Much of the information about Barbara Strozzi is speculative, obscure, disputed, or doubtful. What we do know is that she was a terrific musician — a soprano who could accompany herself on the lute or theorbo (a very long-necked stringed instrument) — who captured the attention of music-crazy Venice during her teenage years.
We also know that she was one of the most acclaimed and prolific composers during the early years of the Baroque era (1600-1750). Unfortunately, like many other female composers of her age, her name and her work have been obscured by the preference for her male contemporaries.
Barbara Strozzi was born in 1619, probably the illegitimate daughter of Isabella Griega and Guilio Strozzi, an influential poet and libretist in 17th century Venice. Guilio wrote plays, opera, poetry, prose, and song lyrics. He was a member of a leading intellectual institute, and his work was known far being the Republic of Venice. Barbara grew up in his household and exhibited great musical talent in her early teens.
By the time she was 15, she had become known as the virtuoso daughter of Guilio, and when she was 16, he was seeking commissions for her well-known musical talent. Her public performances established her talent and gained her a reputation. Barbara had also studied composition with Francesco Cavalli, and many of the pieces that she performed were her own works.
Little is known about her personal life as a young adult, but she may well have lived as a concubine or courtesan of some Venetian nobleman, possibly Giovanni Paolo Vidman, a patron of the arts and associate of her father. She never married, but her relationship with Vidman probably produced two and maybe three children. Speculation about her relationship likely diminished the attention that her music received.
By 1626 two volumes of her vocal compositions had been published, and more were to come. Dedications in these volume indicated that she was able to gain some partrons, but her supporters never included the Church, which was common among many composers at the time, or any individual in particular. In other words, she made it on her own.
While she borrowed texts of her songs from a variety of sources, she also composed many of them herself. In all, she produced eight volumes of music, which was an extraordinary out put for her time.
Strozzi died in 1677 at the age of 58. Interest in her music has revived lately as we have paid more attention to the female composers of the Baroque period.
Here is a sample of some of her music:
Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729)
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
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