Isabella Leonarda: Vespro a cappella della Beata Vergine

Isabella Leonarda: Vespro a cappella della Beata Vergine

by Nova ARS Cantandi Collegium Instrumentale


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Music by cloistered nuns for convent use remains an almost untouched repository of music in the European concert tradition, and the investigative qualities of Italy's Tactus label have seldom been put to better use than in recordings featuring music of this kind. The "Vespro a cappella della beata vergine" come from Isabella Leonarda, a composer who worked in the middle and late seventeenth century at the Congregation of the Virgins of Saint Ursula in Novara, in northern Italy near Milan. The music, except for the organ pieces by Frescobaldi and Cima that are inserted into the sequence of events, is not Baroque in nature at all; it is a pure representative of the prima prattica, the traditional Renaissance polyphony that continued to be practiced in churches and eventually evolved into the discipline of "Palestrina counterpoint" as it is known today. What's interesting about Leonarda's works, some of which are instrumental and number in the hundreds (she lived to be 84 and was composing for almost the whole time), is that their model, or at least their musical kin, among the composers of the late Renaissance, is not the ethereal and totally controlled Palestrina but Orlande de Lassus, with a good admixture of early Monteverdi: her works are both harmonically bolder and contrapuntally stricter than those of Palestrina, with heavy use of imitation that proceeds into various kinds harmonic motion. Sample especially the vigorous text expression of the "Lauda Jerusalem Dominum," track 8. The one-voice-per-part performance given here is perhaps undesirable, for it would seem likelier that a group of singers would have been used if available, but the result in this case is an appealing madrigal-like feel. Also of interest is that the music, in four parts, is written for and performed by an all-male group, with a countertenor on the top line (Alessandro Carmignani successfully handles the wide compass of Leonarda's writing). Not enough is known about Leonarda to say why she did not write for female voices here, and the rest of her work has barely been touched; the notes (in Italian and English) suggest that she may have intended her music to be distributed as widely as possible. It is thus welcome news that it has been rescued from the basement of history after languishing there for more than three centuries.

Product Details

Release Date: 01/09/2007
Label: Tactus Records
UPC: 8007194103793
catalogNumber: 623702
Rank: 74944


  1. Fiori Musicali de diverse compositioni..., 47 pieces for 4 parts: Toccata avanti la Messa della Domenica
  2. Deus, in adjutorium meum intende / Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina, motet
  3. Dixit Dominus Domino meo (Psalm 19)
  4. Laudate pueri, Dominum (Psalm 112)
  5. Canzon "La pace", for consort (Partito de Ricercar et Canzoni)
  6. Laetatus sum (Psalm 121)
  7. Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126)
  8. Lauda Jerusalem Dominum (Psalm 147)
  9. Canzon "La gentile", for consort (Partito de Ricercar et Canzoni)
  10. Magnificat anima mea
  11. Il secondo libro de toccate, canzone...di cimbalo et organo, No.2, Toccata Seconda

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