The perfect nun/music storm
I had just written the following paragraph. (You are allowed to skim read – just look for the key words, nuns, secular, spiritual, boundaries. I suspect the reference to I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue will be cut at some stage in the editing process, more’s the pity).
Convents are only now being understood as crucial creative hubs for many musical women in the seventeenth century. It is not just a matter of numbers (in that more than half the women whose music was published before 1700 were nuns) but the nature of the music they were producing, which blurred the boundaries between the spiritual and secular, revealing the porous wall between convent and the outside world, and not just for a Medici princess. Scholar Laurie Stras, an expert in composer nuns, has found convent music to be ‘colourful, varied, witty, and sophisticated, continually resonating with practices and references from the secular culture the nuns had officially forsworn.‘ The witty interplay between the two worlds is visible in one of the favourite musical devices of the time. The instruction ‘cantasi come…’ told the nuns to sing (in the words of Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue) one song to the tune of another: sacred words would be sung to popular melodies. The permeability of the convent walls, most vividly demonstrated in the renowned, even notorious, concert series performed by some religious houses, was precisely the thing that led to severe condemnations from the church authorities.
And then I found this:
There is nothing new under the sun, as I believe someone once said.*