Full well she sang
Women's music from the Middle Ages & Renaissance
The Toronto Consort

1993   |   S.R.I. Classics 005
2013   |   Marquis Classics MAR 445








Hu 134       1 - Casta catholica
Las Huelgas Codex, early 14th century
2 - HILDEGARD von BINGEN (c. 1170). Ave generosa
3 - Puer nobis nascitur
Wienhäuser Liederbuch, 14th century


4 - Je vous pri
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. Ms 1490, late 13th century
5 - La Quarte Estampie Royal
BnF Ms fr. 844, 13th century
6 - COMTESSA de DIA (fl. late 12th century). A chantar



7 - And I were a maiden
Henry VIII's Manuscript, c. 1515
8 - Robert JOHNSON (c. 1560). Defiled is my name
9 - John, com Kisse me Now
John Sturt MS, early 17th century
10 - The Queine of Ingland's Paven
Thomas Wode's Partbooks, 1562-90
The Lumley Books, late 16th century
11 - Claudin de SERMISY (1536). Jouissance vous donneray
12 - St. Thomas Wake
16th century
13 - A North Country Lass
17th century
14 - Jacob van EYCK (1648). Doen Daphne d'over schoone maeght


15 - Maddalena CASULANA (1570). Ridon or per le piagge ~ Amor per qual cagion ~ Io d'odorate fronde
16 - Luca MARENZIO (1582). Mentre l'aura spirò
17 - Barbara STROZZI (1651). L'eraclito Amoroso
18 - Francesca CACCINI (1625). Excerpts from La liberazione di Ruggiero
Coro delle Piante incantate ~ Aria per pastore ~ Madrigale per fine di tutta la festa

September 8-10, 1991
Humbercrest United Church, Toronto

The Toronto Consort
David Fallis

David Fallis · ténor, recorder, dumbec
Meredith Hall · soprano
Paul Jenkins · tenor
David Klausner · bass, recorder, renaissance flute
Alison Mackay · mezzo-soprano, vielle, viola da gamba, recorder
Terry McKenna · lutes
Alison Melville · recorder
John Pepper · bass
Laura Pudwell · mezzo-soprano

A Woman's Life
Program Notes
May 24, 25 & 26, 2013

Surpassing all stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind belonged to the person who dreamed of finding the means to communicate one's deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty barriers of place and time - of talking with those in India, or of speaking to those who are not yet born and will not be born for a thousand or ten thousand years? And with what facility? by the different arrangements of twenty characters upon a page!

Along with Galileo Galilei, who expressed this wonderful tribute to the written word in his Dialogue on the Two World Systems, we can rejoice that paper and ink have allowed us to hear the voices of writers and composers from the remote past. But we must feel a special gratitude for the rare words and music of medieval and renaissance women whose desire to leave a lasting record of their thoughts and creations overcame more barriers than just those of time and place. The poetic "memorandum" found in the early seventeenth-century commonplace book of Martha Moulsworth expresses one of these:

My father was a man of spotless fame,
Of gentle birth, and Dorsett was his name...
By him I was brought up in godly piety
In modest cheerfulness and sad sobriety
Not only so - beyond my sex and kind
He did with learning deck my mind.
And why not so? The muses females are
And therefore of us females take some care.
Two universities we have of men -
O that we had but one of women then!

Two hundred years earlier, the brilliant writer Christine de Pizan (1364 - c. 1430) explained that she had been educated by her learned father over the objections of her mother, who agreed with the prevailing wisdom that literacy might be permissible for reading scripture, but would otherwise be unsuitable for a girl, leading as it might to the reading and writing of love letters! Estate inventories of women of Christine's class sometimes listed devotional books; Christine's own collection of books was scholarly and eclectic and her favoured status at the court of the French king Charles VI assured free access to the royal library and archive of manuscripts. Libraries of Europe were enriched by her own 41 works - poems, books of history and literary discourses on society and ethics. Many of her manuscripts were beautifully illustrated by brilliant artists, including a Parisian woman illuminator named Anastasia about whom Christine says, "She is so skilled in painting manuscript borders and miniatures that one cannot find an artisan in all of Paris, where the best in the world are found, who can surpass her, nor whose works are more highly esteemed."

Christine's unique voice, full of wisdom and humour, rings out to us across the centuries and we have used excerpts and illustrations from her Livre de la cite des dames as a framework for the words, images and music which introduce us to the lives and artistic creations of medieval and renaissance women.

