Last night I watched my fiancé Phoebe sing with Cappella Artemisia in St. Elizabeth Cathedral in Wrocław, Poland. Cappella Artemisia performs music by/for 16th-17th century Italian nuns.
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?
I grabbed a piece of audio of Phoebe singing “Sonet vox tua” by Lucrezia Vizzana, which is a little low-fi but gives you an idea (of the group and the enormous space). And here’s Anima Mea Liquefacta Est by Alba Tressina, a lovely piece from the Song of Songs. The text translates as:
My soul melted when my beloved spoke;
I sought him, and found him not; I called, and he did not answer me. I adjure you, Oh daughters of Jesusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him that I languish with love. 1
Candace Smith, the founder and director of Cappella Artemisia, came to the Art Monastery last year to music direct our first large-scale producion, La Clausura Sconfinata “cloister without walls”), which explored the inner life of cloistered nuns through Baroque music, Gregorian chant, and Isadora Duncan style dance.
Later this month I’ll be interviewing Candace on various topics of monastic life (including music, women in monasticism, etc.).