Pavia 1590 - Lomello, after 1618
Italian composer and nun. Assandra alluded to Pavia as her birthplace in the dedication of her surviving motet book, Motetti à due, & tre voci, op.2 (Milan, 1609, 1 ed. in Bowers, 1996), which is dedicated to G.B. Biglia, the Bishop of Pavia.
Her musical talents were noted early by the publisher Lomazzo in the dedication to G.P. Cima’s Partito de ricercari, e canzoni alla francese .
She received instruction from the German Catholic exile Benedetto Re (or Reggio), maestro at Pavia Cathedral, who dedicated a piece to her in 1607.
Her op.1 (probably before 1608) is lost, but two motets, Ave verum corpus and Ego flos campi, which survive untexted in a German organ tablature, are probably from that volume (D-Rtt; ed. C. Johnson: Organ music by Women Composers before 1800, Pullman, WA, 1993).
According to her 1609 dedication to Biglia, she took vows, in an ancient but isolated rural Benedictine monastery, shortly after the volume’s publication (taking ‘Agata’ as her religious name).
She seems to have continued to compose after her profession: an imitative eight-voice Salve regina appeared in Re’s Vespers collection of 1611, and a motet, Audite verbum Dominum, for four voices was included in his motet book of 1618.
Borsieri characterized Assandra’s motets as among the first in the Roman style to be published in Milan; he must have heard in her music the influence of Agazzari, whose small-scale works had recently been published in the city.
The 18 small-scale motets (plus two works by Re) include both highly traditional pieces (e.g. O salutaris hostia, a reduction for two voices and two instruments of a simple double-choir motet) and more innovatory works.
Among the latter is Duo seraphim (ed. B.G. Jackson, Fayetteville, AK, 1990), in which a change in modus reflects the Apocalyptic text; some ofthe features of this piece anticipate Monteverdi’s setting of the same text in 1610.
G. Borsieri: Il sopplimento della Nobiltà di Milano (Milan, 1619)
C. Gianturco: ‘Caterina Assandra, suora compositrice’, La musica sacra in Lombardia nella prima metà del Seicento: Como 1985
J. Bowers: ‘The Emergence of Women Composers in Italy, 1566–1700’, Women Making Music: the Western Art Tradition, 1150–1959, ed. J. Bowers and J. Tick (Urbana, 1986)
J. Bowers: ‘Caterina Assandra’, Women Composers: Music through the Ages, ed. S. Glickman and M.F. Schleifer, (New York, 1996)
R.L. Kendrick: Celestial Sirens: Nuns and their Music in Early Modern Milan (Oxford, 1996)
Grove Music Online: www.oxfordmusiconline.com