aged 41.

This prompted me to have another online search for her. It is always worth repeating searches from time to time, as new material comes online and search algorithms change. I managed to find two interesting things…

A search on ancestry.com revealed a public family tree that includes a Carlotta Cortopassi born in Lucca in 1824, who married a Giuseppe Bascherini. Google books has some court records that on pp.170-176 describe a case in December 1869 involving Carlotta Bascherini née Cortopassi, who is owed money following the death of her husband. It also mentions that they had two sons – Prospero and Amabilia. If this is the composer we are looking for, these dates fit well with the Italian National Library’s information on her Non ti scordar: polka per Pianoforte, which it dates to 1869-1873. The death of her husband and shortage of funds would perhaps explain why Carlotta tried to earn some money from composing (under her maiden name) over the following years – and perhaps why one of the pieces was called ‘Desolazione’.

However, I then discovered a website [now no longer operating] dedicated to Carlotta’s more famous composing relative Domenico Cortopassi, run by Massimo Alemanno Cortopassi, a descendant of the same family. It includes a family tree of the Cortopassis, together with some further information on Carlotta, including a photograph of her and images of the cover pages of some of her works. This Carlotta was born in Camaiore near Lucca in 1866, and died in nearby Sarzana in 1902. This makes her almost certainly too young to have been publishing music in the period 1869-73. Perhaps the publication dates are wrong in the Italian National Library catalogue, which is quite possible as editions of sheet music were often undated. It also means, despite the similar birth date, that she is not the Carlotta who emigrated to the US in 1908.

There is also a Facebook group dedicated to Domenico Cortopassi, which includes a larger version of the same family tree that mentions an earlier Carlotta (sister of Alemanno, father of the previously mentioned Carlotta) who was born in Lucca in 1828. She died in 1861, so cannot be the same one involved in the 1869 court case mentioned above. 

So there are now four apparently different Carlotta Cortopassis, and some contradictory publication dates which are inconsistent with the family tree produced by a member of the family (and therefore, presumably, likely to be correct). The attributed publication dates might be wrong, or it is just possible that there were two different Carlotta Cortopassis composing near Lucca in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is interesting that, of the three works by her listed in the Italian National Library catalogue, two – Desolazione and the Melodia religiosa (both undated) were published by Venturini in Florence, but Non ti scordar (dated to 1869-73) was published by Trebbi in Bologna.

The search continues…

Cite this article as: Gustar, A.J. 'On the trail of Carlotta Cortopassi' in Statistics in Historical Musicology, 20th August 2018, https://musichistorystats.com/on-the-trail-of-carlotta-cortopassi/.

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