New Classics

Musica Secreta were formed nearly twenty years ago to explore the music sung by courtly women and courtesans of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Over time, they have expanded this to include music that might have been performed by Renaissance nuns – and indeed in monasteries too – and are at the forefront of performance practice research in this repertoire. Sarah Dunant is the author of a recently published novel, Sacred Hearts, set entirely within a Benedictine convent in 16th Century Ferrara. She became enthralled by the music that would have been a crucial part of life in such a convent, eight services a day, seven days a week, praising God through chanting, psalms and song. The author saw Musica Secreta perform and it was decided to create a ‘soundtrack album’ for Sacred Hearts, with each track marking a particular moment in the unfolding of the drama of the novel. The repertoire of music by Palestrina and de Rore featured might wel have been performed by a convent choir in the 1570’s in the Ferrara area. Both composers were celebrated in their lifetimes in Italy and both were strongly connected to the d’Este family, rulers of Ferrara at that time. Musica Secreta are joined by Celestial Sirens, a select, non-professional female choir committed to the performance of choral works in the style of Renaissance and early modern convents. The CD comes with a booklet containing full tests, extensive notes and a foreword by Sarah Dunant. This is ethereally beautiful, haunting music, performed with grace and sincerity.

—John Pitt