Classical Album of the Week: Barbara Strozzi & the Women Composers of the Baroque

Aug 5, 2019

August 5, 2019. It’s not every day we have an opportunity to mark a 400th anniversary, even in classical music circles. This week, we’re excited to celebrate the work of Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)—one of the most important composers of 17th-century Venice.

(Incidentally, August 6th is the date of Strozzi’s baptism— her birth date has never been confirmed.)

Barbara’s father, poet Giulio Strozzi, was a driving force in her artistic and professional development. As a member of the Venetian circle of intellectuals known as the Accademia degli Incogniti (Academy of the Unknowns), he was well connected and influential.

He founded an offshoot of that group, called Accademia degli Unisoni (Academy of the Like-Minded), which Barbara led, directing discussions and performing, showcasing her vocal prowess, for which she had become renown.

Though Barbara did not enjoy the financial advantages of inheriting from her father, in spite of being his sole heir, she did have an aptitude for words and letters, cultivated through the influence of her father and his literary friends and colleagues. Her numerous vocal works are widely recognized for their highly effective text-setting, with striking, often quite daring, melodic and harmonic treatments of poems. Across her career, she published eight music collections, including madrigals, arias, and cantatas.

In our Classical Album of the Week, Donne Barroche: Women Composers from the Baroque Period, we hear the last of her works, “Hor che Apollo”—Serenata for soprano, two violins and basso continuo from  “Arie," Op.8 (1664) and an earlier one, "Miei pensieri"—Arietta for soprano and continuo from Ariette a voce sola Op.6 (1657).

In this performance of “Hor che Apollo” by Bizzarrie Armoniche and soprano Roberta Invernizzi, hear Strozzi’s characteristic chromatic dissonances at 2:10 as well as some stunning ornamentation at 4:30, with Invernizzi’s fluttered texturing of the stanza’s closing, “So in love with your beautiful eyes”.

In Donne Barroche: Women Composers from the Baroque Period, we have an album delivering much more than Strozzi. Her Italian and French contemporaries are also well represented—including Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Antonia Bembo, Rosa Giacinta Badalla, Isabella Leonarda, and Bianca Maria Meda.

While some of these women composers of the Grand Siècle were nurtured by culturally minded, socially well-positioned families—a bit like Strozzi—the rest had musical lives born out of convents and other female religious institutions, which, it turns out, at this point in history, were fertile settings for developing such talents.

Particularly noteworthy among the non-Strozzi works on this album is Violin Sonata No. 2 by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, with dissonances rivalling those of Strozzi.