Cappella Clausura The STORY BEHIND CLAUSURA
"...eavesdrop on paradise... personal and inviting, extravagant and intimate." --Boston Globe
Winner of the 2017 Chorus America Alice Parker/ASCAP award for adventurous programming, Cappella Clausura was founded in 2004 by choral director Amelia LeClair to research, study and perform the music of women composers. Our goals are to bring engaging performances of this music to today’s audiences, thereby fostering their appreciation of the role of women composers throughout history, and to help bring women composers into the classical canon. Our repertoire extends from the earliest known music by women, dating from the 9th century, to the music of our own time. Concerts include music by male counterparts, contemporaries, and earlier influences of our featured women composers in order to bring greater depth and context to the audience's understanding of music by women.
The core of the vocal ensemble is a group of eight-to-sixteen singers who perform a cappella, with continuo, or with chamber orchestra, as the repertoire requires. Our singers are accomplished professionals who perform widely as soloists and ensemble musicians in Greater Boston and beyond; likewise, our instrumentalists are drawn from Boston’s superb pool of freelancers. We utilize medieval, renaissance, classical and baroque period instruments when appropriate to the repertoire.
Cappella Clausura’s name honors the extraordinary body of music written by cloistered nuns of 17th century Italy who, in the language of the time, were said to be “in clausura:” covered, hidden away, segregated from public life. These gifted and musically educated individuals—such as Raffaella Aleotti, Chiara Cozzolani, Bianca Maria Meda, Caterina Assandra and Sulpitia Cesis—became our first historical community of recognized women composers. Cappella Clausura has performed and recorded their music with dedication, and will continue to do so. And we have kept the name “Clausura” as a metaphor for the cultural obstacles faced by women composers throughout history.
Over the last ten years, Cappella Clausura has performed an ever-widening repertoire for enthusiastic audiences in concert halls, churches and academic settings. This repertoire includes music by medieval composers Hildegard von Bingen, Kassia, and the anonymous Trobairitz/Trouvères (troubadours); Renaissance composers Vittoria Aleotti and Sulpitia Cesis; Baroque composers named above as well as Isabella Leonarda, Barbara Strozzi and Elizaberth Jacquet de la Guerre; Classical composers Marianna von Martines (whom LeClair has dubbed “the female Mozart”); Romantic composer-performers Clara Wieck Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel; and the 20th-21st century’s Rebecca Clarke, Erna Woll, Patricia Van Ness, Abbie Betinis, Sinta Wuller, and Emma Lou Diemer, and Hilary Tann. We have been privileged to have compositions written especially for us by a growing number of living women composers.
Program highlights through the years have included our acclaimed production of Hildegard von Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum, which we consider the first opera by a woman composer; Passionately UnConventional: works by women of the Italian Baroque; the complete Vespers of Chiara Cozzolani, Italian style; and Illuminations, a performance-installation piece featuring a day in the life of a 16th century Belgian convent, its music, food, costumes, scribes, and its recently discovered illuminated antiphonal. In March of 2014 we released our premier studio recording of the complete Ghirlanda di Madrigali, eighteen madrigals by the Renaissance teenaged prodigy Vittoria Aleotti. The 2014-15 season spotlighted a pairing of the Cozzolani Vespers and Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri, and the New England premiere of Exultet Terra by Hilary Tann.
The 2015-16 season included two major works by contemporary women composers, both of whom were present at the performances: Cassandra in the Temples, a staged a cappella opera by MIT's acclaimed Elena Ruehr, libretto by Gretchen Henderson; and Birds of the Psalms, written especially for Cappella Clausura by the transcendent Patricia Van Ness.
Our recording of Tann's brilliant choral music, Exultet Terra, was released to rave reviews on Navona/Naxos in 2016, and continues to be one of the most downloaded/streamed albums of each month since its release.
Our live concert recording of Birds of the Psalms will be released at the November concerts of the 2017-18 season which will feature another performance of these haunting pieces.
Notes on Aleotti:
Vittoria Aleotti (c.1575 – after 1620) Vittoria Aleotti was born in Ferrara, the second daughter of Giovanni Battista Aleotti, a prominent architect at the Court of Duke Alfonso d’Este II. In his letter of dedication to Vittoria’s book of madrigals, Giovanni states that while the eldest of his five daughters was studying music with Alessandro Milleville, his second daughter, Vittoria, then a girl of four, was always present and observing, and, after a year, nature had “so loosened her hands that she began to play the harpsichord to the astonishment of her parents, and also that of the teacher himself.” Milleville began to teach this gifted child and commended her to further study with his own teacher, Ercole Pasquini, a leading Italian composer and organist. After two years, it was suggested to send Vittoria to live and study at the Convent of San Vito in Ferrara, famous for its musical training and performance. After several years there, at the age of fourteen, Vittoria decided to take vows as a nun at San Vito and to devote herself to religious life. Meanwhile, on seeing the progress she was making in music theory, her father obtained some madrigal texts of the court poet Giovanni Battista Guarini for Vittoria to set to music. When Count del Zaffo of Venice visited during Holy week of 1593, he was shown some of the madrigals, and was so impressed that he decided to have them published. When Vittoria was approached about publication, she said she no longer cared about worldly things and left it her father to follow through as he saw fit.
