Born: May 15, 1577, Modena, Italy
Died: after 1619
Italian composer, lute player, and nun, Sulpitia Cesis, was the daughter of Count Annibale Cesis and his wife, Barbara. She joined the convent of Saint Geminiano in Modena (also reported as Saint Agostino), which had a high-caliber music program. Like other women composers, especially those in convents, Cesis found ways to circumvent strict orders from the church and included the use of cornett and trombone in her musical performances.
Author Giovan Battista Spaccini, chronicling a religious procession at Saint Geminiano convent, explained that, “The nuns there are versed in all sorts of musical instruments having…Sister Sulpitia, daughter of Count Cesis, who plays the lute excellently.” This description gives us valuable information about Cesis and her musical leadership role within the convent.
Cesis published 8-part Motetti spirituali in 1619 for 2-12 voices, dedicated to nun Anna Maria Cesis who resided at the convent of Santa Lucia in Rome. In her dedication, Sulpitia wrote, “...with the splendor and nobility of your name these few musical labors may be defended against the meanness of their detractors and also that they might occasionally be performed in the convents of nuns in praise of our common Lord.” The motets Cesis published were in the polychoral style and were likely sung by nuns. Four of the motets were written for five voices and are considered to be madrigale spirituale because their texts are written in Italian rather than Latin. It is possible these works were written well before their publication in 1619.