It's very interesting that one Pietro Strozzi composed a madrigal
in 1579 for the wedding of Francesco de Medici and Bianca Cappella. It shows
the beginnings of monody - an accompanied solo voice - and is sung by a
character representing Night. The Strozzi family are quite intriguing and
their story is worth looking into.
There were artists named Strozzi working in Florence in the late 15th
century but a much later one, Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644) was a prolific
painter and a great painter of portraits. You can see some of his work in
the National Gallery (London) but more especially he was active in Venice
where his paintings can also be seen. He painted the often-seen portrait of
Monteverdi as a distinguished elderly composer. He also painted Barbara
looking a little dissolute, breasts uncovered, holding a gamba.
Significantly Barbara was born in Venice but her father seems, according
to Michel Angers’ quite helpful notes, to have been one Guido Strozzi.
Significantly for Barbara Guido had become Monteverdi’s sometime librettist
and was also a significant poet. Barbara’s First book of Madrigals of 1644,
her Op. 1, sets poetry by Guido who lived on until 1652. Surely there is an
important family relationship between artist and poet.
Barbara may well have written her own texts for these seventeen pieces
although many are written from the point of view of a man. It seems anyway
that she was a wonderful performer even from a very young age. At 15 she was
doted upon by some of the leading musicians of the day and when she was 18,
in 1637, Guido “founded the ‘Academia degli Unisoni’ essentially to promote
the young Barbara’s exceptional talents” (booklet notes). I wonder what she
sang, perhaps it was Monteverdi’s solo madrigals, which seem to have been
quite an influence. It may be that with other musicians it included the
master’s Eighth Book ‘Madrigale guerrieri ed amorosi’ which came out the
following year. I say this for no fanciful reason but because Barbara’s
texts often have a love and war theme running through them. In La
she sings “Revenge is a sweet feeling / One ill turn deserves
another / Taking revenge is a great delight”.
Her texts are extremely individualist. Let's take La sol fa me,
: “Because she sings, my wife / refuses to say yes or no but she
still boasts of speaking with la sol fa me re do”. Then there's
Chiamata a nuovi Amori
which is translated colourfully in the
booklet as “What the hell is that / so I must always love?”. Frustration, as
opposed to the joy of a loving relationship is more the tenor of the texts
but this leads to some wonderful melodies. The words are
'painted' with great care, to such an extent that the tempo,
harmony, melody and rhythms will alter from verse to verse in most cases. A
good example is La Travagliata
: “Your niggard eyes, rescue /
someone who is dying of grief”. Earlier ideas will return later or at the
end and all styles available at the time are used. This includes examples of
, highlighted above in Pietro Strozzi’s madrigal.
It's typical of the sort of music found in, say, Peri’s opera
, but she never dwells too long in one style.
The opening piece, Amor dormiglione
, one of her most performed
songs, does just that with a lively first verse in compound time followed by
a slower second verse before the first returns.
She likes falling ground-basses as in the very moving section after the
recitativic opening of L’eraclito Amoroso
with its lovely
melismatic writing. Indeed tunes are Strozzi’s success story and will often
linger in the mind as much as Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa
Strozzi dedicates her book to her patrons Ferdinand III of Austria and
Eleanor of Mantua-Nevers. Her lengthy cantata Gita ò giorni dolente
talks about the painful effects on Austria of the bloody thirty years
There is also thrown in to the mix just one, typically virtuoso, ‘touch
piece’ by Piccinini, a Bologna-based composer who may have known Barbara
I could listen to Peggy Bélanger for many an hour. She is very
communicative and superbly captures the contrasting moods of Strozzi’s
language. Her diction is used with expressive intent and is totally clear.
She is mostly accompanied by Michel Angers on the theorbo but other colours
are added pleasingly. Two recorders are played by Daniele Bragetti and Seiko
Tanaka and the bass is often emphasised by Sabrina Preti on the gamba.
Sometimes the instrumentation is altered during a song to suit the text or
mood. So, the performances are ideal, the music memorable and texts are well
translated. The recording, made in a north Italian church, is totally clear
and well balanced. The CD comes in slim cardboard packaging and takes up
little shelf room.
What’s stopping you buying it immediately?