Sweet goodness, my beloved, pierce me with your arrows

Sweet goodness, my beloved, pierce me with your arrows

Songs of the Celestial Sirens, Toronto Consort, May 7, 2011

In the all-female cloisters of Northern Italian states in the 17th century, music was composed in-house, by the women for the women. The outside audience could only listen to the chants from the courtyard, on the other side of the monastery walls. Toronto Consort presented last night a selection of works by the nun-composers Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677), Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), Caterina Assandra (c.1592-1620) and one guy, Orazio Tarditi (1602-1677). The texts the women used are some of the most often heard Psalms like Dixit Dominus and Nisi Dominus as well as the Magnificat, but also some less frequently heard and very Marian Antiphons, Motets and Concertos. There were also lyrics of the more ecstatic, St-Teresa kind, like “O dulcis amor Jesu”:


Oh Jesus, sweet love
sweet goodness, my beloved,
pierce me with your arrows.
May I die for you.
Oh, my Jesus.
Pull me, I beg you, after you.
Place me amongst flowers.
You are the sun, you are the hope, you are life.
You are infinite goodness.

Italian Baroque always found ways to be naughty, whether you were enclosed in the Milanese Santa Radagonda, or hanging with Gli Ignoti inVenice. The music of these chants for eight female voices is so exquisite, it could easily pass for Monteverdi. But that would be to simplify: the all-women, estrogen-on-acid freedom and constraints of these works produce their own unique musical magic.

Last night was one veritable alto fest. Yes, there were four sopranos and four altos, but the altos had such prominent solos and each of the altos its own well-developed personality that they this time sopranos took the role of the supporting voices. I won’t say anything new when I iterate that Laura Pudwell’s alto is out of this world. The colour, the strength, the resonance, the style, the twinkle in the eye… Words run out. During one of her solos “Care plage” (“Dear wounds, dear flames, how pleasant you are to me…”) the audience at Trinity-St. Paul suspended breathing. Kate Helsen and Josée Lalonde also had their own distinct timbres and styles. And what to say about Vicki St Pierre? She was lovely in every way a singer can be. Her bio says she recently sung L’Incoronazione inVancouver: if we’re talking Nerone, the nation is eagerly awaiting the photos.

In truth, all voices had great opportunities to show off, through solos, solo phrases, pairings and trios. The sopranos did not disappoint either. TC regulars Katherine Hill and Michele DeBoer were joined by Meghan Roberts and Dawn Bailey, again all singers with distinct individualities. The conductor David Fallis continuously changed the positions of the singers and their pairings, which made the tapestry and the colours of singing so much richer.

The Continuo were: Lucas Harris (theorbo), Paul Jenkins (organ), Annalisa Pappano (bass gamba and lirone) and Julia Seager-Scott (baroque harp).


Here’s one take on Cozzolani’s “O dulcis amor Jesu”:


13 thoughts on “Sweet goodness, my beloved, pierce me with your arrows

  1. Yes! O my god I totally agree — maybe this is one of the reasons I love Baroque more than other eras. It has everything, from very graphic naughtiness to subtle sexiness that is never that subtle to be honest.
    Some dying arias more resemble a recount of a petit mort, in my perception.

  2. Oh, I got to make a compilation. From “wham, bam thank you ma’m”-Romantic arias with cadenza with obligatory high c, S-D- T…. cadenza, (“cadere” like in “falling into the matress or somewhere”) to nasty 5 min orgasm denial in Vivaldi arias and why I prefer the latter. 😀

  3. Well there was a lot more dying around going on on stage in Romantic times.
    And thank you for the suggestion, @zerbinetta.

    Well, “Romantic”… I prefer Baroque.

  4. I feel guilty responding to such an eloquent post monosyllabically, but: HOT. Did I ever tell you that I wrote a B.A. thesis on bridal mysticism in the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux and Mechthild von Magdeburg? Also, I think we may have read the same intriguing articles about architecture and music-making in Italian convents! The day in which I introduce my medieval history students to bridal mysticism, mystical death etc. is always one of my favorites. Possibly I have too much fun messing with their assumptions about gender, sex, and spirituality.

    The video is great. Listening to it, I relaxed into the ecstatic vocal lines, then started paying attention to the Latin again and had a moment of thinking “Wait. You’re talking about saints?” Ah, mysticism.

  5. Can we please please please read the abstract of the bridal mysticism B.A.? Just reading the words “Mechthild von Magdeburg” is like reading poetry.

    And now that I heard it again, Dulcis Jesu sounds so much like one of Monteverdi’s madrigals, O! come sei gentile, caro uccellino.

    1. The abstract will have to be unearthed (from somewhere…!) and polished, but sure! Expect pigeons. The Monteverdi is a delight… such delicate writing, such full-blooded sensuality. I scent a possible mutual-influence-of-secular-and-religious-music debate! Also adore Mechthild von Magdeburg. My copy of Flowing Light is actually dog-eared. Have moved over into a strange amalgam of institutional/legal/social/and of course gender history for M.A. and Ph.D. but have special place in my heart for the mystics, esp. Mechthild.

      1. Hrmm… would be skeptical of such a thing, with all due respect to Critchley. Cohn is influential–a lot of millennial studies react to him–but his methodology can be called into question and he squishes a lot of separate movements rather hard to fit under his theoretical umbrella… in my opinion anyway. Super-interesting topic. Will see if I have a list of titles in relevant historiography somewhere; I think I should.

      2. Oh you know how philosophers operate. Take what you need from historians, then proceed as you wish.

        Would love to hear more about the critiques of Cohn, though maybe I should first read him. Apparently, no other book on millenarian movements has such a wide encyclopedic sweep, I’m told.

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