Ghirlanda de madrigali a quattro voci, di Vittoria Aleotti, was published in Venice by Giacomo Vincenti, MDXCIII. After the publication of her madrigals, Vittoria Aleotti was never heard from again.
Vittoria and Raffaella In the same year that the Ghirlanda de madrigali were brought out, Amadino published the first sacred book of music by a woman composer to appear in print, Sacrae cantiones quinque, septem, octo, & decem vocibus decantande, by a nun named Raffaella Aleotti, of the San Vito convent. This Raffaella went on to become a renowned musician, for her skill in playing the organ, harpsichord, trombone and other wind instruments, and for leading an ensemble of twenty-three nuns. She was also the Maestra at the convent until her death.
In his treatise L’Artusi overo delle imperfettioni della modena musica, Italian theorist and composer Giovanni Maria Artusi, describes a performance of a concerto at San Vito given in November 1598 before Margaret of Austria, who was accompanied by her cousin Archduke Albert on the way to her marriage with King Philip III of Spain. On that occasion, they heard a concerto of instruments consisting of cornetts, trombones, violins, viola bastarda, double harps, lutes, cornamuses, flutes, and harpsichords performed with “such smoothness and sweetness of harmony that it really was as though it were Mount Parnassus, and Paradise itself had opened, and not something human.” A later account of this same performance, published in 1621 and written by Marc’Antonio Guarini, nephew of the poet Giovanni Battista Guarini, identifies several members of the concerto:
Among the said nuns were excellent composers, the smoothest voices, and instrumentalists of rare quality, such as Catabene de’ Catabeni and Cassandra Pigna, good tenors; Alfonsa Trotti with a singular bass voice; and the astonishing Claudia Manfredi and Bartolomea Sorianti, very delicate sopranos; Raffaella de’Magnifici and another Catabene, excellent players of the Cornetto, also playing every other sort of instrument. Olimpia Leoni, at present still living, plays with great agility a tenor viola, and sings contralto with great aptitude and excellent voice. And the most outstanding of all, and without equal in playing the organ, is Raffaella Aleotti, called l’Argenta, who is also expert in music theory; she has published various highly regarded motets and madrigals. [emphasis added]
Given the circumstantial evidence, we may assume that Vittoria Aleotti, the second daughter of Giovanni, took vows as a nun in 1589 at the age of fourteen, and at that time adopted the name Raffaella.
The Ghirlanda de Madrigali In the letter of dedication to Ghirlanda de Madrigali of Vittoria Aleotti (to use her secular name), her father stated that he had asked the poet Giovanni Battista Guarini to provide some of the texts. Guarini was noted for his pastoral drama Il pastor fido (pub. 1590), an important source of madrigal texts set by many noted madrigalists including Luca Marenzio and Claudio Monteverdi. A number of Guarini’s poems had been in circulation, but it was not until 1598 that an attempt was made to collect and publish them. Only four of the poems in this collection were set by Vittoria: “T’amo mia vita”, “Ch’io non t’ami cor mio”, “O dolc’anima mia”, and “Baciai per aver vita”. In addition, some of the anonymous texts appearing for the first time in Ghirlanda may also have been written by Guarini. Only one other poet has been identified, Annibale Pocaterra, a minor Ferrarese poet whose poems were published in 1611 including ”Io v’amo vita mia”. The concluding work is a madrigale spirituale, a setting of the sonnet “Se del tuo corpo hoggi le stampa horrenda”. As is customary in setting a sonnet, it is divided into two parts, the first part a setting of the ottava (rhyme scheme abba, abba), and the second of the sestina (cde, cde).
At age fourteen, Vittoria/Raffaella was already a skilled and expressive composer. She takes full advantage of the textural possibilities within the limitations of four voices portraying, in particular, the contrasting affections in the longer lines. Each line of text, or half line, is given its own musical characterization relating to the various affections of the text. Her treatment of melody and dissonance, with few exceptions, is reflective of the older ideals of sixteenth-century counterpoint. One of these exceptions is encountered in the madrigal “Io v’amo vita mia” on the words “ch’i miei martire” (but of my sufferings). Reduced to a three voice texture, the top voice moves continually upward stepwise on the weak beat to form a suspension to the two lower voices moving upward in thirds on the strong beat, creating the highest tension on the word “martire” (suffering). This expressive technique is fully exploited on one of Ercole Pasquini’s composition for organ, a Durezze e ligature. This style of composition, emphasizing the use of dissonance and suspensions for organ was described by Girolamo Diruta in his Il Transilvano (1593) as being appropriate for playing during the elevation of the mass. It was often associated with the disposition from the cross. It was a style that was fully exploited in the seventeenth century, and the earliest examples known are those by Pasquini. Vittoria obviously picked up on this technique from her teacher. Vittoria’s approach toward rhythm and harmony, like Pasquini’s, anticipates much that will become standard practice in the next century.
- Adapted, with gracious permission, from the writings of W. Richard Shindle, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Kent State University