Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704)
Sonatas for 1, 2, 3 and 4 instruments - Opus XVI
Isabella Leonarda was one of a small number of women musicians of the seventeenth century, and the only one to have left us such a vast amount of music. Her life certainly differed from that of her more or less famous male “colleagues”, for she was a nun composer with a great sense of devotion to the Virgin Mary. Music was for Leonarda an expression of her deep faith, a reflection of the parallel between divine and human order, contemplated and experienced through her own creative abilities. Her more than two hundred compositions include her instrumental works: the twelve sonatas for 1, 2, 3 and 4 instruments from her op. XVI. The sonata as a form took hold in the centers of northern Italy, and for 3/4th of a century, or approximately until 1650, it was cultivated almost exclusively in that area. It was nearly always published in groups of 6 or 12, and collections would conclude with a final sonata, often in the form of variations (such as Corelli’s Follia, op. V, n. 12) or another single composition. Leonarda herself followed this practice: her op. XVI indeed contains 12 sonatas, eleven of which are for 2 violins, violone and basso continuo, while the twelfth piece is for solo violin and basso continuo.