“Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter,” a new release from the Obsidian label, features motets that would have been composed and performed at the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara during the sixteenth century. The album contains the earliest polyphonic music for nuns ever published.
The album Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter is so named because Suor Leonora d’Este (1515-75), daughter of Lucrezia Borgia and Duke Alfonso I d’Este, was a member of the convent of Corpus Domini. In the liner notes to the album, musicologist Laurie Stras suggests that there is strong evidence Suor Leonora herself may have composed the music in this collection. Suor Leonora was highly educated and came from a musical family: two of her cousins (Guglielmo Gonzaga and San Francisco de Borja) were composers, and her father and aunt were also skilled musicians. She also owned at least three keyboard instruments and was the keeper of the convent’s organ.
The musicians who recorded “Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter” spent nearly a decade studying the music in preparation for this performance. All tracks include the ensemble Musica Secreta, and they are joined for a few pieces by the non-professional vocal ensemble Celestial Sirens. The vocal ensembles on the album include women singers ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, in order to replicate what a convent choir during the sixteenth century would have sounded like.
In this video, Stras discusses some of the research that went into the creation of “Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter.”