No less compelling than Christine's writing is the work of the 12th-century poet, composer and philosopher Hildegard of Bingen, founder of a Benedictine nunnery in Rubertsberg on the Rhine. The tenth child of wealthy parents, she was "given to God as a tithe" when she was a young girl, and was taught to read and write by an older nun. One of the few women of her time to have been given permission from the pope to write books on theology, she is the only playwright and the most prolific composer of the 12th century whose name we know. As she approached old age she made a collection of her sacred songs, in which the colourful imagery of the poetry is intimately bound together with soaring melodies unlike any other sacred music of its time. Hildegard also created an encyclopedic collection of writings about animals, gems, trees, nutrition and medicine.

Music was at the heart of cloistered life, and several women's religious establishments left important books of nuns' music, sometimes in several voice parts. The Monasterio de Santa María la Real de las Huelgas near Burgos in Spain was founded by Castilian royalty at the end of the twelfth century and it quickly gained a reputation as a centre for music.

Over a century later, the Abbess Maria Gonzáles de Agüero commissioned the copying of a huge retrospective manuscript containing the repertoire sung by the sisters. Many of the pieces are examples of a non-liturgical metrical Latin song known as a conductus. Casta catholica is one of these and it is unusual for its use of a double text and of the technique known as "hocket" (from the old French word for "hiccup") in which voices engage in a quick voice exchange of alternating pitches.

The north German convent of Kloster Wienhausen still exists as a community of religious women who maintain and display the treasures created by the nuns in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. These include exquisite woolen and silk tapestries portraying legends of Tristan, and of St. Anne and St. Elizabeth, and a song book of Latin and German hymns known as the Wienhäuser Liederbuch.

In the wider world, the social position of secular women was highly restricted. The theological writings of the time often described them as temptresses, in striking contrast to the language of courtly love where unattainable women were portrayed as ideals of beauty and virtue. A different light is shone on the topic by the handful of surviving poems by female troubadours and trouvères which have been preserved. A chantar, by the twelfth-century poet-composer Beatriz de Dia, is the only song by a female troubadour (or trobaritz) which has come down to us with both words and music.

While aristocratic women like the Comtessa de Dia might exercise their musical creativity writing songs, a musical woman from the lower social classes was more likely to be employed by a noble family or as an itinerant "jongleresse". Municipal tax records and household account books from the thirteenth century, for instance, record the names of Alison the vielle player and Eudeline the psaltery player. La Quarte Estampie Real is from a collection of monophonic dances which would have been performed by this professional class of musicians. The development of complex writing for several voices or instruments in the later middle ages and renaissance presented a new barrier for women performers and composers since almost all instruction in music theory took place in connection with male-only church choirs.

By the early sixteenth century, however, well-to-do parents began to see music as a social grace for their daughters, and arranged for private instruction in singing, music theory, and playing the lute or harpsichord. Girls who would have been taught in this way may be seen in the paintings of the so-called "Master of the Female Half-Lengths", active around 1525 in Antwerp; he portrayed upper-class young ladies playing from music books open to the chanson Jouissance vous donneray by Claudin de Sermisy and we have chosen to perform the song as depicted in the painting, with a solo singer, flute and lute. This is followed by an instrumental version of the song which appears in Arbeau's retrospective compendium of dance tunes and choreographies Orchésographie (1589).

In 1566 the northern Italian singer and lutenist Madalena Casulana became the first woman in European history to have her own compositions published when four of her madrigals were included in a Venetian anthology entitled Il Desiderio. Two volumes exclusively devoted to her works appeared in 1568 and 1570 and one of these bore a dedication which included the words "I wish to show to the world (as much as I can in the profession of music) the vain error of men in thinking that they alone possess gifts of intellect and artistry, and that gifts such as these are never given to women."

In the century that followed, twenty-two women composers had their works published in Italy. Two of the most famous were professional singers and instrumentalists. Barbara Strozzi, who was at the centre of a lively circle of poets, artists and scholars in Venice, composed eight volumes of madrigals and cantatas, making her the most prolific Venetian composer of her time. The Florentine composer Francesca Caccini, who belonged to a famous family of performers and composers, wrote what is widely considered to be the first opera composed by a woman, La Liberazione de Ruggiero. A telling of the story of the sorceress Alcina (a subject which Handel would later treat in his opera Alcina), it was written in 1625 to celebrate the visit to Florence of the future king of Poland. Decades later when it was remounted in Warsaw in 1682, it became one of the first Italian operas to be performed outside of Italy.

Alison Mackay / David Fallis


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