We receive regular enquiries regarding music for high voices from the Renaissance and Baroque period.
Our first recommendation would always be our score shop, which we are adding to all the time. Many of these editions are unique, and all have been professionally prepared. There are vocal scores, keyboard scores, and bass parts (where appropriate), as well as backing tracks in equal temperament and meantone.
There are some free scores from our previous workshops – works by the nuns composers Caterina Assandra and Lucrezia Vizzana, and others by Josquin, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Morales, Victoria and more. Some of them have been around a while, but updated versions are also available.
Our friends at Cappella Artemisia also sell their scores. We try not to overlap with them, so if you are looking for something in particular and we don’t have it, try them, too.
Do it yourself! arranging polyphony for upper voices
If you have the time and patience, we would encourage you to turn into equal-voice sleuths: there is a wealth of music out there for equal voices, some of which is published in high clefs already, but most of which looks like it is for tenors and basses. DO NOT BE PUT OFF: women in the sixteenth century would just have transposed and/or used instrumental accompaniment. In fact, from around 1545, music written for high voices was likely to be transposed down for publication anyway. Look around – excellent equal-voice music by Cipriano de Rore, Adriano Willaert, and Palestrina (just for starters) should be fairly easy to find either by visiting a good music library, or online at sites such as the Choral Public Domain Library (www.cpdl.org) and the Petrucci Music Library (www.imslp.org).
The simplest way to make music for mixed voices available to upper-voice choirs is by adding or substituting instruments: we often use an organ playing all the parts, together with a bass viol on the lowest part (either on its own, or doubling the lowest altos). If you are adding a bass instrument, look for bass parts that don’t cross with the parts above very often or at all. If you want to adapt double-choir music, often a single bass instrument can cover both bass lines.
Female ensembles at courts and convents used a variety of instruments to accompany themselves: keyboards, bowed strings, harps, lutes and chittarones, even dulcians/bassoons. There are fewer rules than you think (the only “true way” of Renaissance performance practice is that there is no “true way”). Try stuff. If it works, great! if it doesn’t, try something else. This is *exactly* what nuns and noblewomen did.
It’s perfectly OK to transpose music for low voices up an octave so that it can be sung by sopranos and altos. Why not?
More challenging is what we call “selective transposition.” This can involve a variety of techniques:
- transposing the tenor(s) and bass up an octave
- transposing the tenor(s) and bass up an octave, and playing the bass part at pitch on an instrument;
- transposing just the tenor(s), and playing the bass part at pitch on an instrument
- transposing the top part down an octave, and then transposing everything up a fourth…
Again, it can be important to look carefully at the bass and make sure that when you transpose it up, you aren’t inverting the harmony. This is why it’s often advisable to have a bass instrument (or organ) playing the original bass at pitch.
You can also find that dissonances are keener (seconds sound crunchier than sevenths), but that’s nothing to be afraid of.
More importantly, you can find that parts are singing unisons rather than octaves. This can be a challenge for tuning, so just be alert!
Music from our recordings
- Our very first recording, The Secret Music of Luzzasco Luzzaschi: Amon Ra CD-SAR 58 (1992).
All of this music is published in a modern edition, but you can find a facsimile here: http://imslp.org/wiki/12_Madrigali_per_cantare_e_sonare_(Luzzaschi,_Luzzasco)
- La virtuosissima cantatrice – Music by Barbara Strozzi: Amon Ra CD-SAR 61 (1994).
All editions for this recording were made by Deborah Roberts and are mostly still on manuscript (working on getting it all set). However, in the intervening years a lot is now available. This is a start: http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Strozzi,_Barbara
- Dangerous Graces: Linn CKD 169, 2002
This ground-breaking compilation of music for the women musicians of 1580s Ferrara resulted from a two-year research project funded by the AHRB. All of the music here was arranged according to documented performance practices followed by the Ferrarese musicians, but taken from madrigal collections published in the conventional format of SATB a cappella voices. We plan to re-publish these editions eventually, but those interested could look at a number of madrigal books by composers such as Cipriano de Rore, Giaches de Wert (especially his Book 8), Lodovico Agostini, and even Luca Marenzio and Claudio Monteverdi. Experiment, as we did, in using instruments such as harpsichord, bass viol, harp and lute to cover the lower parts that fall out of the range of women’s voices. In some cases you can also try transposing some parts up the octave.
- Songs of Ecstasy and Devotion Lucrezia Vizzana: Componimenti musicali(1623): Linn Records CKD 071, 1997
All transcriptions kindly provided by Craig Monson and edited by Deborah Roberts. This music is not yet available.
- Dialogues with Heaven [motets by Chiara Margherita Cozzolani]: Linn Records CKD 113, 2000
All the music is published in its original SATB format by A-R Editions. Arrangements were made by Deborah Roberts.
- Alessandro Grandi Motetti a cinque voci (1614): divine art 25062, 2007
All editions and arrangements for female voices by Laurie Stras – motets in their original clefs are in preparation for the Alessandro Grandi Opera omnia.
- Sacred Hearts, Secret Music: divine art DDA 25077 (companion disc to the novel Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant), 2009
Music by Palestrina and de Rore. Originals may be found in both composers’ collected editions: all arrangements made according to convent performance practice. Chant transcribed from the Poissy Antiphonal.
- Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Obsidian CD717, 2017
All editions and arrangements for female voices by Laurie Stras, Deborah Roberts, and Sally Dunkley. These are available in the shop.
- From Darkness Into Light: The Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday by Antoine Brumel: Obsidian CD719, 2019
All editions and by Laurie Stras. Editions of the works from the Biffoli-Sostegni manuscript are available in the shop; the Brumel edition is in preparation for the Grandi Opera omnia.