Program Notes for Leonarda Remix - November 19, 2022
12 Sonatas, Opus 16 (1683) Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), arr. Ashley Ertz
Sonata 1 — audience participation required!
Ashley Ertz, oboe
Mackenzie Braun, bassoon
Richard Brasseale, saxophone
Adam Shohet, trumpet
Colin Marusek, trombone
Diana Ortiz, violin
Scott Bakshis, bass
Matthew Lorenz, piano
Rebecca McDaniel, vibraphone
About the Composer
Italian born Isabella Leonarda came from a prominent family in the Italian province of Novara. She entered the Collegio di Sant'Orsola, a convent, at the age of 16. Though she would stay at the convent the rest of her life, she would compose a wide variety of music, while also ascending to the rank of mother superior at the age of 56. She lived to the age of 83 and, over the course of her lifetime, wrote over two hundred works including masses, vespers, motets, sacred concertos and chamber music. Though some of her compositions date back to her twenties, the bulk of her catalog was written later in life, marking her as one of the most prolific convent composers of the Baroque era. In addition to composing, it’s believed she taught the other nuns music, so as to have a captive musician base to perform her works.
Deeply devoted and organized, Leonarda worked only during her allocated rest time, so as to not let her convent administrative duties falter. Part of these administrative duties may have included fundraising, for which she cleverly would double-dedicate all of her works, one dedication to the Virgin Mary and another one to someone she hoped could financially support the convent.
Learn more at one of our favorite resources, A Modern Reveal:
Starting in the medieval times, convents were typically creative sanctuaries, where talented women could practice their craft freely.
While it wasn’t unheard of for women to compose at this time, they typically stuck to vocal works. Leonarda did compose many pieces for vocals but is most notable for being the first woman to compose instrumental sonatas in western music, which is being heard tonight.
Notes from Ashley
"When trying to find music from the Baroque Era (early 17th Century) for myself to play, I commonly ran into the hurdle of only finding vocal works. This is very common for the time since it was seen as more ‘proper’ for women to only write for the voice or piano. So the fact that Leonarda wrote instrumental sonatas is absolutely MONUMENTAL. Some of this stems from the fact that at the time, these women who composed were limited to composing for themselves to perform at small salon gatherings, either on piano and/or voice. It was frequently thought to be “improper” for them to learn other instruments besides piano or voice. So finding music by women from this era not for voice is tricky. While yes, we can play vocal music on oboe (or any instrument) it’s just not the same as playing music written for an instrument. When writing for voice, they use the extra affect of WORDS to help convey the piece. So when you take that away, the music can be less complying with just the instrument - not always but it's definitely not as satisfying for the instrumentalist. So once again MONUMENTAL to find these pieces by Isabella Leonarda and get to really experience the music of her time the way she intended it, but also interpret it in a way we hope she would enjoy.
I see her as a bit of a rebel, rebelling against this norm. So in the spirit of her, we rebelled HARD. I included some instruments that were definitely not even invented yet (Vibraphone and Saxophone) alongside some instruments whose ancestors could have played this music in her lifetime. While we are not playing these pieces in standard “performance practice” (playing it the exact way, and on the exact instruments they would have used”, we are having fun playing with different styles and interpretations. We all respect the music and the composer so much for what she achieved, and think she would approve of us continuing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. We are excited to be playing this music that is 339 years old, but in a way that is uniquely 2022. There are many ways we could bring this to life, and you will only hear this way once, TONIGHT." – Ashley Ertz, 5th Wave Collective Artistic Director and arranger of tonight's work
This concert is made possible in part by a grant from the Musicians Club of Women Chicago.
5th Wave Collective's season is generously supported by Forrests Music, and by fans like you. Thank you!
Support our work by making a donation at the door or at