A Rich Musical Legacy from Québec: Baroque Motets of the Ursuline and Hôtel-Dieu Monasteries of New France
MacIsaac, Elizabeth Kathleen Norah
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Carefully preserved in the archives of the Ursuline and Hôtel-Dieu Monasteries of Quebec are several manuscripts containing Canada’s first sacred works for female voices. The manuscripts contain dozens of intricate motets composed in the French Baroque style, a repository of music which has not been sung for hundreds of years. These motets form a neglected part of Canada’s musical heritage which is waiting to be unearthed and explored. Ursuline and Augustinian nuns arrived to the French territories of the New World to educate and evangelize young women. Singing formed a core element of their teaching and worship. For over one hundred years (1639-1760), church music provided a backbone to Canada’s vibrant musical culture. When the French territories were lost to Britain and Spain, musical culture shifted radically and the sacred French music simply faded into obscurity. An overview of the sweeping events of the French Baroque era includes discussion of France’s social conditions, the political and religious climate, the flowering of the arts and the exploration of the New World. In France, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were a time of great strife which heralded the massive social changes to come in the nineteenth century. France’s struggles directly impacted the colony of New France, including that of its religious institutions and music. This study traces the musical activities in the Ursuline community of New France as the nuns lived their mission on the frontier, teaching Aboriginal and colonial girls. The evolution of female emancipation stemming from religious evangelism is considered. Examination of a trove of 160 motets located in the female monasteries of Québec City reveals the high caliber of music practiced by the nuns. No interpretive editions for performance purposes exist. Newly transcribed works have been generated from the manuscripts, with period performance guidance for appropriate ornamentation and ensemble requirements. An in-depth discussion of New France Baroque vocal and choral musical styles is provided, with reference to historical records of how it was taught, as described in contemporaneous music treatises and many original documents specific to these religious female communities.
- Music