In dedicating her new book of motets – Latin-texted compositions to be sung in and out of liturgy – to the Tuscan prince Mathias de’ Medici (1613-67) on Mathias’ name-day (the feast of his patron saint), 25 February 1642, the Benedictine nun composer Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c. 1677) expressed her homage thus:
The favor that your Serene Highness did for me by raising these my musical compositions from their native low state to the height of your praise [“basso” and “alto” are musical puns] … leaves me no other power to which to dedicate them other than to your protection … I offer you notes bright [“chiare”, i.e. “open” note-values like whole-notes, but with a play on the composer’s name] and dark [i.e. the “blackened” eighth- and sixteenth-notes] … and the blacker they are, the faster they run to make themselves tributes … to your name.
Mathias would have heard some of the twenty motets and perhaps the Mass Ordinary included in Cozzolani’s book during his stay in Milan in February 1641, which would have included visits to hear the famed singing nuns of Cozzolani’s convent, Santa Radegonda. The prince was well known as a patron of singers across Italy with a special inter- est in the touring companies that would bring early Venetian opera to a wide range of cities and courts as the pioneering work of Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker has shown.
From Cozzolani’s point of view, her book also represented a step forward. Her now-lost op. 1 had been published by a local printer in Milan in 1640, but the new book was entrusted to the high-quality music printer Alessandro Vincenti in Venice which ensured a wide circulation for the motets. Indeed, one of them, the duet O dulcis Iesu, was reprinted in a motet anthology of 1649 from Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) compiled by a Lutheran organist and another, the solo Concinant linguae, is found in a later French manuscript with an attribution to Giacomo Carissimi.
All but one of the motets (O cæli cives from Salmi a Otto Voci, 1650) on Magnificat’s June 11 concert as part of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition are drawn from Cozzolani’s second publication, Concerti sacri, a set of twenty concertos for 1 to 4 voices and a Mass Ordinary for four voices published in 1642. The volume was dedicated to the single most important patron of singers in northern Italy, Prince Matthias de’ Medici, a cadet whose military career had taken him from Florence to Milan in late winter 1640-1 and who mostly likely heard Cozzolani’s music during his stay in the city.
The collection, the Salmi a otto voci concertati… which has been recorded in its entirety by Magnificat for Musica Omnia was Cozzolani’s fourth published in the short span of ten years (1640-50; one publication survives complete, one incompletely, and the first seems completely lost).
The Cozzolani Project’s recordings of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677), testify to both her own musical creativity and to the high skills of the musicians in her Benedictine house of Santa Radegonda in Milan, across the street from the city’s cathedral.
Listen to Cozzolani's Music
In November 2002, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani's birth, Magnificat hosted a conference on Women and Music in 17th Century Italy at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. In additions to two performances by Magnificat, four scholars presented papers on aspects of the role of women in musical life in Italy during the period. Robert Kendrick, whose research has contributed tremendously to our understanding of Cozzolani and the musical culture in Milan in general, contributed this article and has graciously granted permission to repost it here.
We are here to examine the diversity of nuns’ culture in early modern Italy, on the immediate occasion of roughly the 400th anniversary of one sister’s birth—that of the Milanese Benedictine Chiara Margarita Cozzolani—and of the performances of her music brought to you this weekend by Magnificat. If there is anything that we have learned over the past ...
Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677) was a sister at the musically famous convent of Santa Radegonda, located in the seventeenth century across the street from Milan Cathedral. Santa Radegonda was famous for its sisters’ music-making on such feast-days, as visitors from all over Europe crowded into the half of its church open to the public (the chiesa esteriore), where they could hear the voices of the nuns while the monastic singers remained invisible in their half of the church (chiesa interiore), separated by a three-quarters-high wall.
This evening’s program allows us to experience again some of the repertory produced by seventeenth-century Italian cloistered women. Thanks not least to groups like Magnificat, over the last decade the sacred music heard in their institutions throughout the peninsula has made the leap from printed page to a real presence on recordings and in concert. In addition, the work of several SSCM members on sacred music outside convent walls—ranging from problems of tonal organization to those of liturgical use—helps provide a better context in which to understand nuns’ repertory.
The basics of tonight’s concert are fairly well-known: music by the Benedictine nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677), a sister at the musically famous convent of Santa Radegonda, located across the street from Milan Cathedral. Cozzolani’s psalms and motet are here presented as they would have been first heard, in the context of her order's liturgy for Easter Vespers. S. Radegonda ...