LUCREZIA BORGIA'S DAUGHTER: PRINCESS, NUN AND MUSICIAN


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Obsidian Records is pleased to announce a new collaboration with Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens.

Far from being silent, Renaissance convents were among the most active musical institutions in Europe. In this ground-breaking CD, Musica Secreta delves into the mysterious world of early sixteenth-century convent music.

The discovery of anonymous motets in a book entitled Musica quinque vocum motteta materna lingua vocata (1543) has pushed back the date of the earliest known polyphonic music for convents by 50 years. The book also raises tantalising  questions about the motets' authorship.

New research suggests that some of these motets were composed by the abbess of the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, Suor Eleanora d'Este, a woman of prodigious musical skill with a unique lineage. She was the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia, a woman cast by popular history as a notorious femme fatale; often portrayed as beautiful and power-hungry, Lucrezia was married to a succession of wealthy men. The convent offered a very different way of life for her only daughter, however, and these unique motets offer a vision of the 16th century convent as a place for religious celebration, contemplation and exceptional music-making.

These motets were recorded for the first time in the summer of 2016 for Obsidian records, performed by Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens and directed by Laurie Stras and Deborah Roberts.
Read an exclusive interview with Musica Secreta's Laurie Stras here
Please also view a short YouTube video made by the album's producer, David Lefeber.

MUSICA SECRETA
For over twenty-five years, Musica Secreta has been at the forefront of the discovery and interpretation of music for and by early modern women. We bring together internationally-acclaimed musicians and ground-breaking research to perform this fascinating and continually emerging repertoire. Our programmes illustrate the many faces of women musicians in the 16th and 17th centuries: courtiers, courtesans, actresses and cloistered nuns. There is always an element of story-telling and surprise in our performances, for the women who first made our music had lives as compelling as the music itself.

CELESTIAL SIRENS
Celestial Sirens is a select non-professional choir of female singers based in Southern England. The group was formed in 2003 by Deborah Roberts, and has maintained a strong reputation as the country’s foremost ensemble committed to the performance of choral works in the style of early modern convents.

DEBORAH ROBERTS
Deborah Roberts has been at the forefront of British early music performance for over three decades, as a soprano in over a thousand concerts with the Tallis Scholars and, for the last fifteen years, as a co-director of the Brighton Early Music Festival. She is also a distinguished teacher and coach, and now runs her own summer workshops, Triora Musica.

LAURIE STRAS
Laurie Stras is a Professor of Music at the University of Southampton, where she teaches courses on both sixteenth-century polyphony and twentieth-century girl groups; her book on the musical women of sixteenth-century Ferrara is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation


Release date: Friday 10th November 2017

In 1978 an extraordinary discovery was made behind plasterwork in the walls of Corpus Christi College, Oxford: music from Thomas Tallis’s grandest motet Gaude gloriosa, but with unidentified English words (see attached image). The discovery remained more or less dormant until David Skinner recently identified the text as being by none other than Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen Katherine Parr. The words are from her psalm paraphrase ‘Against Enemies’ in her first publication Psalms or Prayers, published in London in 1544. Parr’s work was published in tandem with Thomas Cranmer’s Litany, which was the first departure from the Roman rite in Henry’s reign, though we have known very little of its actual liturgical use until now.

All was part of Henry’s famous war effort against the Scots and French in 1544; the English Litany was adopted so that the population might stand up and pray the King into battle — and for the first time in English — later that summer. Skinner has also discovered that the Litany, Parr’s text (set to music by Tallis), alongside the composer’s 5-part Litany (also now to be performed in the Festival) were first performed following an elaborately orchestrated series of events at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, which culminated on 23 May 1544 with a procession and sermon. Queen Katherine Parr, via the Chapel Royal singers, acted as Henry VIII’s mouthpiece with her evocative war-like text ‘See, Lord, and behold’, with sentiments such as ‘they are traitors and rebels against me’ and ‘let the wicked sinners return unto hell, and let them fall and be taken down into the pit which they have digged’! For the first time we can now suggest a specific date which marks the beginning of the English liturgical reformation — 23 May 1544 at St Paul’s Cathedral — which quite predates the introduction of the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

 
‘These discoveries are not only significant for cultural historians, but also fundamentally challenge our perceptions of Tallis’s music and chronology which have hitherto been fixed in their essentials for nearly half a century. We also have new insight into the role of a Tudor queen in Henry’s court politics. The musical Reformation seems to have come to England somewhat earlier than anticipated. Many fascinating avenues for further research, both musicological and historical, have opened up for the years to come.’ 
— David Skinner