Written by: Trevor Nelson
Isabella Leonarda came from a well-known family in Northwest Italy. At the age of 16, she entered a convent, where she remained for the rest of her life. Church documents identify Leonarda as the music instructor at the convent during the late 1650s, though she eventually rose to the rank of mother superior in 1676. It is believed that she studied composition with Gasparo Casati; he compared her musical talent to the military might of Emperor Leopold I. Most of her works are sacred in nature. She penned a number of psalm settings and concerted masses, as well as some solo motets, which are remembered for their sensuous lyricism. She also wrote instrumental works; her Opus 16 (published in 1693) contains the earliest published sonatas by a woman.
- Jane Bowers. “The Emergence of Women Composers in Italy, 1566-1700,” in Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950, edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick, 116-61. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.
- Stewart Carter. “The Music of Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704).” Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1982.
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