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MP3 Cappella Clausura - Passionately UnConventional

Historically revolutionary and fascinating madrigals and motets by 17th century nuns of Modena, Ferrara, and Bologna in conjunction with contemporary composer Patricia Van Ness and medieval role model and musician, Hildegard von Bingen

19 MP3 Songs in this album (56:47) !
Related styles: Classical: Early Music, Classical: Vocal Music, Type: Acoustic

People who are interested in Anonymous 4 Boston Camerata Cappella Artemisia should consider this download.

Cappella CLAUSURA is an ensemble of sopranos, altos, and early music instruments in Boston whose goal is to research and bring to light works written by women from the 8th century to the present day. Our intention is to dispel the notion that there are not now nor have there ever been gifted women composers. While we perform music by all women composers, and champion living composers, we concentrate on repertoire by women in the cloister, or in clausura, during the Italian baroque period because it was an extraordinary time when women were allowed, by fluke of historical personalities and fashion, to express themselves spiritually and artistically, and most importantly, to be published. History has been blind and deaf to these remarkable works; Cappella Clausura brings vision and voice to them.
Monasteries for women in seicento (17th c) Italy were largely populated with the daughters of the elite, many of whom, in that atmosphere rich with the best education to be had for females, became excellent musicians despite the fact that musical education, as well, one must suppose, as other disciplines, remained spotty and outdated. Most of their teachers were men considered past lasciviousness, who nevertheless taught from behind screens. The locals came and listened from the Chiesa esteriore, an outer auditorium with a hole in the convent wall through which only sound could pass. The Church may have tried to cloister its nuns, but the locals built rooms expressly for listening to their music. Their loyal public attended their concerts in droves, and even wrote about them.

A remarkable characteristic of these compositions is that they were published at all, and, more incredibly, written to be performed in a fickle Church climate in which instruments might be available one day and removed from the convent the next. The music had to work no matter what octave it was sung in, especially the bass line. The nuns used a variety of options: some women could sing quite low; the bass parts could be raised up an octave; whole pieces could be transposed; bass parts could be played by the cellist or trombonist (nuns played a surprising variety of instruments despite the Church’s bans); tenor parts could be sung at pitch or up the octave. We have used many of these options in our performances.

The veritable explosion of music making by nuns in the Italian seicento followed the course of the newly fashionable inclusion of women (the concerto della donne of Ferrara) in the singing world and no doubt would have continued but for the Church’s continued and severe oppression and finally the Napoleonic suppression of religious institutions from 1796 onwards which dispersed monastic communities, male and female, and often destroyed the buildings as well as the archives.

Some years ago I stood on the Via Fondazza in front of the church of Santa Christina which is being restored, but whose convent has become a condominium and I once again realized how fortunate indeed we are to have even our small bits of recovered music here and there thanks to a few stalwart musicologists. For this performance Cappella Clausura owes much to Candace Smith for her research and transcriptions of Sulpitia Cesis, to Craig Monson for his research and transcriptions of Lucrezia Vizzana, and to C. Ann Carruthers for her research and transcriptions of Vittoria Aleotti.

Lucrezia Vizzana of Santa Christina della Fondazza, a fascinating and prolific composer, wrote deeply passionate music using unusual texts when artistic strife within the convent was at a peak and the church hierarchy was helpless in the face of the two powerful women who fomented it. Donna Cecilia Bianchi, cantatrice (singer) and Donna Emilia Grassi, maestra del coro (choir director) were at one another’s artistic throats to such a degree that the church fathers had to be called in. Donna Cecilia writes in her testimony, “It began because of music, and because we had words, I called her misbegotten, and she responded most unvirtuously”. It was a dispute that was to last for many years, during which time the young and highly talented Lucrezia grew. Notice the number of the times Lucrezia’s texts speak of being protected (from enemies, or vanquishing them, or of finding peace somewhere, especially “Usquequo Oblivisceris me in finem?” Her texts are not found in many scriptures although they are laden with references. Text was paramount in any nun’s prayer, as it should be, but even more so in this era of clausura when, as witnessed by one term for a nun, “sponsa Verbi” meaning bride of the Word, a cloistered nun’s entire exposure to the world was through scripture.

