Recorded programs: Other available programsSPIRITUAL CONVERSATIONS: Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and the Sacred Dialogue
The very popular genre of the sacred dialogue held a place of honor within the convents of cloistered Italian nuns. The theatrical element of personalized discourse featuring a variety of personages held a great attraction in the depersonalized world of the monastery. Mary Magdalene and the Virgin, shepherds, angels, demons, lost souls and even Christ himself—all were portrayed by the musical sisters within the convent walls. This program presents a number of dialogues for various forces, some of which were written by male composers and dedicated to the nun. Pride of place, however, goes to the multifarious and remarkable works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, one of the most prolific and gifted of all the nun composers of the Italian Seicento. This program, with an ensemble of 4 voices, viola da gamba and organ, was successfully premiered at the Flanders Festival in Alden-Biesen in June 2007, and is also available with larger forces involving up to 8 voices and 4 basso continuo instruments.SCINTILLATE, AMICÆ STELLÆ (“Sparkle, friendly stars”): Christmas in the Convent
The feast of the Nativity held a special place in the hearts and lives of Italian nuns of the 16th and 17th centuries. This program presents works composed by and for these women which might have been heard or performed at Christmastime. The nun composers represented include Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and her conventual sister Rosa Giacinta Badalla from the renowned Milanese convent of Santa Radegonda; the Ursuline nuns Maria Xaveria Perucona and Isabella Leonarda, the most prolific woman composer of the entire Seicento; Rap haella Aleotti, director of the marvelous ”concerto grande” at the Ferrerese convent of S. Vito; the Modenese nun Sulpitia Cesis, whose remarkable collection of motets for 2–12 voices specifically calls for cornetts and trombones (instruments which were officially banned from the convents). The program will also feature compositions dedicated to nuns drawn from the works by such eminient male composers as E. Pasquini, F. Rognoni, A. Banchieri, M.A. Grancini, M. Cazzati and others. This program, with an ensemble of 4 voices, viola da gamba, harp and organ, will be performed on the Lebensmusik Early Music Series in Innsbruck on 6 January 2009, and is available with a variety of forces.WEEPING AND REJOICING: Music for Holy Week in Italian Convents
The Passion of Christ and the celebration of his Resurrection held great importance for Italian nuns of the late 16th and 17th centuries. This program presents music composed by and for Italian nuns which these cloistered “brides of Christ” would have performed during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. The nun composers represented include Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Rosa Giacinta Badalla, Maria Xaveria Perucona, Isabella Leonarda, Raphaella Aleotti, Sulpitia Cesis, Caterina Assandra and Lucrezia Orsina Vizzana. The better known male composers who dedicated their works to these women include the Bolognese musicians Adriano Banchieri, Maurizio Cazzati, Andrea Rota and Giulio Cesare Arresti. Polyphonic pieces for both large and small forces as well as solo motets are presented, notably a Lamentation of Jeremiah for solo voice composed by the Sienese nobleman Alessandro Della Ciaia (a surprising work which belongs to the long folk tradition of wives lamenting the death of their husbands). Also featured are dramatic dialogues involving various personages of the Passion, and a madrigal by the great Claudio Monteverdi revisited as a sacred contrafactum intended specifically for convent usage. This program (with the title “O Crux Splendidior”) was premiered with a small ensemble (4 voices, harp and organ) in a concert tour for the Dutch Early Music Network in March 2008 and will be recorded for the Italian label Tactus with a full ensemble of 8-10 voices and 3-5 continuo instruments.JAHEL: Baldassare Galuppi and the Figlie del Coro of Venice
Like his better-known colleague, Antonio Vivaldi, the composer Baldassare Galuppi also served as maestro di coro at one of the Venetian conservatories, renowned in the Serenissima Repubblica and indeed throughout Europe for the musical excellence of the girls in residence there. Galuppi was employed at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, and it was for these Figlie del coro (as the girls at the Venetian conservatories were called) that he composed in 1747 his oratorio Jahel, for a cast of six women singers and a chamber orchestra (with mandolins in a single aria). The plot recounts the biblical tale of Jael, the courageous Israelite heroine who assassinates Sisera, the cruel Canaanite leader and oppressor of the Israelites. After fleeing from a losing battle, Sisera seeks refuge in Jael’s tent. Seeing her chance to vindicate her people, she welcomes him in, and after he falls asleep she slays him by driving a tent peg into his brain. The act fulfilled the prediction of Deborah, the prophetess and Israelite leader who foresaw that a woman would slay Sisera.
This bloody episode from the Bible featuring a woman in a powerful and righteous role held obvious appeal to our namesake, Artemisia Gentileschi, who chose to paint the subject. In 2009, the finest soloists of Cappella Artemisia, together with the Orchestra Barocca di Bologna (directed by Paolo Faldi), gave the first performance in modern times of this unknown and captivating work, at the wondrous Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice under the auspices of the Festival Galuppi. In doing so Cappella Artemisia once again opened a window onto yet another important aspect of female musical practice, this time in eighteenth-century Venice.