Sulpitia Cesis

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Sulpitia Cesis was born in 1577 in Modena, Italy. She was an Italian composer as well as a well-regarded lutenist. Her father was Count Annibale Cesis and he gave 300 pieces of gold for her dowry when she entered the Augustinian convent in Modena in 1593. She was a nun at the convent of Saint Geminiano in Modena, although some sources report it as Saint Agostino. Her only known work is a volume of eight-part Motetti Spirituali, which she wrote in 1619.

Aspects of Motetti Spirituali[edit]

Some scholars believe that the piece was composed earlier than 1619 because of its style. It is composed of 23 motets for 2–12 voices. Her work is different from other works being written at this time because it contains indications for instruments such as cornetts, trombones, violones, and archviolones.[1]

A bass part exists as well, which is interesting considering that this music was written for a group of cloistered nuns. One explanation is that this part was for the organ or viola da gamba. Sulpitia Cesis dedicated her collection to another nun of the same name, Anna Maria Cesis, who lived at the Convent of Santa Lucia in Rome. Both Sulpitia Cesis's and Anna Maria Cesis's convents were well known for their music.

Example of Sulpitia Cesis's work[edit]

"Mary Magdalena et altera Maria"

This song was not intended as a congregational hymn and is an excerpt from Mathhew 28:1-7

Translation: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary/ went to the palace of the sepulcher.

It is Jesus whom you seek./ He is not here;/ he is risen as He said, and goes before you to Galilee./ There you will see Him.


Motets were considered to be one of the most important forms of polyphonic music from 1220 to 1750. It started out as a liturgical method but soon became prominent in secular music as well in the late Middle Ages. The meaning of a motet has gone through many different changes and meanings depending on the time and the location but it is now defined as: "a sacred polyphonic composition with Latin text, which may or may not have colla voce or independent instrumental accompaniment.”[2]

Cesis is mentioned in Giovanni Battista Spaccini's chronicle of life in Modena, as the composer of a motet which was performed at the doors of San Geminiano in 1596 during a religious procession.[3]

Further reading[edit]

  • Three motets ed. Candace Smith, Bryn Mawr, Pa. :; Hildegard Pub. Co., 1996
  • Schleifer, Martha Furman and Glickman, Sylvia. Women composers: music through the ages v. 1. Composers born before 1599 New York : G.K. Hall, c1996- ISBN 0-8161-0926-5



  1. ^ Grove
  2. ^ Ernest H. Sanders, et al. "Motet". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 6 February 2011 <>.
  3. ^ Bowers, pg 120