Lucrezia Borgia's Daughter
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Suor Leonora d'Este (1515-1575), Lucrezia Borgia's daughter, was a princess, a nun, and a musician. She left little to illuminate her history, but an obscure book of motets may at least help us understand her musical life: the Musica quinque vocum motteta materna lingua vocata, published in Venice in 1543. The book is anonymous, but it contains clues to its origins that lead us to the door of Leonora d'Este's home, the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, perhaps even suggesting that she was its unidentified composer. The music here is the earliest published polyphony for nuns. This recording by Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens allows it to be heard for the first time through carefully researched performances.
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They are quite beautifully sung here by the clear, pure sopranos, mezzos and altos of the ensemble Musica Secreta, supplemented in places by the more numerous sopranos and altos of Celestial Sirens and with a simple instrumental accompaniment of organ and bass viol. The result is lovely, offering a distinctive change from the usual sounds and textures of renaissance polyphony, in music that is well off the beaten track. The most extended work here, 'Angelus Domini descendit' (track 11), is a very Gombert-like motet with perpetually evolving combinations of lines and motifs.
The singing is not only compelling in sound but deeply sincere and committed. Recorded chapel ambience is excellent, and booklet notes are extremely informative. This is a beautiful and unusual recording of renaissance music, which is also likely to appeal to a much wider audience of lovers of fine singing.
In my opinion, these glorious songs continue to bring joy, peace and a contemplative frame of mind, just as they were meant to in the 16th century.