In anticipation of the publication of my (Laurie’s) book in two weeks’ time, I thought I’d share some of the stories I’ve unearthed and insights I’ve had about Ferrara’s singing ladies and their families. More….
It feels like a lifetime since I began to write this book but it’s only been, what, nineteen years? Oh, and only four hundred years since the last duchess of Ferrara died in 1618. And finally, finally it is done and coming out in print – on 27 September 2018. More or less everything we have done with Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens in the last two decades has been part of the research process that has informed this tome – from the Dangerous Graces project and CD to Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, and all concerts, events, and shenanigans in between. More….
Give us a hug, then, and welcome back!
Well, that didn’t quite go to plan. I notice that it has been almost exactly a year since the last update on the Musica Secreta blog, for which I apologise. More….
Well, friends, finally I can start making the scores from the recording available as PDFs. It’s not quite as I would want it: despite our best intentions, we are having to operate with human intervention rather than making them downloadable through the shop, at the moment. Which means lots of manual work for me. But still.
I have created a page with a list of all the scores available, with unit prices and a note of discounts for multiple copies. We have decided to use the licensing system operated by our friends at Fretwork Publishing, as it seems the fairest way to deal with the needs of both performers and the musicians who have spent a great deal of time creating and refining the editions.
I realise that lots of individuals have emailed me or used the contact form in the last few months, but I will need you to go to the order page and fill out the form that is there. If there are a lot of orders all at once, I will need some time to work through them, but I will try to get back to you as soon as possible. Believe me, I want to be up to date with everyone’s needs as much as anyone!
Finally breaking radio silence after many weeks of boffin activity for me (Laurie) and course activity for Deborah! I certainly didn’t intend to leave off news for such a long time, but so many things converged in the spring and early summer. Some brief updates here.
Course at Triora Musica: This past week, 22-29 July, Deborah and I led our second course on convent polyphony in her beautiful home in Triora, a fabulous medieval town in the mountains of Liguria. The week was dedicated to work on late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century music, mostly from a mid-sixteenth-century Florentine manuscript, now housed in the library of the Conservatoire Royal in Brussels. The course participants were energetic and enthusiastic research subjects, helping Deborah and me begin to understand this enigmatic repertoire. They patiently listened while we mulled over underlay and ficta, trying out different permutations and getting a great deal of use out of their pencils and erasers. We even had a short session on extemporised polyphony (sixteenth-century backing vocals!!). The Saturday concert was very well attended by locals and tourists, and we treated them to a programme of chant and polyphony by Brumel, Willaert, Asola, as well as the mysterious anonymous composer(s) of the Brussels Manuscript.
Research: Where do I start? Probably with the online publication of an article in Early Music on convent polyphony in the early sixteenth century. We are really happy finally to see this out in the world, so that other musicians can see what we do, why and how. Following on from this, the research that underpins Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter will be coming out in the December issue of the Journal of the American Musicological Society. As if that weren’t enough to have been keeping me busy, I have also been putting the finishing touches on The Book, Women and Music in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara, which we hope will emerge, heavily laden with All The Research Things sometime in 2018, from Cambridge University Press. All of these, together with presentations at the University of Texas, Austin, at the Second annual conference hosted by the Historical Performance Institute of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, for the Centre for the Study of Music, Gender, and Identity at the University of Huddersfield, and the Medieval-Renaissance Music Conference in Prague, have meant that I took my eye off the website for a while. Ahem.
Now that this marathon season has finished, I can finally get down to uploading performance editions of some of the music from Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter. I know that many people have been very, very patient and I’m grateful! I’ll be sending out notices via the mailing list very soon.
Just. Blown. Away. by the reaction to the Guardian piece this morning. 1000+ shares already and still climbing! Laurie here – wanting to say to anyone finding us here to ask about articles, scores etc. that it’s all in train. Peer-reviewed article in December, and editions as soon as we can get them in good shape and in the shop. I’ll reply to everyone personally in the fullness of time, but I’m currently sufficiently under the weather that I can’t sit at the computer for long. We are so, so grateful for all the kind words and support!
We are very pleased that this year Triora Musica will again be hosting a week-long course for experienced female singers – high sopranos to low tenors! – looking at convent polyphony from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, including works by Josquin des Prez and anonymous motets from convent manuscript sources.
Come and sing with us: you will be taking part in research in action, as we explore new repertoire that has not been sung for hundreds of years. Participants can either stay in local b&b or self-catering accommodation, or in the main location for the course: Casa Convento, a beautiful Renaissance house and former convent, in the heart of Triora, in the Ligurian mountains. The course will last from 22 July 22 (arrival) to 30 July (depart morning) 2017, with a performance 29 July. More information and booking form here.
To mark International Women’s Day 2017, Laurie will join Donald Macleod in conversation about the women musicians of Renaissance Ferrara on BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week. Listen in every day 6-10 March 2017, at 1200 or 1830 to hear the stories of the princesses, the nuns, and the princess nuns. Our new CD, Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, will feature on International Women’s Day itself, 8 March. Our other recordings, The Secret Music of Luzzasco Luzzaschi and Dangerous Graces, are featured throughout the week.
