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Notes for Cozzolani Concerti Sacri (1642)

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. Read more…

Berkeley Festival: Cozzolani’s Concerti Sacri (1642)

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. That the dedication reflected some kind of contact between Matthias and Cozzolani, and that it was something of an afterthought, was noted by a Milanese patrician, Constanza Vittoria Arcimboldi, in a letter to the cadet Medici off at war:

“In addition, I will count on having met Your Highness’s taste in the following matter: I trust you will not be displeased that on my advice or urging Donna Chiara Margarita Cozzolani has dedicated her books of music to Your Highness; they will be presented to you by the Marchese Guicciardini.”

Read more…

Cozzolani’s Salmi a otto voci concertati (1650)

April 22nd, 2010 No comments

The collection, the Salmi a otto voci concertati… which has been recorded in its entirety by Magnificat 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).  It was dedicated to her almost exact contemporary Alberto Badoer, a Venetian patrician and the bishop (1633-1677) of the small city of Crema in Venetian territory some 40 kilometers southeast of Milan.

The book contains six settings of psalms for eight voices (Dixit, Confitebor, Beatus vir, Laudate pueri, Nisi Dominus, Laetatus sum) along with two settings of the Magnificat (Mary’s canticle); this must represent some of the pieces sung by the house’s two choirs at the afternoon service of Vespers, on both the day before (“First Vespers”) and the day of (“Second Vespers”) major feasts of the church year. There are also two other psalms with violins (Laudate Dominum is a short psalm often used to replace another text at the end of the psalmodic part of Vespers).  The rest of Cozzolani’s large edition consists of eight motets for various liturgical occasions for two to five voices without instruments, which could have been sung at Vespers, at Mass, or informally.

Cozzolani’s publication is one of only ten volumes published in Italy between 1630 and 1656 to include eight-voice Vespers.  We know that its publisher Alessandro Vincenti, the better of the two music printers in Venice, priced it at 14 lire, a fairly expensive edition due to the amount of paper used in its nine part-books, although not out of line compared to other editions of its size.  By way of comparison, the entire annual salary offered to Claudio Monteverdi’s successor as chapelmaster at St. Mark’s in 1643 was 1,920 lire. Read more…

Cozzolani – A “Clear Pearl” of Excellent Musical Invention

April 10th, 2010 No comments

This post is excerpted from the notes that will accompany the first volume of Magnificat’s recording of Cozzolani’s complete works.

A feast day celebration in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, 1630

Over the last twenty years, performances and scholarship have given us some idea of the remarkable musical world of cloistered nuns in early modern Italy.  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 (the monastery was razed by the early nineteenth century).

There is evidence for excellent music-making at S. Radegonda as early as the late sixteenth century.  Writing in 1674 (while Cozzolani was still alive), the Milanese poet and occasional librettist Carlo Torre praised its singers thusly:

“It can be said that in our own times, Mount Helicon has been transported to this monastery, due to the excellence of its veiled singers, or that spirits from on high fly in this church, since rapturous melodies are heard … So that you readers do not think I am speaking in hyperbole, I will wait for you there on the next feast-day, and you will take away true proof of what I have said”.

A few years earlier, the urban panegyricist Filippo Picinelli named her specfically in his praise of the house’s music: “Among these sisters, Donna Chiara Margarita Cozzolani merits the highest praise , Chiara (“clear”) in name but even more so in merit, and Margarita (“a pearl”) for her unusual and excellent nobility of [musical] invention”. Read more…

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani in her World

November 18th, 2009 No comments

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.

Robert Kendrick

Robert Kendrick

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 fifteen years of study, it is that the work of any single nun has to be informed by the conditions of family status, local and institutional history, and musical trends of the time. My other colleagues here present will give you some idea of the diverse traditions and problems of female monastic culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy, and so I would like to place Cozzolani’s output in her world—familial, institutional, musical.

