The Seicento witnessed a remarkable expansion of the female monastery throughout Italy, and in particular in Lombardy. In the mid-17th century, there were more than 6000 nuns in the Milanese diocese. These lausura, or complete and total enclosure, instituted with the Council of Trent in 1563, vastly limited nearly all contact between these women and the outside world. Thus, not surprisingly, music was an essential part of these women’s lives, their “voice” in the world in a very literal sense. In addition, it should be pointed out that the musical chapels in the convents were secondary in neither size nor quality to those in male institutions; indeed, following the 1630 plague (which killed around a third of the general population and two-thirds of the male clergy), nuns’ musical chapels were the largest and most important in Milan (ironically, clausura had served to protect the sisters from contagion). And this, despite the many restrictions governing music-making inside the convents imposed by the ecclesiastical authorities. The great difficulty which these musical nuns encountered is reflected perhaps above all in the fact that so little music has come down to us: in the case of Lombardy, one can count a mere eight nuns whose published works are extant (the printed works of certain nun composers have been lost over time, while others were undoubtedly never published).
This series includes works of various nun composers from Lombardy. Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c. 1677), from the important musical convent in Milan of Santa Radegonda. was the author of four editions of sacred works published between 1640 and 1650, unfortunately not all of them extant. Bianca Maria Meda, a nun at the Benedictine house of San Martino del Leano, published a book of Motetti a 1-4 voci (Bologna, 1691). Maria Xaveria Perucona (or Parruccona), from the Ursuline convent at Galliate (near Novara), was called eccellente Maestra di Musica, non che stimabile cantatrice, but she is known only for her Sacri concerti de Motetti (Milan, 1675).
NLO 01 2 Christmas motets by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani for 3 & 4 voices (1650)
Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – c.1677) was active in one of the most celebrated ensembles of women musicians in early modern Italy: that of the Benedictine nuns of the convent of Santa Radegonda, located across the street from Milan Cathedral. Born in Milan to a well-off family, Cozzolani professed her vows at the monastery in 1620, and later served several times as prioress and abbess. She published four editions of sacred works between 1640 and 1650, though unfortunately not all of them are extant. The music presented here is taken from her largest collection: Salmi a otto voci concertati […] motetti, et dialoghi a Due, Tre, Quattro, e Cinque voci, (Venice, 1650).
Christmas Eve, and its celebration of the birth of the Christ-Child, was an important date in the spiritual and liturgical life of the nuns. Quis audivit unquam tale?, for three voices, recounts the mystery of the Incarnation, portraying the marvel of Jesus’ birth and contrasting (through alternating solos and tutti sections) the poverty of the stable and of humanity in general with the majesty of divine glory. Gloria in altissimis Deo, for four voices, employs the popular form of the dialogue, contrasting the angels’ greeting against the shepherds’ joy, and ending with a virtual “stage direction” nine measures before the end (si vadi unitamente a poco a poco scemando la voce, quasi allontandosi; “here together little by little one lowers the voice, [so that it sounds] as if one were going away”).
Quis audivit unquam tale? is originally scored for two sopranos and bass; in our edition for female voices the bass part has been transposed up an octave. In the original version of Gloria in altissimis Deo the voices of the angels are represented by two sopranos, while the shepherds are set as an alto and a tenor. In our women’s edition, both the lower voices have been transposed up an octave. Should there be a particularly low alto available (descending to a d), the tenor part could be sung as written.
NLO 02 2 motets by Maria Xaveria Perucona for 3 and 4 voices
Maria Xaveria Perucona is one of eight 17th-century nuns from the northern Italian province of Lombardy whose published works are extant. She, like so many of her cloistered sisters, is known for a single publication, printed at a relatively young age, after which she is unfortunately never heard from again. Perucona (or Parruccona) was born to a noble family in 1652. At the age of 16, she entered the Collegio of Sant’Orsola in Galliate (near Novara, then in the province of Lombardy but now considered part of Piedmont). In 1675 she published in Milan her only known collection: Sacri concerti de motetti a una, due, tre, e quattro voci, parte con Violini, e parte senza.
The collection contains eighteen motets for 2-4 voices, some with two violins (an interesting fact considering the usual restrictions on such instruments within the convents). Two of these motets have been included in this volume, and are for three and four voices, respectively. O superbi mundi machina, marked De comune, is originally scored for 2 sopranos and bass, while Gaude plaude, “per S[anta] Verg[ine] e M[artire]”, is written for 2 sopranos, alto and bass. In our version for female voices, the bass parts of both these motets have been transposed up to be sung by altos.
NLO 3 Domine ad adiuvandum/Magnificat
NLO 4 Dixit Dominus
NLO 5 Confitebor tibi Domine
NLO 6 Beatus vir
NLO 7 Laudate pueri
NLO 10 Lætatus sum
NLO 11 Laudate pueri for SSTT & 2 violins (with parts)
NLO 12 Nisi Dominus ædificaverit
Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – c.1677) was active in one of the most celebrated ensembles of women musicians in early modern Italy: that of the Benedictine nuns of the convent of Santa Radegonda, located across the street from Milan Cathedral. Born in Milan to a well-off family, Cozzolani professed her vows at the monastery in 1620, and later served several times as prioress and abbess. Cozzolani published four editions of sacred works between 1640 and 1650, though unfortunately not all of them are extant. The music presented here is taken from her largest collection: Salmi a otto voci concertati […] motetti, et dialoghi a Due, Tre, Quattro, e Cinque voci, (Venice, 1650).
Cozzolani’s Vespers Psalms: Cozzolani’s collection contains a complete set of Vespers psalms for the major feasts of the year according to Benedictine use, which differs from non-monastic rite primarily in the reduced number of psalms: four instead of the more familiar five. Sundays and male sanctoral feasts used one set of four psalms at Vespers, while Marian and female sanctoral days employed another.
