By Guest Contributor: Dr. Meredith Bowen
Week 7: Friday, May 4, 2018
“Alma Redemptoris Mater” by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, ed. Meredith Y. Bowen
Text: Marian Antiphon
SA and continuo
17th-Century Italian convents were hotbeds of musical activity, housing internationally renowned composers, singers, and choruses. One of the thirteen known composers of early modern music, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – ca.1678), was a choir nun and composer who resided in the Convent of Santa Radegonda in Milan, Italy. Like many young women from wealthy families, she professed her vows at age 18 and lived her entire life behind the stone walls and iron grates of the convent. She composed and published four volumes of music between 1640 and 1650 of which two exist. The volumes that survive contain forty pieces including psalm settings, antiphons, motets, two Magnificats, a Mass, and eight dialogues with various voicings; twenty-five of which have voicings for tenors and/or basses.
“Alma Redemptoris Mater” is a Marian antiphon from Cozzolani’s 1642 volume of music. It was probably sung at the office of Compline, a service of prayers at the end of the day. The performance would have taken place in the chapel with the nuns singing and playing behind a wall or iron grate to obscure their faces from the public.
Marian antiphons are hymns focused on the Virgin Mary, used both in devotional and liturgical settings in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. The text and translation of “Alma Redemptoris Mater” is as follows:
Alma Redemptoris Mater,
quae pervia caeli Porta manes,
et stella maris, succurre cadenti,
Surgere qui curat, populo:
tu quae genuisti natura mirante,
tuum sanctum Genitorem
Virgo prius ac posterius,
Gabrielis ab ore sumens illud Ave,
Loving Mother of the Redeemer,
Who remains the accessible
Gateway of Heaven and star of the Sea,
Give aid to a falling people
That strives to rise;
O Thou who begot thy holy Creator,
While all Nature marveled,
Virgin before and after
Receiving that “Ave” from the mouth of Gabriel,
Have mercy on sinners.
The music is organized and highly influenced by the text. Each line of the text has a different musical character often delineated by meter or tempo. A hallmark of early modern music, the meters are contrasted between common time and triple time. Cozzolani develops each section with sequences and imitative duet textures. The harmonic language is simple until the final section, which becomes highly chromatic on the text “Have mercy on sinners.”
Originally scored for soprano, bass, and organ, this edition seeks to restore the music from the original published copy for an authentic performance. The edition retains the key and time signatures but transposes the bass up an octave, and in some cases, two octaves. The figured bass has been realized. For the most authentic sound, an organ or harpsichord should be used as well as a cello and/or double bass to complete the continuo consort. If you do not have an organ or harpsichord, a piano will do. The nuns used whatever instruments they had available to them.
This piece lends itself to groups of all ages and sizes. It’s been sung by children’s, high school treble, collegiate treble and mixed, and community treble-clef choruses and is on the program for the 2019 All-Eastern NAfME honor choir. The most challenging aspects of this piece are the tempo and meter changes. I’ve found success in having the singers step to the pulse while learning each section so that they internalize duple verses triple. The challenge lies in conducting the changes.
Cozzolani’s “Alma Redemptoris Mater” is just one of about 350 pieces written by nuns in the 17th-century. Their music was hidden away in libraries until the 1990s when musicologists began looking for historical women composers. Most of the pieces have been collated, modernized, and reside in volumes available in academic libraries across the world. Those editions are simply a transcription of the original printings. Candace Smith from Bologna, Italy, has created 48 restorations for her women’s ensemble, Artemisia. She and Bruce Dickey sell editions of the original printings and restorations. You can find them here. Additionally, Boosey & Hawkes and Hal Leonard have a number of other editions in Doreen Rao’s Choral Music Experience “In High Voice” series edited by Sandra Snow. Raffaella Aleotti’s “Miserere Mei Deus” and Cozzolani’s “Ave Regina Caelorum” edited by Kristina MacMullen are available. Sulpitia Cesis’s “Stabat Mater” will be available this summer.
|Alma Redemptoris Mater
|Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, ed. Meredith Y. Bowen
|Date of Composition:
|1642, ed. 2015
|Date of Text:
|Hymn to Mary
|SA and continuo
|SA in counterpoint and parallel motion
|S: D4 – F5
A: G3 – Eb5 (opt. F3 and G5) the bass line doubles the Altos at the octave for extra support on the low notes
|Keyboard instrument and bass clef instrument – preferably organ and cello
|Vacillates between 76 and 160
|Doreen Rao’s Choral Music Experience, In High Voice series
|Further descriptions and details, including composer’s notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: Recordings are available here and here. For more information about the background or process of restoration, check out the February 2018 (Volume 58, number 7) Choral Journal article.
Dr. Meredith Y. Bowen is the Director of Choral Activities and assistant professor of Music Education at Radford University in Radford Virginia.
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