At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Isabella Leonarda – composer

Devout nun wrote an abundance of Baroque music


Isabella Leonarda - a portrait from 
Isabella Leonarda, a nun who was one of the most productive women composers of her time, was born on this day in 1620 in Novara.

Leonarda’s published work spans a period of 60 years and she has been credited with more than 200 compositions.

She did not start composing regularly until she was in her fifties, but noted in the dedication to one of her works that she wrote music only during time allocated for rest, so as not to neglect her administrative duties within the convent.

Leonarda was the daughter of Count Gianantonio Leonardi and his wife Apollonia. The Leonardi were important people in Novara, many of them church and civic officials.

Leonarda entered the Collegio di Sant’Orsola, a convent in Novara, when she was 16 and rose to a high position within the convent.

Listen to an example of Leonarda's music:





Her published compositions began to appear in 1640 but it was the work she produced later in her life that she is remembered for today and she became one of the most prolific convent composers of the Baroque era.

The title page of a musical
score by Leonarda 
It is believed she taught the other nuns to perform music, which would have given her the opportunity to have her own compositions performed.

Leonarda wrote in nearly every genre of sacred music and is one of only two Italian women who wrote instrumental music at this time.

Her predominant genre was the solo motet, but her most notable achievements are considered to be her sonatas. Sonata 12 is her only solo sonata and is one of her best known compositions.

All her compositions carried a double dedication, one to the Virgin Mary and one to a highly-placed living person, perhaps in the hope they would give financial support to the convent. In one of her dedications she stated that she wrote music not to gain credit in the world, but so that all would know she was devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Leonarda died in Novara in 1704 at the age of 83.

The Piazza Gramsci in the heart of Novara
The Piazza Gramsci in the heart of Novara
Travel tip:

Novara, where Leonarda was born and died, is to the west of Milan in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is the second biggest city in the region after Turin. Founded by the Romans, it was later ruled by the Visconti and Sforza families. In the 18th century it was ruled by the House of Savoy. In the 1849 Battle of Novara, the Sardinian army was defeated by the Austrian army, who occupied the city. This led to the abdication of Charles Albert of Sardinia and is seen as the beginning of the Italian unification movement.

The cupola and the bell tower of the Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara
The cupola and the bell tower of the
Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara
Travel tip:

The most imposing building in Novara is the Basilica of San Gaudenzio, which has a 121-metre high cupola, but the centre of religious life in the city is the Duomo, which was built where the temple of Jupiter stood in Roman times. Facing the Duomo is the oldest remaining building in Novara, the Battistero. The pretty courtyard of the Broletto, is the historic meeting place of the city council and right at the centre of the city is the Piazza delle Erbe. Outside the city is the Novara Pyramid, which is also called the Ossuary of Bicocca. It was built to hold the ashes of fallen soldiers after the 19th century Battle of Novara.

More reading:

The Puccini contemporary who chose sacred music over opera

The music of Barbara Strozzi

The first Battle of Novara

Also on this day:

1610: The birth of Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena

1925: The birth of author Andrea Camilleri, creator of Inspector Montalbano


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