Sulpitia Cesis

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.


The following selections are recommended for vocal study and programming on recitals and concerts. Please note that this list may not constitute the entirety of the composer's output. 


Latin songs

From Motetti spirituali

Peccó Signor
Hodie gloriosus Pater Augustinus
Dulce nomen Jesu Christi
Ascendo ad Patrem meum
Cantate Domino canticum novum

Hic est Beatissimus Apostolus
Parvulus filius
Quest'è la bell'e santa vincitrice
Sub tuum præsidium

Maria Magdalena
Hodie Gloriosus
Jubilate Deo
Salve gemma confessorum
O Crux splendidior
Cantemus Domino
Angelus ad pastores
Benedictus Dominus
Stabat Mater
Hic est biatissimus
O Domine Jesu Christe
Ecce ego Joannes
Puer qui natus est
Magi videntes stellam

Italian Songs

From Motetti spirituali

Io son ferito sì
Il mio più vago sole





“Cesis, Sulpitia.” Hildegard Publishing Company.

Haskel, Marilyn L., and Lisa Neufeld Thomas. Voices Found. Church Publishing, 2004.

Smith, Candace. “Sulpitia Cesis.” Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, vol. 1, edited by Sylvia Glickman and Martha Furman Schleifer. G.K. Hall, 1996.