In 1688, the Polish-German composer, musical theoretician, political activist and novelist, Georg Daniel Speer, published a collection entitled Philomela angelica cantionum sacrarum. On the title page, Speer explains that some years earlier he had heard a Clarissan nun in Rome performing her own works for solo voice accompanied merely by basso continuo. In honor of this anonymous musician, he elaborated 12 of her motets by adding string instruments to the original bass line. The same print contains 12 other motets composed for three voices and two violins, and it is this ensemble that has inspired our own. This program features music from Speer’s collection as well as other works drawn from the repertoire of the Italian convents, composed both for and by the cloistered nuns themselves.
The frontispiece of this collection is an engraving of a nun seated at the organ in the manner of St. Cecilia and is signed “RES PLENA DEI” (a thing full of God): an anagram for Daniel Speer. The engraving is especially significant because it is one of the very few depictions of nun musicians (who, in keeping with the laws of clausura, were necessarily hidden from view). These remarkable women went unseen in their lifetime, and are for the most part unknown today, but happily their glorious music lives on. Forces: 3 voices, cornett, violino, 2 continuo instruments (organ and viol, harp or theorbo).