ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6, no. 2:

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Motets. Edited by Robert L. Kendrick. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 87. Madison: A-R Editions, 1998. [xxxii, 276 pp. ISBN 0-89579-402-0. $99.95.]

Reviewed by Jeffrey Kurtzman*

1. The Monasteries and Their Music

2. The Edition

3. The Music

4. Editorial Issues

5. Editorial Policies


1. The Monasteries and Their Music

1.1 For the past several years Robert Kendrick, through numerous publications, has been gradually lifting the veil heretofore obscuring the significant and fascinating role of women musicians in the female monasteries of Milan from the late sixteenth century into the early Ottocento. These institutions at their peak sheltered as many as 75% of all Milanese patrician women, and Kendrick’s research has revealed that some of these houses were the locus of active, highly publicized and well attended musical services involving performances by the nuns themselves of music sometimes composed by their own members. This is a repertoire and musical environment into which we’ve had only the faintest glimpses prior to Kendrick’s path-breaking and eye-opening studies.

1.2 Most celebrated for music among these monasteries was St. Radegunda, directly across the street from the transept of the Duomo. Performances there not only drew crowds from the Milanese citizenry, but also attracted visiting dignitaries, some of whom recorded their impressions of what they had heard. The two choirs of the monastery, often in bitter rivalry with one another, were the best in Milan, and the most prominent composer of St. Radegunda, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (who also served at times as prioress and abbess), published four major opera in the period 1640–1650. The present edition adds significantly to Kendrick’s broad-ranging studies of the background of this repertoire by making a sizable body of the music itself available for study and performance. The edition presents all twenty-eight of the motets that survive intact from Cozzolani’s publications, together with the vocal part of a single example from her Scherzi di sacra melodia a voce sola . . . opera terza of 1648, from which the basso continuo is missing. Twenty of the motets are from her Concerti sacri a una, due, tre, et quattro voci con una Messa à quattro . . . opera seconda of 1642; the remaining eight are found in her Salmi a otto voci concertati et due Magnificat a otto con un Laudate Pueri a 4. voci, & doi violini, & un Laudate Dominum omnes gentes a voce sola, & doi violini, motetti, et dialoghi a due, tre, quattro, e cinque voci . . . opera terza [sic] of 1650.

1.3 These motets range from solo settings to compositions for five voices and include a number of lengthy dialogues. Altogether, they give a good picture of the character of Milanese motets for few voices in the period shortly after the plague of 1630–1631 and the development of motet style in Milan through mid-century. Cozzolani was a very gifted and well trained composer whose work not only represents a major achievement in Milanese music of the seventeenth century but also reveals the most up-to-date approaches to style and compositional technique. This cloistered nun was anything but cloistered in her musicianship and knowledge of contemporary trends in sacred music. Her contribution to the repertoire, which reached the larger world of male monasteries and secular churches through her publications, was of considerable aesthetic as well as liturgical significance, and Robert Kendrick has done a great service in making these motets available in this fine edition.

2. The Edition

2.1 The introduction, which is a model for such prefaces, is based on Kendrick’s thoroughgoing archival and source studies surrounding the Milanese female monasteries, unfolded in his important first book, Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Milan.1 There we learn of the complex and sometimes turbulent relationship of the female monasteries to the spiritual and ecclesiastical life of Milan and the relationship of their musical activity to other Milanese sacred music and musical institutions of the time. The preface to the edition must of necessity limit itself to the most salient facts, and the introduction concisely presents the principal information regarding Cozzolani’s biography and publishing career, brief remarks about music at St. Radegunda in the seventeenth century, a very informative essay on changing Milanese spirituality and its realization in the rhetoric of Latin motet texts in this period, a survey of the most important stylistic features of Cozzolani’s motet writing and their relationship to Venetian and Milanese motets of the first half of the century, and a brief note on performance practice suggesting how to resolve the problem of singing works including tenors and basses by all-female choirs, as Cozzolani’s motets would originally have been performed at St. Radegunda before they entered the world at large. Also included are the complete Latin texts of all the motets with full English translations, and the edition concludes with a Critical Report where Kendrick discusses the relationship between Venetian printing houses and Milanese music and explicates his editorial method. The Critical Notes identify the precise location of each motet in its source, comment on aspects of the source wherever appropriate, and annotate all corrections made in the transcriptions.

