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Volume 6, no. 1:

Robert Kendrick*

Response to Kimberlyn Montford

ABSTRACT

Emphasizes importance of special occasions, such as feast days of titular or founding saints and Holy Year activities when exceptional public celebrations led to musical performances and practices well beyond the quotidian. Performing forces were apparently focused mostly on voices and organ. The musical adornments of a saint's feast day are analogous to the iconographic themes stipulated by nuns in the artistic decorations of their convent churches. It appears that in some houses official prohibitions against female monastic polyphony may not have had as inhibiting an effect on their traditions of training nuns in polyphony as previously thought.


1 Kimberlyn Montford's paper touches on a number of important points. First is the occasion: in institutional music history we often try to concentrate on continuity, on the quotidian as opposed to the special. In my own study of Lombard nuns, which focused on the ongoing traditions of certain houses, I did not make a specific effort to understand those moments at which the normally non-public houses featured polyphony.1 Clearly the ludic and extraordinary nature of the Holy Year, with its sacralization or at least approval of otherwise "irregular" behavior, not only allowed Roman sisters many opportunities to hear and perform music publicly, but also to contribute in diverse ways to the urban festal year, and Montford's paper rightly directs our attention to some of the ways in which this was expressed.

2 The important documentation evident in Ruggiero Caetano's account of Holy Year activities might also be placed in the context of Roman nuns' other activity. The art historian Marilyn Dunn, for instance, has detailed the ways in which convents commissioned important painters to decorate their chiese esteriori and interiori.2 The contracts that Dunn reproduces also demonstrate that sisters stipulated certain iconographic themes in the decoration, and although we cannot achieve that level of detail for the musical celebrations of the titular or sanctoral feasts cited in Montford's paper, it is still noteworthy that nuns were musically exceptionally active during the Anno santo.

3 The framework of the Holy Year clearly allowed some of the houses where music was less of a tradition to hire outside musicians, perhaps contracting with the maestro for vocal and instrumental forces. In almost all the cases of both internal and external musicians, the festivities happened on either the feast day of the house's titular saint, or on that of the order's founder. The order's days are 21 March (Saint Benedict) for the Benedictines of Santa Maria in Campo Marzo; August 28 for Saint Augustine (Spirito Santo and Santa Marta), and Oct. 4 (Saint Francis; for Santa Chiara and San Cosimato). The celebrations on May 5 at Santa Caterina di Siena took place on the Sunday within the Octave of the house's titular feast, suggesting that the sisters arranged the date of their music so as to attract the largest possible audience.3 The only exceptions are the two feast days of Saint John the Baptist at San Silvestro, because of the house's relics, as Montford explained.

4 The continuity between della Valle's account of musically active houses in 1640 and the houses with nun musicians in 1675 (Caetano's voci proprie) is suggestive. If these convents were able to maintain their traditions of training novices or educande in polyphony and were able to take advantage of such special times as the Holy Year to perform it publicly, then perhaps we have, as has so often occurred in the historiography of Seicento sacred music, drastically overestimated the effect, and perhaps even the intent, of Alexander VII's edict against female monastic polyphony. We might need to re-examine the conventional wisdom of a hardening Roman climate against such "irregular" behavior, becoming evident in the second half of the century and working hand in hand with the crackdown against Quietism and Jansenism. Such Roman evidence as Pompeo Natale's instructions for transposition of pieces for female monastic ensembles, dating from the later 1650s, suggests a continuous tradition. It is noteworthy, however, that instruments are not mentioned in Caetano's entries for these four houses, and it does seem that Roman houses largely used simply voices and organ.

5 Montford's paper opens up some interesting ideas on several fronts, not only that of nuns' polyphony, but also in our understanding of the ephemeral and special in Seicento sacred music. It is to be hoped that more such interesting details emerge as we delve into the vast terra incognita that is sacred music in later seventeenth-century Rome.


References

*Robert Kendrick <rkendric@midway.uchicago.edu> is Associate Professor of Music at the Univesity of Chicago. His recent publications include Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Milan (Oxford" Clarendon Press, 1996) and Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Motets, vol. 87 of Recent Researches in Music of the Baroque Era (Madison: A-R Editions, 1998).
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1. R. L. Kendrick, Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Milan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
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2. Marilyn R. Dunn, "Nuns as patrons: the decoration of S. Marta at the Collegio Romano," Art Bulletin 70/3 (Sept. 1988): 451-77.
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3. For Santa Caterina in Siena there seems to be some evidence of musical traditions throughout the century, since the copy of the 1615 edition of Frescobaldi's Toccate e partite d'intavolatura, book I in the Biblioteca Casanatense is marked Al'vso di sor Maria Gratia in S.ta Cat.na di Siena.  See Frederick Hammond, Girolamo Frescobaldi (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 276.
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