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Harmonia Early Music

Celestial Sirens

Music from Occitan courts, Italian stages, and the cloisters of Italy and Mexico.

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newberry consort

Photo: Courtesy of the ensemble.

The Newberry Consort performing Celestial Sirens.

Time capsule for this episode: 1350

Euterpe

During the renaissance, ancient myth featured prominently in new works of art and music.  A revival of Classical literature provided musicians with a treasure-trove of narratives and characters to draw upon for inspiration.  According to Greek mythology, the union of the god Zeus and the titaness Mnemosyne produced the nine goddesses called the Muses.  Each divine daughter embodied her own branch of the arts.  Euterpe, the muse of music and lyric poetry, was held in special regard by composers.  Euterpe is often depicted playing a flute, and she is believed by some to have invented the aulos, a wind instrument with two windways and one mouthpiece.

17th-century singer and composer Barbara Strozzi dedicated her seventh book of madrigals to the muse. From Strozzi’s book Diporti di Euterpe, or “Amusements of Euterpe” let’s hear Tradimento, followed by an aria from Giulio Caccini’s Le nuove musiche that addresses Euterpe directly, calling her to lend an ear to the poet’s song of love.

Barbara Strozzi : Tr. 1 – Tradimento (2’19”)
Emanuela Galli with Galatea — Diporti di Euterpe (Magnatune, 2011)
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Giulio Caccini : Tr. 7 - Odi, Euterpe, il dolce canto (5’16”)
Monica Pustilnik — Odi Euterpe (Glossa, 2010)
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Celestial Sirens: a live performance by The Newberry Consort

In the baroque-era convents of Mexico and Italy, nuns performed, arranged, and contributed new music for devotional use. In 2012, The Newberry Consort presented a program of music exploring this sacred music written for and by women in 17th-century convents.

Alba Tressina was a Carmelite nun at Santa Maria in Araceli, a church in Vicenza, Italy.  Here’s an excerpt from a live performance by The Newberry Consort, recorded on January 21, 2012 in Chicago. We’ll hear a motet by Tressina.

The Celestial Sirens program also includes vocal pieces from the manuscripts known as the Mexican Choirbooks from the Encarnación convent in Mexico City and housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago.  These choirbooks note that the nuns performed works of both European and Mexican composers, including the little-known Juan de Lienas.

Alba Tressina: Anima mea liquefacta est à 3 (3’15”) / Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Laudate pueri (7’50) / Juan de Lienas:Credidi a 8 (6’40)
The Newberry Consort — Celestial Sirens, St. Clement Church, Chicago, January 21, 2012 (Live performance; not commercially available)
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Trobairitz

Next, let’s listen to music from 12th- and 13th-century Occitania, a historical region in southern Europe, and explore some the first known secular works composed by women.

The trobairitz were female musicians whose craft was an intimate part of courtly life.  In the Middle Ages, well-to-do women were expected to be proficient singers, instrumentalists, and poets. Trobairitz composed, wrote verses, and performed for nobility.  An estimated thirty-two songs survive—and countless more were likely written; but, in the absence of definitive attribution, have been marked as “anonymous” or attributed to men.  Many of these works were, in fact, collaborations between trobairitz and troubadours.  Their gathered writings demonstrate artful exchanges on subjects such as faith, virtue, and love.

Beatriz de Dia : Tr. 3 - Estat ai en greu cossirier (2’20”)
Rossignol — La Domna Ditz (Magnatune, 2010)
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Beatriz de Romans : Tr. 3 – Na Maria (4’24”)
Sinfonye — The Sweet Look and the Loving Manner (Hyperion UK , 1993)
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Myths and allegories

Homer’s Odyssey has nourished the artistic imaginations of countless artists across centuries.  Scholars believe that sung versions of the epic were enjoyed long before it was ever written down. In our featured recording Myths and Allegories, the ensemble Les Délices brings together works by French baroque composers in a retelling of Odysseus’s harrowing tale.  Instrumental compositions inspired by the Odyssey and vocal settings of Homer’s stories recount episodes along the journey.
The recording includes never-before-heard adaptations of cantatas by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Thomas-Louis Bourgeois.  Here’s an excerpt from de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil D’Ulisse, in which a maddened Poseidon whips up a dangerous storm that threatens Odysseus’s ships and crew.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre: Excerpts from Le Sommeil D’Ulisse (5:45) / Jean-Féry Rebel: Airs from Ulysse (4’40)
Les Délices — Myths and Allegories (Les Délices, 2012)
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Of course, despite Poseidon’s efforts, Odysseus survives and eventually makes it home. The following excerpts from Jean-Féry Rebel’s opera Ulysse tells of Odysseus’s reunion with his wife, Penelope.

Barbara Strozzi : Tr. 1 – Tradimento (2’19”)
Emanuela Galli with Galatea — Diporti di Euterpe (Magnatune, 2011)
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Giulio Caccini : Tr. 7 - Odi, Euterpe, il dolce canto (5’16”)
Monica Pustilnik — Odi Euterpe (Glossa, 2010)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Alba Tressina: Anima mea liquefacta est à 3 (3’15”) / Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Laudate pueri (7’50) / Juan de Lienas:Credidi a 8 (6’40)
The Newberry Consort — Celestial Sirens, St. Clement Church, Chicago, January 21, 2012 (Live performance; not commercially available)
album cover
Beatriz de Dia : Tr. 3 - Estat ai en greu cossirier (2’20”)
Rossignol — La Domna Ditz (Magnatune, 2010)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Beatriz de Romans : Tr. 3 – Na Maria (4’24”)
Sinfonye — The Sweet Look and the Loving Manner (Hyperion UK , 1993)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre: Excerpts from Le Sommeil D’Ulisse (5:45) / Jean-Féry Rebel: Airs from Ulysse (4’40)
Les Délices — Myths and Allegories (Les Délices, 2012)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Laura Osterlund

Laura Osterlund is a scriptwriter for Harmonia, recorder player, and student at McGill Univeristy in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, she moved from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois to Montreal in pursuit of a B.Mus. with major concentrations in Early Music Performance and Music History. Laura is an active musician throughout Montreal and Chicago and an avid memberof the movement to promote Early Music performance, pedagogy, research, and appreciation throughout North America.

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