2.2 This edition is so much an outgrowth of Kendrick’s broader study and that study contributes so much to a grasp of the music of the edition, that the two publications are most fruitfully used in conjunction with one another. Kendrick’s account of monastic life and Milanese ecclesiastical theology and politics provides a comprehensive understanding of the social and religious environment out of which this music arose. The reader is especially rewarded by a comparison of Kendrick’s sophisticated analyses of individual motets in the book with the music of the edition, thereby significantly deepening his or her understanding of these pieces from textual, rhetorical, theological and musical points of view. The combination of these analyses with the music itself offers as comprehensive a perspective on the motivations, origins and nature of seventeenth-century Italian sacred music as one will find anywhere.

3. The Music

3.1 The music Kendrick has laid before us was well worth his efforts. Cozzolani proves to be a fine composer with full command of contemporary techniques of rhetorical singing, of organizing harmonic basses to support the vocal parts in their rhetorical expression, of melodious duet writing in imitation and parallel thirds, of motivic variation and coherence, and of building larger structures through sequences, transpositions, repetitions, refrains and variations. A close analysis of this music illuminates just how controlled and sure her technique was and demonstrates her increased sophistication and mastery in the lengthy motets from her 1650 collection. Three of these latter pieces were recorded in 1997;2 there one can hear for oneself how lovely this music actually sounds in its original conception for all female voices.

4. Editorial Issues

4.1 Kendrick’s editing is very careful and faithful to the original print. I studied a number of these motets in considerable detail, and encountered only a couple of  errors.  Judging by the small number of corrections listed in the Critical Notes, Cozzolani’s publications must have been unusually carefully proofread and corrected by her prior to being issued. Except for the correction of original misprints and a few editorial accidentals, Kendrick’s score is virtually a diplomatic transcription of the original sources. This serves the scholar very well, but I do have qualms about this approach if the edition is to be addressed to a broader audience than those already experienced in seventeenth-century music.

4.2 The issue stems from the fact that basso continuo figuration in the seventeenth century (in Cozzolani’s prints as well as every other source I have seen) are sketchy and inconsistent. Accidentals required in the harmony are often not figured, and the figuration in the repetition of the same bass passage often differs. Moreover, first inversion triads, especially on E or B, are frequently not figured, and the upper part or parts may not clarify whether a root position or first inversion should be performed. Although E and B in the bass, except in the context of hexachords well over on the sharp side or as dominants, are generally intended to support first inversion triads, I have at times been surprised in making transcriptions of my own where I thought an unfigured E (less frequently a B) without a fifth or sixth above it would naturally be the bass of a first inversion triad, only to find the bass pattern repeated later in the piece where additional upper voices reveal that the composer had imagined a root position minor chord. The fact that the majority of such unfigured situations do indeed prove to require first inversions only underscores the essential ambiguity which even someone experienced in this repertoire cannot always resolve definitively. Kendrick’s remarks on editorial methods state that “Continuo figures . . . have been supplied editorially only where there is a possibility of confusion,” but such editorially supplied figures are very limited in number, and I think further possibilities for confusion could be addressed.

4.3 Another type of ambiguity arises in the equally frequent instances where an internal or passing cadence falls on D or A (less often E), and there is neither a third in the vocal or instrumental parts nor a key signature to indicate a major triad. At the end of a section or clearly demarcated period, such cadences mostly require a Picardy third, though even in such circumstances composers sometimes clearly intend the minor third, as indicated by the next phrase being immediately introduced by a minor third overlapping the sustained bass of the cadence. On the other hand, what is one to do with internal cadences? Sometimes the context makes the choice clear; sometimes the textual affect suggests a major or minor third; but there are many instances where once again even someone experienced in the repertoire cannot definitively declare for one or the other.