Vittoria Aleotti, was the second of five daughters of a prominent architect of Ferrara, Giovanni Battista Aleotti, who wrote this about his daughter in the dedication of her madrigals: “...as it happened while she (Vittoria’s oldest sister) was learning...Vittoria (aged 4-5) was always present. She... learned so much that within the space of a year so loosened her tiny hands that she began to play the harpsichord in a way that astonished not only her mother and me, but also the teacher himself.” Giovanni Aleotti was a friend of Giovanni Battista Guarini, a prominent poet of the day, and he made a gift of Guarini’s poetry to his daughter to be set to music. The delightful madrigals of the 16 year-old Vittoria that ensued were written just before she took the veil in the convent of San Vito in Ferrara. We have chosen a mere sampling, including the final madrigale spirituale “Se del tuo corpo” whose text suggests some regret at youthful indulgence and focuses her amorous energies towards the figure on the cross who now represents salvation and eternal life to the young nun now called Raffaella. Raffaella went on to become organist, and prioress of the convent. She wrote a collection of motets for 5,7,8 and 10 voices, which Dr. Carruthers is editing – we eagerly await the collection!

SULPITIA CESIS (1577-1619?)

“...with the splendor and nobility of your name, these few musical labors may be defended against the meanness of their detractors, and also that they might be occasionally performed in the convents of nuns, in praise of our common Lord.” Thus lute player and composer of motetti spirituale for 2 to 12 voices, Sulpitia Cesis, dedicates her collection to another nun whose family ties held more sway in the world of music and publishing. It is always interesting to note that these nuns were not unaware of the risks they were taking, nor of the boundaries they were constantly pushing. Cesis’ motets are lovely renaissance works, despite their being written in the early baroque. They are clearly written by someone whose musical thoughts were more harmonic (lute playing) than melodic. As such they are difficult to perform, nevertheless, we bring you just a sampling again of her sweetest works.


Composer, violinist, and poet Patricia Van Ness (1951) draws upon elements of medieval and Renaissance music to create a signature voice that has been hailed by musicians, audiences, and critics. She is Composer in Residence at First Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Peter Sykes, Music Director), and has been an invited lecturer on her music at the Harvard University Department of Music and at Boston University''s Core Curriculum Program.

Ms. Van Ness''s music has been commissioned, premiered and performed by numerous musicians and organizations, including the Heidelberg New Music Festival Ensemble, Schnittpunktvokal in Austria, the Celebrity Series in Boston, the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, Tapestry, the Boston Athenaeum, Julie Ince Thompson, Sanford Sylvan, Chanticleer, Jacob''s Pillow Dance Festival, Ellen Hargis, Coro Allegro, Boston Ballet, the Radcliffe Choral Society, the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and Ensemble Project Ars Nova. Her work has been presented at the Vatican and the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy; the Musica Sacra Festival in Maastricht, Holland; and in halls and cathedrals throughout Italy, Austria, Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden, Latin America, Canada, Russia and the United States.

In addition to her position as Composer in Residence at First Church in Cambridge, Ms. Van Ness has served residencies at the Boston Athenaeum (2002-2003); with Boston Landmarks Orchestra (2003); and Coro Allegro (1998).

Ms. Van Ness has received numerous awards and grants. In addition, Europe''s prestigious 2005 Echo Klassik Prize was awarded to the ensemble Tapestry (Laurie Monahan, Director) for their recording "Sapphire Night," which features music by Hildegard von Bingen and Patricia Van Ness.

Ms. Van Ness''s music may be found on Chanticleer''s new CD Sound in Spirit recorded on Warner Classics; on Telarc International Recordings (Angeli); on MDG Classics (Sapphire Night); on all Coro Allegro''s releases; and on Advent and Other Music of the Liturgical Year, released by the composer.

Ms. Van Ness is a member of American Composers Forum, the International Alliance of Women in Music, ASCAP, and the American Music Center.

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