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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.

The reason for this popularity lies in the quality of the musical gestures. Cozzolani’s motets employ the extrovert vocal writing, the generative and sometimes repetitive basso continuo lines (e.g. the opening of O dulcis Iesu), and the slightly asymmetrical paratactic phrase structures of the most up-to-date north Italian motets of the time. This is perhaps most evident in the duets, the normative scoring for such pieces, but special attention should be given to the four solo motets, all on evidently original texts (although O Maria, tu dulcis paraphrases the Marian antiphon Salve regina), with their virtuoso and often unexpected vocal lines. The striking registral contrast in Concinant linguae’s ecstatic catalogue of terres- trial praise of Mary is one such feature while Eucharistic devotion is set out in O quam bonum’s juxtaposition of “free” sections with metrically regular calls to listeners to adore the Host (“O fideles, o populi Dei” ).

A similar large-scale balance, although with shorter internal sections, is audible in the trios and quartets of the volume. On the simplest side, the high-voice quartet (a direct reflec- tion of the sonic world of S. Radegonda’s choirs) Psallite, superi uses a straightforward refrain alternating with solo or duet sections setting phrases from the Song of Songs in its praise of Mary. In a more complex structure, the text of the extended trio O quam suavis est, Domine quotes two different Corpus Christi hymns, resolving the large-scale tension of its compositional gestures (e.g. the chromatic descents at “et non deficietis”) in a homophonic conclusion of “Panis angelicus.” This kind of elaborate Eucharistic piece testifies to the importance of the Sacrament (and its major feast-day) both in the ritual year of early modern Milan and in the personal devotional lives of nuns like Cozzolani. In contrast, the Mass setting is relatively economical in keeping with contemporary practice.

From slightly later evidence it appears that Cozzolani’s house was able to cover at least high tenor parts without recourse to imported male singers (for which there is no evidence at S. Radegonda). In accordance with publishing norms, her printed volume uses soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices in various combinations in the duets, trios, and quartets; the book was designed for sale to a wide variety of institutions, not just convents, often with a majority of adult male singers. Possibly the printed vocal bass lines would have been sung up an octave under convent conditions.

Cozzolani’s music existed in no vacuum. The text of the Marian intercessory dialogue Quid miseri, quid faciamus? is taken from a motet published by Monteverdi’s deputy Alessandro Grandi in 1619 and the duet Surgamus omnes quotes the text (but not the music) of a 1635 motet by Monteverdi’s later vice maestro Giovanni Rovetta. Clearly, even from behind the walls of her monastic enclosure, Cozzolani was well aware of the changes in north Italian sacred music during the years leading up to the publication of her volume. But her work also served as an example of this kind of mid-century style, enormously popular in both Lutheran and Catholic central Europe (the only copy of her print survives in Wrocław, while another was recorded in the pre-World-War II holdings of the Berlin Gymnasium zum grauen Kloster). Vincenti would go on to publish her now-incomplete solo motets of 1648 and her large-scale psalms and motets of 1650 (see the recording on Musica Omnia MO040). But Concerti sacri had already testified to her compositional gifts and originality.

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