Isabella Leonarda at 400 (1620-1704)

Isabella Leonarda was baptized 400 years ago yesterday, on 6 September 1620.

The very thin documentary evidence tells us that the composer joined the order Collegio di Sant'Orsola in Novara at the age of 16 and lived there until her death. The young Ursuline sisters also received music instruction. Gasparo Casati, who was the Novara cathedral's music director from 1635 to 1641, was probably Isabella Leonarda's composition teacher.

Around 200 compositions, mainly sacred works such as solo motets and sonatas, are known by Isabella Leonarda

Her compositions appeared in print during her lifetime and achieved wide distribution. The motets "Ah domine Iesu" and "Sic ergo anima," which count among her first compositions, appear in the anthology Il terzo libro de sacri concenti a 2, 3 e 4 voci, which was published by Casati in 1640 in Venice (RISM ID no. 990009056).

Opus 16 is the only purely instrumental work by Isabella Leonarda. It consists of 12 church sonatas. The sonatas are probably among the earliest instrumental works composed by a woman (Bologna 1693, RISM ID no. 990032067). 

A manuscript copy of the motet "In caelis personent," preserved today in Prague, shows that Isabella Leonarda's music was still very much present in the 18th century. 

Image: Isabella Leonarda, "O anima mea arde ardentem" (S-Uu Vok. mus. i hs. 28:1, RISM ID no. 190024889)

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