The day is almost here: the CD will officially be on sale from tomorrow! And just in time, we can now show you this fabulous film, made by David Lefeber, the magician (producer and engineer extraordinaire) who recorded the CD.
I’ll be packing up all the pre-orders this evening so they can go in the post. It’s all happening, folks!
There is a new interview with Laurie on the Obsidian website: http://obsidianrecords.co.uk/interview-with-laurie-stras. We’re getting closer and closer to the release date!! Don’t forget you can pre-order your copy, so that it will be with you to celebrate International Women’s Day with us!
Salve sponsa Dei virgo sacra planta minorum
Tu vas munditie tu previa forma sororum
Clara tua precibus duc nos ad regna polorum.
One of the most unusual tracks on Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter is the setting of the Magnificat antiphon for the Second Vespers of the Feast of St Clare, “Salve sponsa Dei.” On the surface, it looks and sounds less radical than some of the other motets, but it is unique in the known Renaissance repertoire, and potentially very important.
“Salve sponsa Dei” is what is called a tenor, or cantus firmus, motet – in which one voice sings a melody, or a repeated melodic phrase, in long note values while the others sing counterpoint against it. Usually, this cantus firmus melody is either a complete chant from the liturgy, a secular song, or a phrase built on solmization syllables (ut, re, mi etc), known as a soggetto cavato. Often soggetto cavato syllables substituted for the syllables of a name or a phrase: la-mi-la for “Ma-ri-a,” for instance. Some of the most important composers of the sixteenth century, such as Josquin des Prez and Cipriano de Rore, wrote soggetto cavato masses – and because they were employed by the Este family, the technique became particularly associated with the musical culture of Ferrara.
Solmization was the way in which students of music learned to sing and read notation. The unique feature of “Salve sponsa Dei” is that it is built on an extended solmization melody, a soggetto cavato that persists throughout the motet. The entire antiphon text is matched to its solmization syllables: “Salve sponsa Dei” becomes “fa-re-sol-fa-re-mi,” and so on until the end. Lucrezia Borgia’s daughter, Suor Leonora d’Este, was abbess of the Clarissan convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara. It is possible to imagine her teaching her young novices to sing with this melody, so that everyone in the convent – regardless of their musical education – could join in the musical celebration for her convent’s most important feast.
It’s wet, it’s windy, and spring feels a long way away today, so we thought we’d brighten your day with another preview from Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, which will be available one month today. This motet is probably the most radical on the disc. It’s a setting of the Mass Gradual for Easter Sunday. Imagine you are standing in the centre of Ferrara, and suddenly all the bells in all the churches start ringing at once – and that is the sound that this motet summons. It looks completely bonkers on paper – what? diminished octaves? tritones? Surely some mistake! But then the dissonance dissolves, and the bells are pealing in harmony once again. Bells were banned in Holy Week, and Alleluias disappear from the liturgy throughout Lent. This motet marks the joyful return of both of them on Easter morning.
As impossible as the motet looks, it must have made an impression. It appears in a seventeenth-century manuscript from a Bohemian monastery, with a Christmas text added over the top of the Easter text. The monks must have loved it so much they wanted to sing it not just once, but twice a year.
So, a bit of advance rejoicing – in the depths of winter, spring and Easter are something to look forward to!
It’s all getting very exciting here: the CDs have arrived in the warehouse, and we will have our hands on them very soon. So to celebrate, and to intrigue you all, here is another preview from the disc. This wonderful motet is for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the second part, the singers implore her: “Pray for the people, intervene for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God.” If you listen carefully, you will notice that the people get three bars of music, the clergy six, and the nuns…. eighteen. If you listen even more carefully, you can hear the beginning of the chant “Pange lingua gloriosi” at the opening of the motet, divided among the voices (Prof Paula Higgins shared that insight with us!). The chant would have told the Virgin exactly which nuns were asking for her help: “Pange lingua” is the hymn for the feast of Corpus Christi, to which Suor Leonora’s convent, Corpus Domini, was dedicated.
And…. that gives me the excuse to share this lovely image, too: a page from St Catherine of Bologna’s breviary. St Catherine was one of the founding sisters of Corpus Domini, and she’s put her own face in the first letter of the hymn, gazing at the swaddled baby Jesus on the right hand side of the page. Awwww.
Happy New Year to all our friends!! We are now barely ten weeks away from the release of Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, and we have more exciting news to share. Today, Laurie spent several hours at Broadcasting House with the delightful Donald Macleod, plying him with five-hundred-year-old gossip about nuns and noblewomen, and generally chewing the fat about all things Ferrara. Some judicious editing might well be needed, but once the producer has worked his magic, we will have a Composer of the Week series to be proud of: on the music of the women of Ferrara. The series will be aired on BBC Radio 3 during the week of International Women’s Day, and Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter will be the focus of the programme on the day itself. We couldn’t wish for a better platform for the release of the recording – we are thrilled, of course!
News just in – yesterday the American Musicological Society announced its 2016 awards, and we can finally let you know that Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter has been awarded the Noah Greenberg Award for musicology/performance collaboration. Laurie was in Vancouver to accept the award at the Society’s Annual Meeting. We are so thrilled!