Sulpitia Cesis, 1577-after 1619

Cesis

Image is not biographical

Selected Recordings

Motetti

Maria Magdalena et altera Maria

Selected Sheet Music

Maria Magdalena et Altera Maria
Cesis-2b

Source:  Artemisia Editions

Notes and Background

Sulpitia Lodovica Cesis was an Italian composer and well-regarded lutenist who was born in Modena, Italy, in 1577. She was a nun at the convent of Saint Geminiano in Modena, although some scholars report it as Saint Agostino. Her only known work is a volume of eight-part Motetti Spirituali, which she wrote in 1619, although some scholars think it might have been written earlier than that because of its style. It is composed of 23 motets for 2–12 voices.

Her work is different than other works written at this time because it contains indications for instruments such as cornetts, trombones, violones, and archviolones. A bass part exists as well, which is interesting considering that this music was written for a group of cloistered nuns. One explanation is that this part was for the organ or viola da gamba.

Cesis dedicated her collection to another nun of the same name, Anna Maria Cesis, who lived at the Convent of Santa Lucia in Rome. Both Sulpitia Cesis’s and Anna Maria Cesis’s convents were well known for their music.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

The Cesis collection of Motetti spirituali is an important body of music both for the generally high quality of the works it contains and for the information it provides regarding performance practice in Italian convents in the early seventeenth century.—Excerpted from Alexander Street

Books and Music

Selected Books

Divas in the Convent
Univ. of Chicago Press, 2012
Craig Monson
$17.49 on Amazon

Diva

Nuns Behaving Badly
Univ. of Chicago Press, 2011
Craig Monson
$15.68 on Amazon

Nuns

Selected Music

Cesis-3a Spiritual Motets (2003), 1 CD

Complete Works

1. Hodie Gloriosus
2. Cantate Domino
3. Io So Ferito Si
4. Jubilate Deo
5. Il Mio Piu Vago Sole
6. Pecco Signore
7. Salve Gemma Confessorum
8. O Crux Splendidior
9. Cantemus Domino
10. Angelus Ad Pastores
11. Benedictus Dominus
12. Dulce Nomen Jesu Christe
13. Stabat Mater
14. Hic Est Beatissimus
15. Quest’e La Bella
16. O Domine Jesu Christe
17. Sub Tuum Praesidium
18. Maria Magdalena
19. Ecce Ego Joannes
20. Puer Qui Natus Est
21. Magi Videntes Stellam
22. Ascendo Ad Patrem
23. Parvulus Filius

Other women Baroque composers

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Claudia Sessa: Notes and Commentary

Claudia Sessa was an Italian composer born into the de Sessa family, a patrician clan of the Milanese aristocracy. A nun at the convent of Saint Maria Annunciata, she composed two sacred works published in 1613. She lived from c. 1570 to c. 1617 or 1619.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

Sessa was avidly praised by Gerolamo Borsieri for her musical talents and for her modest nature. Two of her works (for solo voice) are available today. Though it displays some technical weaknesses, Sessa’s work over the duration of her short lifetime has been described as sufficiently original and ambitious to place her on the roster of notable composers of her time.—Excerpted from Hildegard Publishing

Claudia Sessa Books and Music
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Claudia Sessa, c.1570-c. 1619

Claudia Sessa

Selected Recordings

30-second samples of “Occhi io vissi di voi” and “Vatteme pur Lascivia”

Selected Sheet Music

Occhi io vissi di voi

Sessa Occhi

Source: CPDL.org

Notes and Commentary

Claudia Sessa was an Italian composer born into the de Sessa family, a patrician clan of the Milanese aristocracy. A nun at the convent of Saint Maria Annunciata, she composed two sacred works published in 1613. She lived from c. 1570 to c. 1617 or 1619.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

Sessa was avidly praised by Gerolamo Borsieri for her musical talents and for her modest nature. Two of her works (for solo voice) are available today. Though it displays some technical weaknesses, Sessa’s work over the duration of her short lifetime has been described as sufficiently original and ambitious to place her on the roster of notable composers of her time.—Excerpted from Hildegard Publishing

