Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
MusicPart of Humanities

Early Modern Convents in Sound and Fiction

Published: 12 August 2009

University of Southampton music lecturer Dr Laurie Stras has collaborated with fellow musicians to record 16th century convent music as it might have been performed 450 years ago.

Laurie and her colleagues in the ensemble Musica Secreta worked closely with writer Sarah Dunant to devise and record a musical score for her new novel Sacred Hearts, which is set in an Italian Benedictine convent.

“This is a unique project which harmonises historical music with historical fiction,”
commented Laurie.

The recording includes pieces by two of the most important composers of the 16th century, Palestrina and Rore. The group has reconstructed their work, so it can be sung without men’s voices, just as it might have been sung by nuns in convents of the period.

“If we think of nuns singing, images which probably come to mind are of Hollywood films such as, ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Sister Act’. Most people would not think of Renaissance nuns in choirs singing the same kind of music as would have been heard in the Papal Chapel in Rome. This was, however, the reality in convents of the time,”
said Laurie.

Musica Secreta’s recording ‘Sacred Hearts, Secret Music’ presents chant and polyphony that underscore the key dramatic moments of Sarah Dunant’s novel. Their CD can help set the mood for readers of the book, or be listened to in its own right.

“…each track mark[s] a particular moment in the unfolding drama of the novel. Sacred Hearts, Secret Music [is] the result of the most creative partnership. Writers and singers, words and music: a collaboration of women worthy of a good convent,”
commented Sarah.

The soundtrack has featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, along with the novel which has been adapted and serialised.

The group are joined on their CD by a choir of all female voices ‘Celestial Sirens’, featuring several University of Southampton alumni. Victoria Rowcroft and Melanie Marshall both gained PhDs in Music, Rosie Taylor graduated with a BA in Music and Rosie Whittock obtained an MA in Philosphy in the School of Humanities.

Related Staff Member

Privacy Settings