4.4 Kendrick addresses this issue in his report of editorial methods, where he gives the theoretically correct generalization, dating as far back as Zarlino, that “bass motion by a fifth down or fourth up normally implies a major chord to be played by the continuo for both simultaneities.” This rule is not limited to cadences but covers every such internal progression. However, the upper parts of many compositions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries demonstrate that it was not universally followed, and there are numerous instances in Cozzolani’s motets where one or both of the triads in a bass progression by a fourth or fifth is minor as revealed by an upper part. The “rule” is more like a default option. But with continuo figuration so sporadic, it is entirely possible that a composer intended a minor triad, perhaps even at a cadence, where there is no third in the upper parts and no figure to guide the continuo player. And once again, repetitions of a bass with varied upper parts sometimes reveal that the composer did indeed have a minor triad in mind. The problem is that “normally” actually involves frequent exceptions and it is the many ambiguous instances that will provide difficulty and require informed and experienced decision making. It is in these cases that I feel the reader or performer could use some additional guidance.

5. Editorial Policies

5.1 These comments raise a larger philosophical issue regarding the editing of seventeenth-century music. When the ambiguities I have cited are added to the inconsistency of figuration in the sources and the inconsistency with which accidentals are notated in the vocal and instrumental parts, I would argue that editorial intervention in basso continuo figuration, in non-notated accidentals in vocal and instrumental parts, and in musica ficta is called for if an edition is addressed to more than specialists. Non-specialists would be best served, I believe, if they have enough editorial assistance to be able to read a score quickly without having to puzzle repeatedly about the harmonies or whether an accidental is missing in a part. Musicians looking for new repertoire to perform usually read through scores rapidly, often without interruption, in order to obtain a quick, overall impression of a composition. It is to their advantage if the edition is easy to read without impediments and without a specialist’s knowledge. Although the performer will ultimately have to make the decision where a passage or harmony is ambiguously notated in the original source, the editor in those cases can present the performer with the appropriate options and the rationale behind each choice.

5.2 This issue of editorial intervention is one that exercised the editors of “Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era” a few years ago. It was only recently that the editors decided as a matter of policy to abandon the practice of providing continuo realizations for figured basses. Continuo realizations, of course, required that all those questions of harmony and accidentals be resolved in one way or another (although critical notes could still elucidate ambiguities), and such realizations are all too easily taken as definitive by the inexperienced performer. It should also not be overlooked that such realizations added considerable toil and time to the editing process itself. While these disadvantages are relieved by a largely diplomatic transcription of the basso continuo line and its figures, the opposite tack engenders, from my point of view, the new disadvantage of making the edition harder to use by non-specialist readers and performers. It is not clear to me whether A-R Editions has decided that their only real audience is music libraries and musicians experienced in baroque music. However, if one of the purposes of these editions is to introduce people to music they have never seen or heard before, a general policy could be developed that doesn’t necessarily go as far as supplying a full-scale basso continuo realization (though I have no objections to that), but does provide sufficient editorial intervention to clarify in the score itself the many inconsistencies and ambiguities in the figuration and accidentals of music of this period.

5.3 Perhaps I have belabored the point, but I do wish to raise it as a matter of editorial philosophy worth discussing among editors of seventeenth-century music and for consideration by the editorial staff at A-R Editions. My own preference is to make an edition as easily accessible to non-specialists as possible, but I do not wish my viewpoint to detract from the very valuable work Robert Kendrick has done in making the music of Cozzolani available to us in this excellent edition. In the introduction, Kendrick rightly justifies combining the motets of two different prints in a single edition since the mass from the 1642 print and the psalms from the 1650 collection “would require another edition unto themselves.” Given the aesthetically gratifying and historically fascinating music he has already unveiled in this volume and the examples of Cozzolani’s psalms presented on the CD mentioned above, I sincerely hope Kendrick will find the time to publish Cozzolani’s mass and psalms in that “edition unto themselves” as well.


*Jeffrey Kurtzman ( is Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis and editor of a recent critical/performing edition of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 (Oxford University Press) and the ten volume series Seventeenth-Century Italian Sacred Music: Vespers and Compline (Garland Publishing). His book, The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance, also published by Oxford University Press, appeared in 1999.
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1. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996 [cf. a review in JSCM 3 (1997) <>. Ed.]
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2. Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: I Vespri Natalizi (1650), Cappella Artemisia, directed by Candace Smith, program notes by Robert Kendrick (Tactus TC 600301), 1997.
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Linked Text

Errors noted:
1) The first note of the Canto 2 part in bar 137 on p. 37 should be a' rather than g';
2) the final Organo note on p. 98 should be D rather than F.
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