This series of editions presents all the psalms that would have been sung as part of the liturgy for various feasts. The set pieces for a Christmas Vespers, for example, which would be considered male sanctoral, are:
Versus/Responsus: Deus in adjutorium/Domine ad adiuvandum
Psalm: Dixit Dominus (Ps. 109)
Psalm: Confitebor tibi Domine (Ps. 110)
Psalm: Beatus vir (Ps. 111)
Psalm: Laudate pueri (Ps. 112)
A Marian Vespers, on the other hand, like the celebrated 1610 Vespers of Monteverdi, would present these pieces:
Versus/Responsus: Deus in adjutorium/Domine ad adiuvandum
Psalm: Dixit Dominus (Ps. 109)
Psalm: Laudate pueri (Ps. 112)
Psalm: Lætatus sum (Ps. 121)
Psalm: Nisi Dominus (Ps. 126)
Cozzolani’s collection is an impressive one. In addition to the six Vespers psalms (Laudate pueri appears in two different scorings), the respond and two Magnificats (all written for eight voices (SATB/SATB) except the second Laudate pueri), there are also nine non-liturgical motets for 1-5 voices. Two pieces call for two violins (despite certain ecclesiastical edicts forbidding their use within the convents).
In our versions for convent use (female voices only) the bass parts of the 8-voice psalms have been transposed up the octave (according to common convent usage) in order to be sung by an alto. In some cases, this bass transposition alone puts the piece within the range of female voices, with the tenor parts lying low but not impossibly low: Beatus vir is an example. More often, both the bass and tenor parts have been transposed up an octave, and are thus sung by altos and sopranos, respectively. Dixit Dominus, Confitebor, Laudate pueri and Nisi Dominus are all notated in this manner. Occasionally the original soprano part is low enough to permit an upward transposition of the entire piece (in addition to the octave bass transposition). The first and last polyphonic pieces in Cozzolani’s Vespers setting, Domine ad adiuvandum and the Magnificat, have both been transposed up a minor third.
In general, the voices are all quite florid and thus technically demanding, but choral ripieno voices could be added to the solos in tutti sections. In addition, basso continuo instruments will be needed. In the case of the convent version, these would include melodic bass instruments (viola da gamba, violoncello, trombone, dulcian, etc.) to double the bass line of each choir at the lower octave.
NLO 08 Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Messa a 4 (1642).
Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – c.1677) was active in one of the most celebrated ensembles of women musicians in early modern Italy: that of the Benedictine nuns of the convent of Santa Radegonda, located across the street from Milan Cathedral. Born in Milan to a well-off family, Cozzolani professed her vows at the monastery in 1620, and later served several times as prioress and abbess. She published four editions of sacred works between 1640 and 1650, though unfortunately not all of them are extant. The music presented here is taken from her collection Concerti Sacri a Una, Due, Tre, et Quattro voci, Con Una Messa Quattro (Venice, 1642). It is dedicated to the Florentine prince Mathias de’ Medici, an important patron of singers and composers, who had very possibly heard the music at S. Radegonda in person during a visit to Milan in the winter of 1640-41.
The five movements of the Mass printed here (the Benedictus is lacking) are composed in a simpler style than many of Cozzolani’s other works, in particular her Vespers psalms for eight voices published in 1650. There is little to be found here of the virtuosic passaggi of the psalms. Instead, homophonic, declamatory settings alternate with duets and trios employing rhetorical devices to underline the text: sighing accenti on “crucifixus”, falling fourths on “miserere”, octave leaps illustrating “coeli et terra”, seemingly endless repetitions to suggest “non erit finis”, etc.) The result is restrained but elegant.
Cozzolani’s Mass presents a problem common to a great deal of the repertoire written by and for cloistered nuns: they contain parts for tenor and bass voices. Perhaps surprisingly, the bass voice itself does not present a problem: there is a great deal of evidence pointing to the practice of transporting the bass voice up an octave, where it easily falls into the range of an alto, while an instrument doubles the part at the written octave, and we have followed that practice here. (It should be pointed out that the bass part has a range of over 2 octaves and in fact ascends higher than the tenor, so a mezzo-soprano would probably better suit the part.) A
more serious dilemma is created by the tenor: sung at pitch, it lies at times too low for a woman’s voice, but when transposed up the octave, it often rises above the soprano. In our women’s version, therefore, we have transposed the entire Mass up a minor third and left the tenor part in the original octave. As this results in a rather high tessitura for the soprano, the edition contains a detailed discussion of alternative strategies.
NLO 09 2 Motets for 4 Voices by Bianca Maria Meda (1691)
The two motets in this edition come from Bianca Maria Meda’s only known work, the Mottetti a 1, 2, 3, e 4 voci, con violini. This motet collection, published in Bologna in 1691, contains twelve pieces: two solos (with paired violin accompaniment), two duets, four trios and four quartets (SATB). Though little is known of Meda’s life, she was a nun in the monastery of San Martino del Leano, in Pavia.
The two motets presented here were intended for performance within the context of a church service. The texts are written in the first person feminine and express an intimate relationship between the speaker and Christ that identifies the female subject as a cloistered nun. It is probable that these texts were written by a nun from il Leano, and quite possible that they were written by Meda herself. The texts are an example of imitatio Christi – the desire to suffer as a way of demonstrating passion for, and devotion to, Christ – a common trope in the contemporary writings of women religious.
Musically, these motets contrast solo or duet passages with four-part tutti sections, and triple sections with duple. In the version for women’s voices the bass parts of both motets have been transposed up an octave, while the tenor part is transposed up only in one piece.