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RES PLENA DEI (A THING FULL OF GOD): Convent music for a few voices and instruments
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. This program was first presented in a tour of 6 concerts in November 2013 for the Dutch Early Music Network. Forces: 3 voices, cornett, violino, 2 continuo instruments (organ and viol, harp or theorbo).

THE DEVILS OF CARPI: Music And Demons In An Italian Convent
In 1608, Eleonora d’Este, daughter of Duke Cesare d’Este of Modena, entered the convent of Santa Chiara in Carpi, near Modena. Taking the name of Suor Angela Caterina, the Este princess soon turned her convent quarters into a small fiefdom of the family dynasty, complete with her own servants, kitchen and living quarters, and even her own private chapel. Using her position as abbess of S. Chiara, as well as her father’s wealth and influence, she became an active patron of music and the arts within the convent, enlisting the services of some of the best musicians and teachers in the area and hosting entertainments in her convent quarters. When a new spiritual director attempted to reign in these “worldly” activities, charges arose of group possession of a number of nuns by the devil. During the years 1636-1639, the convent witnessed visits by the Inquisition, exorcisms, and battles between the princess nun and members of her own family. This scandalous state of affairs finally ended with Suor Angela Catherina’s exile to the convent of San Geminiano in Modena, itself renowned for its music, having been the home to Suor Sulpitia Cesis, nun, lutenist and author of a collection of Motetti Spirituali for 2-12 voices. Cesis’ collection is remarkable not only for the quality of the music itself, but also for the fact that it contains specific indications for cornetts and trombones, musical instruments official prohibited within the convent walls. This theater piece recounts the remarkable tale of power, intrigue, death and demonic possession inside a 17th-century Italian convent. It features acting, dancing and especially music: early music from the period played and sung live by members of Cappella Artemisia, recordings of compositions by Italian nuns performed by the ensemble, and live electronics created expressly for this performance.

SPIRITUAL 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.

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. This project unites the finest soloists of Cappella Artemisia with the Orchestra Barocca di Bologna (directed by Paolo Faldi), and once again opens a window onto yet another important aspect of female musical practice, this time in eighteenth-century Venice.