It is impossible, however, not to look for personal and individual traits in the production—musical or other—of nuns. In the case of Cozzolani, this is still a rather frustrating experience, precisely because of the lack of detailed information about her background, musical training and activity, and life trajectory. Other musical nuns of the century – Lucrezia Vizzana, Claudia Rusca, Maria Francesca Piccolomini – have left, directly or indirectly, far more documentation about their lives, public and personal.

Duomo and Santa Radegonda

The Duomo in Milan with the convent of Santa Radegonda on the left.

Central to the person she would become was her family. The most recent documentary fragments I have found in the Milanese archives testify to the presence of her family in Milan from the 15th century onwards, although they do not give us the exact trade or profession of family members.  What is clear, however, is that her ancestors were not members of the patrician nobility, and therefore they were excluded from the city’s Senate and other legislative bodies. It is most likely that they were well-off merchants or artisans at the very top of  their social class, rich enough to afford workshops in the center of town and to send their daughters—both in Chiara’s generation and the ones before and after her—into the high-class convent of S. Radegonda, where she would have rubbed shoulders with women of superior caste status. The so-called “spiritual dowry” necessary for the admission of a young woman into this house was at the most expensive levels of the time, and since Chiara had a older sister who professed her vows at the convent about four years earlier, the family would have had to come up with a good amount of money in a short time, between 1615 and 1619, the respective beginning of the novitiate year for the two sisters.  Read more…

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Celestial Siren

October 29th, 2009 No comments

Listen to Cozzolani’s Music

The following biographical sketch of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani was adapted from notes provided by Prof. Robert Kendrick of the University of Chicago and a member of Magnificat’s Artistic Advisory Board. Kendrick’s exceptional scholarship on the music of Milan and convent music in Northern Italy has resulted in two books – Celestial Sirens and Sounds of Milan – that offer tremendous insight into a fascinating chapter of music history. Magnificat will perform Cozzolani’s Messa a 4, along with five of her motets on the weekend of December 4-6. The Mass is available on Magnificat’s recording Messa Paschale, released by Musica Omnia.

Cloistered NunChiara 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. For the celebration of Mass, which unlike the services of the Divine Office, requires the participation of a priest, the celebrant and any attending clergy would likewise have remained in the exterior church.

Like her sister, aunt, and nieces, Cozzolani took her vows at the house in 1620, while in her late teens. She had been born into a well-off family in Milan, and might have received her early musical training from members of the well-known Rognoni family, instrumental and vocal teachers in the city. She entered a foundation, however, whose nun musicians had already been praised for a generation, and whose population (around 100 sisters) provided a large pool of young women who could be trained as singers and instrumentalists.

Her four musical publications appeared between 1640 and 1650; later, she served as prioress and abbess at Santa Radegonda. She helped guide the house through more difficult times in the 1660’s, when it came under attack by the strict Archbishop Alfonso Litta, who was concerned to limit the nuns’ practice of music and other “irregular” contact with the outside world. She disappears from the convent’s membership lists between 1676 and 1678, and thus we may presume she died in her mid-seventies. Read more…

Program Notes for Cozzolani Easter Vespers

April 13th, 2007 No comments

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 was famous for its sisters’ music-making on such feast-days, as visitors from all over Europe crowded into its half-church open to the public (chiesa esteriore). We hear the major musical items, in polyphony and chant, for such a Vespers, using largely Cozzolani’s music and reflecting the convent’s repertory around 1650; the psalms and Magnificat are scored for eight voices plus basso continuo, while the intervening motets are for smaller forces. The psalms and canticle come from her Salmi a otto voci concertati, op. 3 (Venice, 1650), published as a result of the 1649 visit to Milan of the Austrian Habsburg princess Maria Anna, a young woman soon to be married to her cousin Philip IV of Spain. Four of the five motets appeared in Cozzolani’s Concerti sacri, op. 2 (Venice, 1642; only the Mary Magdalen motet is found in the 1650 book). As a whole, the music reflects S. Radegonda’s festal liturgy at the time of Maria Anna’s visit, and could have been heard by the princess during her stay in the city, a sojourn which both reaffirmed Milan’s place in the Habsburg domains and linked the two branches of the House of Habsburg. Read more…