Imagine you’re a woman in sixteenth-century Europe. Your life may have been a convent cloister, or in the world outside its walls. But wherever you were, your life would have been ruled by the men in your family, the priests, and the bishops. How would you have learned the stories of what it was like to be a mother, a sister, a daughter? How would you have told them to the women around you? And how were they embedded in your life?
Stories and descriptions of women’s lives and relationships are plentiful in the songs, motets, and chants that formed the daily soundtrack of Renaissance life. Many of these centre on the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on the female saints that provided role models for women whether they were young or old, nuns or wives.
Our new disc, Mother, Sister, Daughter describes these women and tells some of their stories, often in the words and music of women themselves. From late fifteenth-century Verona, we include an Office of St Lucy, set simply in a style that would have suited community devotion: the conversation, between St Lucy and St Agatha, is probably the only conversation in the Christian liturgy that would pass the Bechdel test.
From early sixteenth-century Ferrara, we have several new motets attributed to Suor Leonora d’Este; and from mid-sixteenth-century Florence, we feature an extraordinary Office of St Clare from the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri (which a few decades later became home of Suor Maria Celeste, Galileo’s daughter).
We are also delighted to include our first commission, “The Veiled Sisters” by British composer Joanna Marsh. The work sets two poems – one by Norfolk poet Esther Morgan, the other by the seventeenth-century Bolognese poet Alessandro Francucci. Morgan’s poem, “Half Sister,” gives voice to a woman who views another from inside a house; Francucci’s sonnet celebrates the soprano Erminia Abelli entering a convent to become a nun.
We are crowdfunding for this recording in February 2022, with release scheduled in June 2022. We will be self-releasing with digital distribution; physical discs will be available from this site and at live events.
We are also grateful to our crowdfunding supporters who have given so generously, details here.