Books and Music

Selected Books

Divas in the Convent
Univ. of Chicago Press, 2012
Craig Monson
$17.49 on Amazon

Diva

Nuns Behaving Badly
Univ. of Chicago Press, 2011
Craig Monson
$15.68 on Amazon

Nuns

Selected Music

Sessa album Rosa Mistica (2000), 1 CD

Sessa album-2 I Canti Di Euterpe (1998), 1 CD

Complete Works

Occhi io vissi di voi
Vatteme pur Lascivia

Other women Baroque composers

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Rosa Giacinta Badalla: A First-Round Draft Pick of Convent Music

conventLet’s assume for a minute that “Hamlet” had been written as a comedy rather than a tragedy and that when Hamlet tells Ophelia to “get thee to a nunnery” she actually goes. How long could we expect before the recording contract followed?

Music has always been a big part of convent life, much to the church hierarchy’s  dismay, and musically talented women were much sought after. Indeed, it wasn’t unusual for a convent, much like a university today, to sweeten the pot a bit to get a talented novice to move inside their walls. “Musical skills and beautiful singing voices were so valuable that convents could even offer discounts on the dowries of gifted nuns, and decorous religious houses accepted girls from modest backgrounds,” says Silvia Evanegisti in her book Nuns: A History of Convent LIfe.  Just don’t tell the Bishop about it.

Well, we know from Act IV, Scene V of “Hamlet” that Ophelia was quite the singer, so had Polonious lived, he surely would have gotten a discount to send his daughter to a nunnery, as Hamlet suggested.

Badalla VuoGiven the premium convents offered on musical talent, it’s not surprising that many of the female composers we know about from the Baroque era today were nuns. One nun whose work has managed to survive to this day is Rosa Giacinta Badalla, a Benedictine nun in Milan who’s believed to have lived from around 1660 to 1710. She had only one printed collection of compositions that we know about, Motetti a voce sola, and it makes one wish she had been given a recording contract.

Her work is “remarkable . . . for its patent vocal viruosity, motivic originality, and self-assured compositional technique,” Robert Kendrick says in his Grove Music entry on Badalla.

You can hear that virtuosity, originality, and self-assurance in “O serene pupille,” a beautiful piece for solo voice that also translates well to the violin. In this 5-minute video, we see musicians from La Donna Musicale in 2011 perform an excerpt from the piece using violin as the solo instrument. La Donna Musicale is based in Boston and it’s a company dedicated to performing classical works by women composers.

To showcase the rich vein of music that’s come to us from the convents, a couple of publishers have released compilations within the last few years. Rosa Mistica is a highly regarded collection that includes a piece from Badalla as well as composers named Isabella Leonarda and Bianca Maria Meda.

Mistica

Music in the Convents

“This music brings such joy and peace to my whole being, and every one of the pieces on this album is so beautiful, it’s hard to find words that adequately express the astounding harmony,” says one reviewer on Amazon.

donneBadalla’s work also appears on  Concerto delle Donne, a compilation of female Baroque composers, including one of the most well-known of all female classical composers, Barbara Strozzi. This compilation isn’t limited to the cloistered, so it has a much broader range of work and yet the pieces still center around sacred music, as Baroque music by women composers often did.

In this compilation, Badalla’s piece is called “O fronde care,” and she wrote the lyrics for the piece, not the music.  angelico

Other surviving pieces from Badalla, including “Pane Angelico” and “Vuo Cercando”, have been transcribed and are available today.

Another piece of Badalla’s, called “Non piangete,” is performed beautifully by soprano Roberta Invernizzi and cellist Elena Russo. You can listen to that in the video below.

We’re fortunate this this and other works from Badalla and other nuns remain with us today, and hopefully yet more will be found in the musty cellars of convents someday. The work of composers as gifted as Badalla deserve a wider audience; it would be  a shame to keep it cloistered  behind the walls of a nunnery.

Other women Baroque composers

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