Sicut Lilium Inter Spinas

Conductor Notes:

This stunning Renaissance motet was published 450 years ago in a 1543 collection that, unusually, credited no composer. Recent research by Deborah Roberts and Laurie Stras at Southhampton University in the UK points to Eleanora d’Este. The fascinating story of this research can be found here (https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2017/mar/10/radical-motets-from-16th-century-nunnery-musica-secreta-lucrezia-borgia) and here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1VpW284L08&t=153s). Leonora was triply disqualified from being named and associated with a commercial venture in those days: being a woman, a princess, and a nun.

D’Este was brought up in Ferrara and her mother, the famous Lucretia Borgia, died when she was four. As the only girl in the noble family, the most suitable upbringing for her was in Ferrera’s Corpus Domini Monastery, which she entered at age 8 as a nun. By nineteen, she was the convent’s abbess. Her love and mastery of music, together with funds provided by her father, brothers, and uncles to maintain the organ there, kept the convent alive with music.

The term “agency” is defined by Merriem-Webster as “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.” People who have agency over their own lives are in a position to make decisions that effect their life. Most of us are privileged to have considerable agency when it comes to where we live, what we devote our life’s energies to, who we spend time with and who we marry, our health and our bodies. The story for an Italian noblewoman in the Renaissance was completely different. As the linked article explains, Leonora may have chosen the life of a nun because it freed her to be a musician, to avoid the expectations and distractions of marriage and politics. Her resilient solution to lack of agency was both ingenious and socially acceptable. I would love to have met her!

Composer / Arranger Notes:

From the collection of motets entitled Musica quinque vocum motetta maternal lingua vocata

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Latin Text
Sicut lilium inter spinas sic amica mea inter filia

English Translation
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.