Leonarda, Isabella (1620–1704)

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Leonarda, Isabella (1620–1704)

Italian composer. Born into a noble family on September 6, 1620, in Novara, Italy; died in Novara in 1704; entered the Convent of Saint Ursula of Novara in 1636; studied with Gaspare Casati.

Composed two motets for two voices (1645); became Mother Superior of Saint Ursula Convent (1693); became Madre Vicaria of the convent (1693); published a book of motets (1700); over 200 of her works in 20 volumes survive.

Like many women composers of an earlier age, Isabella Leonarda was a nun, and most of her compositions were sacred vocal music. Born into nobility in 1620 in Italy, she was 16 when she began her religious vocation in the Ursuline convent in her native city of Novara. Her parents most likely chose the religious life for her. Leonarda's studies with Gaspare Casati had begun a year earlier and continued until 1641. Her first compositions, two motets for two voices, appeared in Casati's Third Book of Sacred Concerts. Though never known as a performer, Leonarda composed litanies, psalm settings, vespers, responses, and four masses. No doubt convent life stimulated her musical creativity, as from medieval times onwards convents were havens where talented women could express their talents freely. In the early 1690s, Leonarda composed a sonata for solo violin and organ continuo, which means she was among the first Italian women to compose in these new instrumental Baroque genres. A prolific composer, Leonarda created works that were known and admired throughout Europe.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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Leonarda, Isabella (1620–1704)

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