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Barbara Strozzi: Lagrime mie

Hildegard von Bingen is a tough act to follow for anyone. But about 500 years later Barbara Strozzi appears in Venice (1619-1677). Another remarkable person, all the more remarkable because of her status, talent, and visibility. She published a great deal of her fine music, and performed widely as a soprano.

So how did a female have such success in the catholic Venice of the Baroque era? Being a student of Francesco Cavalli at an exciting time of musical development probably helped. This was when a new art form called opera was beginning to take shape. I like to think that the real support behind her was her father. He recognized her talents, procured the best teachers for her, and didn’t apologize for her sex. It is perhaps a good lesson for us dads with daughters. Pay attention to supporting the development and flowering of your daughter’s talents! Maybe if we get that part of our social evolution to happen, one day we’ll have all the women composers we will need.

But Barbara Strozzi was a force for the musical good, over 300 years ago. Here is her Lagrime mie from 1659, her Op. 7. Follow the score and see how this wonderful early music soprano manages the elaborate ornamentation.

Hildegard von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy

This week we’ve been talking about and hearing from women composers. Women composers are achieving mixed success in entering the male dominated world of classical composition. I think that the quality of one’s work tends to carry the day, and help establish a compositional voice and career, but it has traditionally been the dearth of recognition, and lack of opportunity that has held back talented women.

Looking back over 900 years, I am ever in awe of Hildegard von Bingen. (1098-1179). I think you will be transported when you listen to her “Canticles of Ecstasy”. Hildegard was a genius. She wrote extensively on spiritual matters and the natural sciences, and wrote a great deal of music. Women composers may not have reached equality with their male counterparts just yet, but they certainly have an extraordinary model who predates J.S. Bach by 600 years. Here’s to Hildegard’s example, her memory, and her living music.

John Taverner: Dum Transisset Sabatum

I love singing and listening to choral music. One of my favorite groups is the Blue Heron Renaissance Choir, which is from my hometown of Boston and includes many of the finest singers there, including my masterful early teacher and dear friend, Pamela Dellal. This piece is by John Taverner, a very early British composer who lived 1490-1545. It’s an Easter piece, depicting the moment just before Mary Magdalen discovers that the stone of Jesus’s tomb has been rolled away – so even though it’s for Easter, the music still is filled with the bleakness of Holy Week, with plangent trebles soaring high above the altos. The opening section of the piece, slowly unfurling, perhaps reflects her weariness as she trudges up to the tomb at sunrise.

English text (Mark 16:1-2):
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb.

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