Noblewomen’s Devotional Song Practice in ‘Patiençe veinque tout’ (1647–1655), a German Manuscript from the Mid-seventeenth Century

Hannah Spracklan-Holl 

Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne

Context 48 (2022): 35–51.

Published online: 31 Jan. 2023


Devotional song in the German vernacular was a large repertory in the seventeenth century; as Robert Kendrick points out, the more than two thousand printed collections of these songs produced at this time attest to a relatively musically literate public that engaged with the repertoire. Most published devotional songs appeared in collections, usually consisting of a foreword or dedications, other poetry, and songs. The songs themselves often appeared without printed musical notation, indicating the use of contrafactum. Both men and women contributed to the German devotional song repertoire; however, there is a notable number of original song texts written by women. The 1703 publication Glauben-schallende und Himmel-steigende Herzens-Music, for example, contains 1,052 devotional songs, of which 211 have texts written by women. Women’s performance of devotional texts—whether by singing, recitation, or reading—was a practice that demonstrated their deep internalisation of the text itself whilst also providing a socially acceptable means of self-expression.

This article focuses on a mid-seventeenth century manuscript songbook compiled by Duchess Sophie Elisabeth of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1613–1676). It suggests that at least three songs in the manuscript have poetry and/or music written by noblewomen other than the duchess, including Juliane of Oldenburg-Delmenhorst (1615–1691) and Maria Magdalena of Waldeck-Wildungen (1606–1671). This suggestion is based on two notable features of Sophie Elisabeth’s meticulous recording practices in ‘Patiençe veinque tout’ that are missing from the songs in question. First, the authorship of these three songs is ambiguous, whereas the text and music for all other songs in the source are either made clear by Sophie Elisabeth’s own annotations accompanying each song, or are easily traceable. Second, none of the three songs include the duchess’s monogram, a date of composition, nor any other note stating her authorship (one or more of these notations are included for the songs in ‘Patiençe veinque tout’ that are of her own creation). In investigating the provenance of these songs, this article highlights the fact that women’s original texts, which are often overlooked, form a sizeable and significant body of musical literature from the early modern period. The two complementary practices of writing and performance paint an intimate portrait of women’s confessional and personal identity and the role music played in forming this identity, while also reflecting broader cross-confessional trends towards spiritual interiority and personal piety in the seventeenth century.

Download PDF