In the Duchy of Milan in what is now northern Italy, it was a common practice in the 17th century for young girls to enter a convent. In many cases, this was because of circumstances rather than devotion and could not be described as voluntary: at the time, the dowry that a bride’s family was expected to pay her groom on marriage had become incredibly large and hence in many cases unaffordable.
Monastic life was largely governed by the nuns and their families. Music was seen as a suitable occupation, and in most convents nuns were given musical training. Two thirds of the 41 convents that existed in Milan around the year 1600 are known to have practiced polyphonic music-making, indicating a musical education of a high quality. The convent of Santa Radegonda, centrally located adjacent to the Cathedral of Milan, was particularly known for its musical activities and even then was a venerable institution, having been in existence since before the year 870.
This music was created in a unique setting. The music of these earthly angels is quite extraordinary in many ways, not least in how it combines text and music in a bodily, internalised and emotional way. The idiom is highly personal and thereby represents a unique feminine voice within the Church.