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McKelvey School of Engineering

Brown School

Department of Music Lecture: Performing Music, Performing Art: Convent Pathways to Social (and Geographical) Mobility in Early Modern Italy

Friday, September 15, 2023 | 3:00 PM

Music Classroom Building, 102
Music Classrooms Bldg, Clayton, MO 63105, USA

Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni, whose portrait by Lavinia Fontana was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, achieved a certain renown as a musical donna di palazzo (to which the lute and music book in her portrait attest). The rediscovery of the chief events of her life suggests that she may have been too busy having babies to find much time for music-making. And her musical performances were likely more talked about than widely heard. Lucia’s surviving daughters illustrate another life reality: they all became nuns. Like her mother, Suor Giacinta Maria Garzoni also sang and played the lute; she represents the aristocratic gentlewomen for whom the convent offered some chance to realize performative aspirations, unencumbered by the rigors of childbirth, while also retaining her good name. Convent performance freed such women from the social taint associated with “public” music-making and musical professionalism. Such talents enabled poorer, less illustrious women to rise socially and to achieve privileged positions within often jealousy-guarded convent hierarchies.

Music also prompted girls to travel hundreds of miles to distant monastic institutions. Dozens from Rome and Bologna sought musical careers in such cities as Spoleto, Macerata, Assisi, Perugia, Faenza, Genoa, and Pesaro.

While (literally) hundreds of musicians followed this path, a few women visual artists have come to light, who also attained convent places, sometimes quite far from home, because of their artistic talents.

The discussion concludes by briefly considering one Bolognese singer who negotiated both the secular and monastic worlds, traveling from Bologna to Venice and onward to Dresden before returning to Bologna and to a convent, where she refashioned herself to become a leading force for more than four decades.

Craig A. Monson is Paul Tietjens Professor Emeritus of Music at Washington University, where he taught for thirty years. He has worked and published extensively on Elizabethan music, seventeenth-century Italian opera, and music and female monasticism. His more recent books include The Black Widows of the Eternal City: The True Story of Rome's Most Infamous Poisoners (2020), Habitual Offenders: A True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in 17th-century Italy (2016), and Divas in the Convent: Nuns, Music, and Defiance in 17th-century Italy (2012).


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Craig A. Monson, Paul Tietjens Professor Emeritus of Music, Washington University in St. Louis

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