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!
We are delighted to announce that our forthcoming CD, Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, will be released on Obsidian Records early in 2017. We are particularly pleased to be working with Obsidian, a label that has established itself as a leader in bringing together the highest standards of scholarship, musicianship, and production to their releases. We hope that this is the beginning of an exciting and fruitful relationship!
Oh, we are so full of good news this week! Shortly before the recording sessions, Laurie learned that a book she co-edited with the wonderful Bonnie Blackburn, Eroticism in Early Modern Music, has been chosen as Best Collaborative Project in the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women‘s 2016 awards. Both Laurie’s introduction, ‘Encoding the musical erotic’ and her contributed essay, ‘”Non è si denso velo”: hidden and forbidden practice in Wert’s Ottavo libro de madrigali a cinque voci (Venice: Gardano, 1586)’ were informed by our research into the performance practice of Ferrara’s concerto di dame, and recorded on our 2002 disc, Dangerous Graces. Laurie travelled to Bruges to accept the award during the meeting of the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, and then travelled more or less straight from Belgium to Cuddesdon, pausing at home only to swap suitcases and reorganise to accommodate the celebratory chocolate. Of course.
Just one little snippet we can share now… Our friends over at Les Canards Chantants set a challenge this summer as to which ensemble could come up with the naughtiest chord. Theirs was pretty saucy, we must admit, but we think this one from Suor Anonima’s setting of ‘Haec dies’ is unbeatable:
Musica Secreta has just spent a week at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, recording motets from RISM 1543/2, Musica quinque vocum motteta materna lingua vocata – thanks to development funding from Arts Council England, a generous grant from the Ambache Charitable Trust, and our amazing Crowdfunder supporters. Our fabulous Celestial Sirens joined us for a day, so not only were we able to make the most wonderful music with a group of committed and talented women, we were also able to catch up with old friends. And we made new friends with the Cuddesdon Sisters, whose beautiful and inspiring chapel was the venue for our recording, and whose lovely new home was our lodging for the week. We couldn’t have been made more welcome, and we couldn’t have chosen a better acoustic in which to record this special music. More….
In mid-July, Laurie and Deborah ran their first week-long course of female-voice polyphony, with optional morning yoga on the terrace, at Deborah’s house in Triora – part of Deborah’s summer workshop series Triora Musica. The building, Casa Convento, is an ex-convent (very appropriate); participants (and tutors) stayed in well-appointed cells with views out over the Ligurian mountains. It was a lovely week, with heat, sun, thunderstorms, and breezes – and lots of pizza and prosecco after a hard day’s work. We kept cool in the afternoons by rehearsing in the town’s churches, including the tiny fourteenth-century church of San Bernardino, which nestles in the terraces below Casa Convento.