For the first time in history, the 17th century opened up a vast area of musical activities for female artists as the Renaissance philosophy had established a new place for women in society. In his Il libro del Cortegiano (1528), Baldassare Castiglione presented them as gracious and beautiful, equally cultured in literature as men, as well as educated in dance and music, accomplished in conversational skills, intelligent and entertaining. Life at the courts provided for the donne di palazzo a veritable opportunity to liberate themselves. The new role that was bestowed on women might even have added to the growing sophistication of lifestyle in the 16th century, which was greatly articulated in the promotion of the arts and in the implicit prescriptions for social behaviour. Erasmus revered in his Encomium matrimonii (1518) the blissful union of husband and wife, and the general trend of Neo-Platonism led to a new interest in women, which greatly surpassed their thus far expected role as child bearers to continue the family name, and their rigid position in domestic life. However, only the higher classes in society enjoyed these privileges. Christian tradition was deeply anchored in the common perception of women as unfaithful seductresses, foolish and impetuous. Consequently, women remained the subject of much ridicule and scepticism. The imposing voice of Vespasiano da Bisticci is effortlessly recalled, instructing women to live by the two chief commandments of the apostle Paul: to raise their children as devoted Christians and to keep silent at church. The status from which certain women benefited at the end of the Renaissance was in many ways a compromise between the conservative Christian tradition, strengthened by the Council of Trente (1545-1563), and the humanist objective of equality between male and female.
LA VILLANELLA BASEL was founded on the occasion of the Luther memorial year 1996. All graduates of the Schola Cantorum in Basel, the members of the ensemble are currently based in Germany and perform extensively across Europe. Their repertoire focuses on music from the transitional period between the 16th and 17th centuries. In accordance with historic performance practice, their own instrumental diminutions substantially feature in every concert.
The name of the ensemble refers to an old Italian musical form, the villanella, which originated in the folkloric style but became immensely popular in art music during the 17th century. Although it is a mere coincidence that all performers in La Villanella Basel are women, the group feels this is a strong additional incentive to perform music by female composers of that era.