Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Motets
The small-scale motets on this recording, for various combinations of voices with basso continuo, are taken from two Venetian editions of 1642 (Concerti sacri) and 1650 (Salmi a otto concertati), both volumes from the pen of the Milanese nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. She was born into an 'upper-middle-class' family in Milan on 27 November 1602, and (as had her older sister) took her vows at the Benedictine convent most famous for music in the city, Santa Radegonda, in 1620. Despite the nominal enclosure from the outside world of Cozzolani's religious house, her compositions recorded here were very much open to their musical environment; they share many features of north Italian motets of their decade. They also show the changes in devotional life at the time, and in a few cases point to the traditions of Cozzolani's convent and order as a whole.
Cozzolani had waited some time before publishing her first book of motets, the now-lost Primavera de' fiori musicali, in 1640. Thus her surviving works reflect her composition after 1635, a time when several new features became audible in the genre. These included an increase in small-scale repetition and sequence (the technical term in contemporary rhetorical theory is anaphora, and examples in Cozzolani's music include the opening of the Marian antiphon Salve, o regina); the use of refrains as structural pillars around which contrasting sections are built (the opening section of Psallite, superi and of Regna terrae); and the employment of driving, repetitive basso continuo lines (Venimus in altitudinem maris) or affective vocal passaggi (the soprano solos, representing the character of the Virgin Mary, in the Marian dialogue Quid, miseri, quid faciamus?).
These musical traits, some of which seem first to have appeared in the works of Cozzolani's north Italian contemporaries Gasparo Casati and Giovanni Rovetta, parallel and give musical expression to a shift in the literary language of the genre, a turn towards the personalized address of Christ (and an increased stress on the corporeal features of both Jesus and Mary as intercessors for the faithful). The devotional topic of this Double Intercession is evident in the quartet Tu dulcis, o bone Jesu, and the Easter dialogue Ave mater dilectissima also represents Paschal joy, as the Madonna here stands for all believers (this latter piece also looks back to a long tradition of such dialogues in Milan, dating from 1608).
One of the most immediately attractive Eucharistic duets is Colligite, pueri, flores, whose floral allusions evoke both the contemporary symbolism of the sacrament and make more specific reference to the feast of Corpus Christi, which occurs around the time of the first blooming of flowers. Devotion to the Body of Christ was one of the central features of nuns' spiritual life, and the opening of this text, with its call to virgins to strike the cymbals (or harpsichords) in praise of the Host, seems to be a direct reference to some of the most typical activities of cloistered sisters (who were also renowned for their floral arrangements). Like several other motets in Cozzolani's books, this piece culminates in a hymn-like section ('Salve, panis angelorum') which recalls the opening of the motet, resolves the sudden contrasts of earlier sections, and brings tonal stability to the setting as a whole.
Some of the motets take their topics from contemporary events: the soprano duet Venimus in altitudinem maris, for instance, is likely to have been a prayer for the successful journey of the Habsburg princess Maria Anna of Austria, who visited Cozzolani's convent on 25 June 1649 en route to her marriage with King Philip IV of Spain. Similarly, the low-voice trio Venite, sodales, with its citations of liturgical texts from the Common of a Confessor, seems to relate to the feast of the Benedictine abbot St William of Vercelli, celebrated on that day.
More connected to general topics of devotion, however, are the motets set out in the favourite form of the dialogue. One striking colloquy is the motet setting a conversation between a sinning soul (Anima) and its Guardian Angel, O mi domine, laced with quotations from the Book of Job and the Song of Songs, and featuring shifts of hexachordal system in order to denote regions of sin and of grace. The five-voice dialogue for St Catherine of Alexandria, O caeli cives (1650), may have originated as a motet for the titular saint of Cozzolani's convent, St Radegunde (whose name scans in Latin like Catherine's). As in a few other pieces, the 'singing angels' (here, three high voices), to whom musical nuns were often compared, form one side of this dialogue, while two low voices represent the faithful on earth. An Easter piece, the quartet Dialogo fra la Maddalena e gli Angeli ('Maria Magdalene stabat ad monumentum'), is cast largely in the voice of a favourite model saint for nuns and laity alike, St Mary Magdalene. Here, the Magdalene laments the absence of Christ with language again taken from the Song of Songs, referring both to His death on the Cross as well as to the seventeenth-century believer's quotidian search for the often absent Jesus. Cozzolani set the Magdalene's lament with some of the strongest dissonances and sudden turns towards flat regions of the tonal spectrum to be found in her output. But the piece ends with a long tutti section on a repetitive bass pattern, depicting the universal joy at the news of the Resurrection.
Some of the motets from the 1642 book show Cozzolani's learning from the musical styles current in her youth. The quartet featuring the conversation between Mary and the faithful, Quid, miseri, quid faciamus? takes its text from a motet published by Alessandro Grandi in 1619 and, like the Magdalene dialogue, features an expressive solo line for the Madonna, answered in block harmonies by her people. Psallite, superi, is a text for the Assumption (August 15); its refrain frames a series of questions whose answers are taken from a standard Song of Songs verse used on the liturgy of that day in Cozzolani's Benedictine breviary. The form of this dialogue also derives from the cantilena motets pioneered in Grandi's book of 1619. The scoring (two sopranos, two altos) points directly to the all-women choir of S. Radegonda's nuns, the ensemble which presumably premiered most of Cozzolani's music. On the other hand, the pieces from the 1650 edition are generally longer, with greater use of anaphora, and more sectionalized structure. The use of an internal, varied refrain in Venimus in altitudinem maris ('Curre, Maria/Sucurre, o pia') is representative of these procedures.
After this book, Cozzolani published no more music until her death, which seems to have taken place at S. Radegonda around 1677 (thus contemporary with that of her famous contemporary Barbara Strozzi). But her motets in particular are some of the most striking works to come out of north Italy in the 1640s. They give precious testimony to the musical world of some of Italy's most famous performers in the decade, to the ways in which music served as a two-way conduit over the walls of such institutions as S. Radegonda, and to one religious woman's own musical inspiration. Robert L. Kendrick