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Women in Early Music: Strozzi, Cozzolani, de La Guerre & Leonarda

Music written by some of the most significant female composers of the baroque era.

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painetd woman with viol

Photo: Wikipedia

A detail from Bernardo Strozzi's painting of Barbara Strozzi (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden).

Barbara Strozzi

One of the most distinguished composers of song from the baroque era was Barbara Strozzi. It was no small accomplishment when you consider the competition, but probably no surprise either, since she was a student of the great opera composer Francesco Cavalli, and daughter of the famed poet Giulio Strozzi, as well as being a singer herself.

Strozzi’s compositions are primarily made up of exquisite solo songs, usually titled cantata or aria, yet her first of eight publications was a set of madrigals for multiple voices printed in Venice in 1644. It was a terrific start which helped to propel her career forward.

Isabella Leonarda

Isabella Leonarda spent her life in Novara, Italy. She was born into a distinguished family and, at the age of sixteen, entered the Ursuline convent known as the Collegio di Santa Orsola. There she took vows, taught music, and eventually became the convent’s mother superior.

Nearly two-hundred of Leornarda’s compositions survive; most were published during her lifetime. They are mainly vocal works written for the church, with one exception, a set of sonatas published in 1693 which hold the distinction of being the first publication of instrumental music by a woman.

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani was born in Milan to a wealthy family. Early in life she entered the Benedictine monastery of Santa Radegonda, one of many Milanese monasteries known for music. Cozzolani was not only a successful composer, but she was also achieved the position of prioress and then abbess at Santa Radegonda.

Like Isabella Leonarda, Cozzolani published her sacred vocal works during her lifetime, but was not nearly as prolific. Her music is finely crafted and written specifically for use in church.

Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre

Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre is a French composer of significant fame. Her career essentially began at as child at the court of Louis XIV, where she sang and played the harpsichord.

As an adult, she was successful in establishing herself in Paris as a composer, performer, and teacher. Her many compositions enjoyed widespread interest. Her reputation was such that she was not only held in high regard, but was seen as an equal to her male counterparts.

Among the many instrumental and vocal works she wrote, de La Guerre holds the distinction of being the first French woman to compose an opera.

Featured Release

Our featured recording this week is part of series by Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper to record all of Mozart’s sonatas for violin and keyboard. Their Channel Classics project is now at volumes seven and eight, and includes the six variations on the tune “Hélas, J’ai Perdu Mon Amant.”

Music Heard On This Episode

Caterina Assandra: “Ego flos campi” – organ solo
La Villanella Basel — O Dulcis Amor: Women Composers of the Seicento (Ramee, 2004)
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Caterina Assandra: “Ego flos campi” – organ solo
La Villanella Basel — O Dulcis Amor: Women Composers of the Seicento (Ramee, 2004)
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Vittoria Aleotti: “Hor che la vaga Aurora”
La Villanella Basel — O Dulcis Amor: Women Composers of the Seicento (Ramee, 2004)
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Barbara Strozzi: “Godere e tacere,” L’Amante Timido eccitato, and Conclusione dell’opera
Orlando di Lasso Ensemble/Detlef Bratschke — Barbara Strozzi: Il Primo de’ Madrigali, Venezia, 1644 (Thorofon, 2000)
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Isabella Leonarda: Sonata Duodecima
La Villanella Basel — O Dulcis Amor: Women Composers of the Seicento (Ramee, 2004)
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Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Psalm: “Dixit Dominus”
Magnificat/Warren Stewart — Vespro della Beata Vergine (Musica Omnia , 2001)
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Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre: From ‘Violin Sonata in D minor’ - I.Presto, II.Aria, and III.Presto
La Donna Musicale/Laury Gutiérrez — The Pleasures of Love and Libation:Airs by Julie Pinel and other Parisian women (LADM, 2007)
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W.A. Mozart: From 6 Variations in G minor, KV 374b, "Hélas, J'ai Perdu Mon Amant" - Variations V & VI
Rachel Podger, violin, and Gary Cooper, fortepiano — Mozart: Complete Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard, Volumes 7 & 8 (Channel Classics , 2009)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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