The New World Order: Ursulines, Music from the Court of Louis XIV, and Educational Outreach in Eighteenth-Century New Orleans
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When a group of Ursuline nuns arrived in New Orleans from Rouen in 1727 it significantly changed the sacred musical landscape in the Louisiana Territory of New France. The women brought with them their commitment to education, a tradition of using music in their worship, and music similar to that performed in the Chapelle Royale of Louis XIV. Before 1727 the practice of sacred music in New Orleans was practical and simple, established by Capuchin priests in 1725 with the construction of a school and a makeshift church. The construction of the Ursulines' own permanent building in 1734 allowed the nuns to further emphasize their commitment to education through music. After the Ursulines arrived in New Orleans, the first French settlers were from wealthy and noble families that had a need and yearning for homeland familiarity and culture. In 1730 the Ursulines solidified their educational mission in New Orleans by establishing a lay confraternity with a group of French women colonists that secured a bridge of continuity between the nuns, the religious culture of France, and the members of the colony. In 1754 the sisters were given a manuscript entitled Nouvelles Poésies spirituelles et morales, copied in Paris in 1736. Now known as the Ursuline Manuscript, the collection contains music by composers active in the reign of Louis XIV. It is not known if the manuscript was prepared specifically for the nuns, but by examining the music in this manuscript--which contains well-known instrumental works turned into sacred vocal parodies--I will demonstrate that regardless of the copyist's intention, the music in the manuscript filled a need for such a document given the physical and cultural landscape in which the collection found itself. I will also discuss the importance of the manuscript and its place in the study of music history in North America, including a comparison between French and other European musical practices that were maintained in the New World in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.