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I Am Woman, Hear Me Sing

Capella Artemisia

Time capsule for this episode: Women of the Middle Ages


We’re celebrating women this week on Harmonia. We'll explore the music of 16th-century Italian nun Raffaella Aleotti, the first nun to have her work published. Then, Trio Mediaeval takes us to 13th century England with their reconstruction of a Lady Mass. Plus, we’ll hear music from the tradition of the female troubadour, and we’ll feature a “re-release” of Hildegard’s music by the ensemble Sequentia.

 Music in 16th and 17th century convents

Since 1991, the ensemble Cappella Artemisia has devoted their efforts to shining a light on the music made for and performed by nuns in 16th and 17th century convents. Although cloistered nuns were not allowed to have contact with any men, some of their music includes parts for tenor and bass. Instruments were also not allowed; although sneaking them in was one solution they devised to perform the tenor and bass parts of their music.

One recording by Cappella Artemisia highlights the nun Raphaella Aleotti, whose skill as a composer and musician earned her praise from Frescobaldi, Giaches de Wert, Merulo, and Gesualdo. Her first book of sacred concertos was published in Venice in 1593, making her the first nun to have her music published.

 Music for a 13th century Lady Mass

The Norwegian ensemble Trio Mediaeval is made up of three women who began working together in 1997. Most recently, they recorded music that would have been sung for a 13th century Lady Mass taken from manuscripts in an English Benedictine Abbey. Typically, these masses were held in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus.


Like their male counterparts, female troubadours, or trobairitz, performed songs of unrequited love in the noble courts. For the majority of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they played throughout Occitan lands. Today this would encompass Spain, southern France, and northern Italy.

Just like male troubadours, trobairitz sang of love and usually the love of the performer was not returned by the object of her affection. In the song “A Chantar,” the 12th century trobairitz, Beatriz de Dia, sings that her love has cast her aside, but she revels in the knowledge that she was never untrue.

Hildegard von Bingen

We continue our celebration of female composers by revisiting the music of the visionary abbess and healer Hildegard von Bingen.  Sony Imports has recently released an 8-disc box set of recordings by one of the most influential performers of Hildegard’s music, the ensemble Sequentia.

Note: The writer for this edition of Harmonia is Anna Pranger.

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