People Behind the Music

Barbara Strozzi: Woman Trailblazer Composer of the 17th Century

By Eric Harry

When we think of Baroque composers, the familiar names that come to mind, Antonio Vivaldi, Claudio Monteverdi, François Couperin … were all male. However, one rare and unique woman emerges from Venice in 1619 until 1677 by the name Barbara Strozzi; a prolific composer for female voice and the first woman to have her music published in her own name.

Barbara’s music is striking, if not excessive for the norms of early baroque period. She made beautiful highlights of long-held melodic dissonance to emphasize tragedy, inserting dramatic musical pauses, hesitations for emotional effect, and extreme yet expressive embellishments for mournful passages. She was a respected lute player and was considered one of the best singers of her time. She published eight collections of music.

Barbara Strozzi was considered a big name in musical 17th-century Italy. What made her even more special was her resolve in a male-dominated world. As most women at the time would be forced to use a male pseudonym for a chance to publish their music, Barbara on the other hand, as a fiercely independent woman and single mother of four, became the first female composer to publish under her very own name.

Barbara was so remarkably ahead of her time despite the times, yet her incredible musical talent was only surpassed by her sheer determination, perseverance and independent spirit.

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