Women in Music | Medieval Convents | Medieval Era | Classical
In the medieval period the convent was one of the few places where women could gain a musical education and find a valued forum for their music-making. Liturgical music, organized by the cantrix of the convent, was performed several times a day and formed a central element of the nuns’ spiritual and artistic lives.
Herrad of Landsberg (fl. 1167–95), abbess of Hohenbourg near Strasbourg, was responsible for compiling a religious encyclopedia which included several of her own lyrics set to music. Several other manuscripts created for use in various European convents have survived, providing a clear indication of the music that nuns performed. Where the music is anonymous and not found in other named sources, it is reasonable to conclude that it was written by the nuns themselves. Manuscripts include the Kloster Wienhausen Hymnbook from a German convent and a fifteenth-century hymnbook from Barking Abbey in England.
Until recently, scholars assumed that women did not perform works with more than a single line of music, but polyphonic manuscripts show otherwise. The best known of these is the Las Huelgas Codex, compiled by Abbess Maria Gonzalez de Aguero for the Cistercian Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas in Spain. This large collection includes a vocal exercise used in teaching the nuns to sing polyphony.
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