Sis­ter act

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

TO­DAY, Lu­crezia Bor­gia’s Daugh­ter, a CD based on mu­sic sung by Ital­ian nuns in the 16th cen­tury, is re­leased by Ob­sid­ian Records. It has been recorded us­ing only the voices of women, of all ages, in an at­tempt to re­visit the sound of the 16th-cen­tury con­vent, ‘where singing was more pro­lific than sleep­ing’.

‘Suor Leonora d’este (1515–75), Lu­crezia Bor­gia’s daugh­ter, was a princess, a nun and a mu­si­cian,’ says Prof Lau­rie Stras of the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton, who col­lab­o­rated with Mu­sica Sec­reta for the CD. ‘She left few clues to il­lu­mi­nate her his­tory, as al­most all her 60 years were spent en­closed in a con­vent, [ex­cept for] a mys­te­ri­ous book of anony­mous motets pub­lished in Venice by Giro­lamo Scotto in 1543.’ Prof Stras has been study­ing this book for the past seven years.

‘In the 16th cen­tury,’ she con­tin­ues, ‘the sound of con­vent mu­sic was the sound of the Re­nais­sance city. Or­di­nary cit­i­zens may never have heard the great ducal and Pa­pal chapels, but they could lis­ten to the nuns singing, ev­ery day. Church au­thor­i­ties were sus­pi­cious of con­vent polyphony, say­ing that it was morally dan­ger­ous for nuns be­cause it led to van­ity and for con­gre­ga­tions be­cause it was too se­duc­tive.’

The par­tic­i­pat­ing en­sem­ble—ce­les­tial Sirens, formed by for­mer Tal­lis Schol­ars so­prano Deb­o­rah Roberts— sounds just as a con­vent choir would have done, us­ing 16th-cen­tury tech­niques, in­clud­ing trans­po­si­tion and in­stru­men­tal ac­com­pa­ni­ment (£11.92, www.ob­sid­i­an­records.co.uk).

Con­vent singing was con­sid­ered morally dan­ger­ous for both nuns and con­gre­ga­tions

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