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Watch and Listen: Sonnambula Performs Works by 17th-Century Converso Leonora Duarte, Live from WRTI

Paulo Lobo

Early-music ensemble Sonnambula visited WRTI to perform the music of Jewish converso Leonora Duarte. Praised as “remarkable” and “superb” by The New Yorker, Sonnambula's June, 2019 release of Leonora Duarte (1610–1678): The Complete Works, marks not only the ensemble's debut recording, but the first complete recording of Duarte’s surviving music.

Sinfonia No. 5 — Leonora Duarte (Flemish, 1610–1678)
Sinfonia No. 6, Octave toni (Sopra Sol mi fa la sol) — Leonora Duarte
Sinfonia No. 1 — Leonora Duarte
Sinfonia No. 2 — Leonora Duarte
Sinfonia No. 4, “In Nomine” — Leonora Duarte
Sinfonia No. 7 — Leonora Duarte

Duarte was a Jewish converso, a term applied in Portugal and Spain to ancestors of baptized Jews suspected of secretly observing Judaism. She was born in 1610 in Antwerp to a prominent family of merchants and art collectors, originally from Portugal who socialized with the keyboard-making Ruckers family, William and Margaret Cavendish, and possibly the artist Peter Paul Rubens.

She composed seven short pieces—sinfonias—during her lifetime; today they are the only record we have of music written for the viol by a woman in the 17th century.  And not only are they rare, but much to the good fortune of the performer, the works also betray a formidable talent for composition, a fierce personality, and a sense of quietude and introspection. Read more about Leonora Duarte and her music here.


Elizabeth Weinfield, Artistic Director
Jude Ziliak, violin
Toma Iliev, violin
Elizabeth Weinfield, tenor viol
Amy Domingues, tenor viol
Shirley Hunt, bass viol
James Kennerley, tenor

Sonnambula is a historically informed ensemble that brings to light unknown music for various combinations of early instruments with the lush sound of the viol at the core. Sonnambula recently held the position of Ensemble in Residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018–2019; the group is the first historically informed ensemble to hold this position, typically given to a string quartet.

Sonnambula published their first CD in June 2019 with Centaur Records. The undertaking is a collaboration with Teju Cole, Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard University; recorded in 2016, it is the first complete recording of Duarte’s work.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.