Rosa Mistica - A Voice Her Own

Capella Artemisia

8:00 p.m., Tuesday, January 22, 2002
St. Anne Catholic Church, 2140 Westheimer [map]

Voices raised in radiant harmony and praise, voices that were threatened by authorities, voices that refused to be silenced… Hear the joyous outpouring of their love for God in an evening of liturgical music from 17th century Italian convents.

More info

Early Conversations Lecture - Gardens of the Spirit, Dr. Lorraine Stock

7:00 p.m., St. Anne

For centuries, the gardens of monasteries and convents nurtured the spirit, healed the sick and preserved knowledge of herbology and botany. This illustrated lecture explores the medieval origins of places of repose, refuge and healing and their continuation into the present time.


Early Music from Italian Convents

"Nearly all the nunneries practice music, both playing
numerous sorts of musical instruments, and singing.
And in some convents there are such rare voices
that they seem angelic, and like sirens entice
the nobility of Milan to go and hear them."

-- Paolo Moriggi (1595)


Cappella Artemisia is an ensemble of voices and instruments which attempts to provide some answers to an intriguing mystery. Throughout the late 16th and 17th centuries, the chronicles of historians and travelers in Italy provide images of a fabulous musical world inhabited by women--singers, players and even composers. This world was entirely contained within the walls of the convents, and these women were cloistered nuns. Such images are all the more intriguing, considering the truly draconian restrictions governing virtually every aspect of these women's lives, especially their music. But here is the mystery: the music written for and by the cloistered nuns of 16th- and 17th-century Italy often included parts for tenor and bass voices. Yet most instruments (as well as male voices, of course) were forbidden in the convents. How was this music performed?

In collaboration with leading scholars specializing in this fascinating aspect of music history, Cappella Artemisia experiments with various solutions to the problem of performing this music as it would have originally been heard, in "a world without men": the use of "forbidden" instruments whose presence is well documented despite offical church vetos; unusual transpositions, instructions for which are to be found in treatises interestingly enough dedicated to nuns; using women's voices to cover unusually wide ranges (we know the names of the nuns of Ferrara who sang tenor and bass!); and others. Cappella Artemisia takes a resourceful approach to this repertoire, certainly in keeping with the spirit of inventiveness that the nuns themselves needed to adopt in order to bring music into their lives (many were the nuns who played trombone!).

Cappella Artemisia, founded in 1991, is an all-women vocal ensemble from Bologna, Italy, and consists of a core of 8-10 singers with continuo. The women singers who make up Cappella Artemisia come from a variety of musical backgrounds, (classical, operatic, folk, pop...) but are united by their love for the early repertoire, while the instrumentalists are all established performers in the field of early music. Candace Smith, founder and director of the ensemble (from California but living in Europe since 1975) has been involved for many years with historical music written by women, in addition to her interests in contemporary music and cabaret.

Since its inception, Cappella Artemisia has received critical and popular praise, both for the rarity and originality of its repertoire, and for the high quality of its performances. It has appeared in concert at such prestigious venues as the Festival of Flanders (Bruges), Il Festival Monteverdiano di Cremona, the Osterfestival Innsbruck, the festivals Women and Music (Chard, UK) and Donne in Musica (Rome), the Fêtes Musicales de Savoie (France), as well as in numerous important festivals of early music throughout Italy. Future plans include tours of the United States and Canada in 2002. In addition to their traditional repertoire of music from Italian convents, the singers of the ensemble have also been involved in a modern staging of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in an all-women's performance recalling that of 1689 at a fashionable  boarding school in Chelsea for "Young Gentlewomen".

Cappella Artemisia takes its name from the painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, a striking figure in 17th-century Italy whose artistic accomplishments are only now beginning to be recognized. We hope, under her auspices, to bring this same recognition to the neglected musical achievements of her forgotten contemporaries within the convent walls.

ROSA MISTICA:  music by Lombard nuns of the 17th century 17th-century Lombardy was home to more published nun composers than anywhere else in Italy. Women such as Isabella Leonarda (author of 20 collections of vocal and instrumental music),  her sister Ursuline nun and composer Maria Xaveria Perucona, Caterina Assandra (composer and dedicatee of various motet collections), Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and her conventual sister Rosa Giacinta Badalla, and other nun composers from Lombardy provide a portrait of a musical world which is today as fascinating as it is unknown. The CD of this program, released in 1999 with the name Rosa mistica: musiche delle monache lombarde del '600 (TACTUS 600003), was awarded special mention by the Premio Vivaldi of the Fondazione Cini in Venice (1999). For 6-9 voices, 1-4 basso continuo instruments).

Rosa mistica: musiche della monarche lombarde del 600

* * * * * Seven women composers, all new to the current catalogue, their music exquisitely sung--a delightful find. (George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine)

This is a refreshingly unusual recording, and not at all what I had expected from 17th-century Lombard convents. [...] The music itself is full of delights, often reminiscent of Monteverdi, Grandi or Strozzi. (Selene Mills, Early Music Review)

Listening to this music is thus a rarity, and recommended among other things for an well-calibrated vocal production, in the old style but at the same time so comunicative and captivating. [...] An operation halfway between musicology and sociology, and therefore doubly successful. (Lorenzo Tozzi, CD Classica)

Varied in texture and style, these compositions are a wonderful introduction to a long-neglected repertoire. [...] The voices of the Cappella Artemisia are all very different and highly individual--a quality which I greatly appreciate. [...] This is not to say that the ensemble does not blend, for it does, and wonderfully so. [...] The voices work as one, with a unfied sense of gestrue and rhythm. There must have been vast collections of unpublished music at each of these famous female monasteries. Perhaps the search has only just begun. I, for one, would love to hear more.  [Sonja Boon, Musick (Early Music Vancouver)]

A lovely recital of music composed by Lombard nuns of the 17th century, beautifully sung and played by Candace Smith's Cappella Artemisia. [...] The great joy of this record is the inspiration which fills each bar. The tragedy is that so little of the sisters' published works remain extant. With the holidays upon us, any of the CDs discussed this month will please someone special. You should allow this CD to please you. (Early Music Society of Southern California)

This concert is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Houston and Harris County through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County
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