Franziska Dorothea Lebrun- Thomas Gainsborough (1780)
Francesca Lebrun, the primary female representative of the Mannheim School, was born Franziska Dorothea Danzi, daughter of cellist Innocenz Danzi and elder sister of composer Franz Danzi. She probably received musical training from her father and launched on a singing career at age 17, appearing in Sacchini's one-act scena La contadina in corte. Dr. Charles Burney noted her debut, writing "(her) voice and execution are brilliant...she is now a very engaging, agreeable performer, and promises still greater things in (the) future." Her success led to an engagement with the Mannheim court opera that lasted until 1777, when Danzi journeyed to London to appear in operas by Sacchini and Johann Christian Bach held at the King's Theater. During her absence, the courts of Munich and Mannheim merged upon the death of the Carl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria. Upon her return, Danzi married oboist and composer Ludwig August Lebrun, lately displaced as a member of the Mannheim orchestra. Under the name Francesca Lebrun, she embarked on a tour of Europe with her husband. When the Teatro alla Scala opened in Milan on August 3, 1778, with Antonio Salieri's opera Europa Riconoscuita, Lebrun was the prima diva in the cast. Lebrun created a sensation in Paris the following year at the Concert Spirituel through her ability to fit Italian words to instrumental parts of symphonies concertantes and sing them. The Lebruns lived in London from 1779 through 1781, as Francesca fulfilled a two-year-long stint at the King's Theater. In 1780, Francesca Lebrun's portrait was painted by Thomas Gainsborough, and that year she published two opus numbers' worth of Sonatas for fortepiano with violin accompaniment, totaling 12 sonatas in all. These are the only known works of Francesca Lebrun, nonetheless they are solidly crafted in the Mannheim style and adventurous enough to hold up remarkably well even today. Lebrun must've had a formidable piano technique, judging from the level of difficulty of her keyboard parts. The sonatas were an instant hit and were frequently re-published throughout Europe. During her lifetime, Lebrun performed, in addition to the localities named above, in Prague, Vienna, Naples, and elsewhere. In Vienna on March 13, 1785, Lebrun performed at a musicale organized by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with whom she shares exact birth and death years, although there is no evidence the two ever met. Lebrun's husband died suddenly as the pair were to play a series of concerts in Berlin during Carnival season. Ludwig August Lebrun's death proved a blow too great for Francesca Lebrun to withstand, and she died in Berlin just six months later at the age of 35. Francesca and Ludwig August Lebrun had two children, both daughters, who received musical instruction from their uncle, Franz Danzi. Rosine Lebrun (1783-1855) became a singing actress and a mainstay of the Munich theater. Sophie Lebrun (1781-1863) was a famous concert pianist and composer of piano concertos and sonatas, but regrettably none of these works have survived.