Reviewed by John Walter Hill*
1. The Composer
2. The Edition
1.2 Barbara Strozzi's Opus 3 (1654) consists of eleven works. Of the six for solo voice and continuo, two are three-part strophic-variation settings of serious canzonetta texts. These are perhaps the last settings of Italian poetry to use strophic variations as a formal procedure. In these three settings, each parte is made up of an arioso segment with the broken circle mensuration followed by a flowing aria in triple proportion. The same kind of alternation is extended further in number 3the lament in versi sciolti on the fate of Henri di Cinq-Mars, who plotted against Cardinal Richelieuand in the three strophic canzonette. The three duets are composed in the same way, but they have neither repeated strophes nor variations. The tenth and eleventh numbers are each for three singers and continuo, the tenth in the form of a pastoral dialogue. The inclusion of strophic canzonette and a dialogue are retrospective features, as is Strozzi's total avoidance of that type of dry recitative which by this time was beginning to predominate in the cantatas of Antonio Cesti.
1.3 In place of dry recitative, Barbara Strozzi
deploys her particular variety of madrigalian arioso, to use a somewhat
old-fashioned term. In it she freely mixes now very rapid, now very slow,
but never quite monotone declamation with ornamental melismas, often of
extreme difficulty, which sometimes function as an extended anacrusis
to dramatize and further emphasize the crucial accented syllable set to
the note of arrival following the melismaa technique found in Roman
monody forty years earlier. In a few cases, the melismas also serve to
prolong expressive harmony, such as a diminished-seventh chord. In these
arioso segments can be found most of the remarkable expressive and rhetorical
treatments of the texts of which Ellen Rosand writes so eloquently. The
aria segments are less unconventional, reflecting much of the style that
had by mid-century become common in Venetian operas, e.g., by Strozzi's
teacher, Francesco Cavalli.
2.2 The brief introduction is marred by errors and reveals unfamiliarity with recent scholarship. Archer says that Strozzi's Opus 3 contains eleven cantatas, whereas the title page refers to cantate and ariet[t]e. At least the strophic songs should, therefore, be considered to be ariette and not cantate. Archer's remarks on the history of the cantata are remarkably uninformed, as might be expected given that her only citation to support these remarks is to a 1955 American Ph.D. dissertation, whereas nearly all the useful writing on the early history of the genre has been published during the past forty years. She claims, incorrectly, that poetry of Petrarch, Guarini, Tasso, and Ariosto was not originally intended for musical setting. She misinterprets a remark in one of Rosand's articles to mean that Strozzi composed more "works" than any other seventeenth-century composer, whereas surely Biagio Marini's twenty-two published opuses and Maurizio Cazzati's fifty-five contain more "works" than the 100 comprised by Barbara Strozzi's eight opuses. Other similar instances could be mentioned.
2.3 The printed collections of Barbara Strozzi contain some of the most compelling Italian vocal chamber works of the mid-seventeenth century. Although they would be extremely difficult to perform with the vocal techniques in use today, they would be very rewarding to hear and to study. Unfortunately, Gail Archer's edition presents only minor help, but major hindrance, with respect to those goals.
*John Walter Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Professor of Musicology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His book Roman Monody, Cantata, and Opera from the Circles around Cardinal Montalto [reviewed in this Journal, vol. 5.1 (1999)] was published by the Oxford University Press in 1997. He is currently at work on Baroque Music under contract from W. W. Norton.
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