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