Maria Theresia von Paradis was a remarkable figure in music history, for not only did she attain significant triumphs as both a composer and performer -- rare enough achievements for a woman living in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe -- but she had to cope with the dreadful handicap of blindness.
Maria Theresia von Paradis was born in Vienna on May 15, 1759. Her father, Joseph Anton von Paradis, was Imperial Secretary of Commerce under Empress Maria Theresia, after whom young Maria was named. When Maria was two she began losing her eyesight, and by the age of five she was blind.
She studied with Antonio Salieri (who composed an organ concerto for her 1773), Leopold Kozeluch, and Karl Frieberth. Treatments by Anton Mesmer in 1776-1777 offered hope her vision might partially be restored, but after 1777 she had to resign herself to a life of total blindness.
By this time she had already established a career as a pianist and singer in Viennese concert halls and salons. Moreover, she had gained respect from the most prominent composers and musicians of the day, including Mozart. By some accounts, his Piano Concerto No. 18 (K. 456) was written for her.
In 1783-1784 she toured Paris, London, and various German cities. In 1785 she helped found, with Valentin Hauy, a school for the blind. Paradis would not turn to composition until the 1780s: the first work that can accurately be attributed to her is the Zwolf Lieder auf ihrer Reise in Musik, dating to the years 1784-1786. The process of composition for Paradis was not simple, but she was aided by use of a composition board developed by Johann Riedinger, who served as librettist for several of her stage works, including the 1791 melodrama Ariadne und Bacchus and the 1792 Der Schulkandidat.
By the late 1780s, Paradis was devoting less time to performance and more to composition. She wrote five operas between 1789 and 1797, as well as numerous other works. Unfortunately, many of her scores have been lost, including two piano concertos and 12 piano sonatas. By 1800 Paradis had begun focusing on teaching, and in 1808 founded a music school for girls in Vienna. For the last decade-and-a-half of her life she taught there and continued to turn out an occasional composition, like the 1811 Fantasie in C for piano.