Video and Transcription: Candace Magner on the Life and Legacy of Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677)

September 20, 2019


Candace Magner on the Life and Legacy of Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677). Candace Magner, scholar, Paul M. Patinka, interviewer, with student performances by sopranos Shirlyn Davenport, Jasmine Fernandez, Paige Henserling, Erin McAdams, Elise Miller, and Amanda Ronquillo, and pianists Christine Debus, Eymen Geylan, and Ji Hyun Kim. University of Texas at San Antonio and St. Peter Prince of the Apostles Catholic Church, San Antonio, TX, March 19, 2019.


From Cantate, ariette e duetti, Op. 2, La, sol, fa, mi, re, do, Elise Miller, soprano; Christine Debus, piano

From Cantate, ariette e duetti, Op. 2, L’amante bugiardo, Paige Henserling, soprano; Eymen Geylan, piano

From Cantate e ariette, Op. 3, Mentita, Amanda Ronquillo, soprano; Jasmine Fernandez, soprano; Christine Debus, piano

From Cantate e ariette, Op. 3, Amor non si fugge, Shirlyn Davenport, soprano; Ji Hyun Kim, piano

From Arie a voce sola, Op. 8, Che si può fare, Erin McAdams, soprano; Christine Debus, piano


Video Transcription

PP - Paul Patinka

CM - Candace Magner


PP: In March of 2019 the University of Texas at San Antonio brought Candace Magner to its campus to work with students and to talk about Barbara Strozzi during the 400th anniversary year of her birth. Strozzi was an early baroque composer based in Venice whose self-published compositions are now being recognized as significant in their scope and influence. As a female composer her success and continued legacy endure as a testament to her defiance of social expectations. Dr. Magner recently finished publishing critical editions of all of Strozzi’s extant works through Cor Donato Editions and serves as one of the leading scholars of Strozzi’s life and music.

In this interview Dr. Magner examines and explains some of the broader contexts in which Strozzi lived, giving the listener a bird’s-eye view of the influences, expectations, and importance of Barbara Strozzi. During her visit, students from UTSA celebrated the composer’s music through a concert of selected works, demonstrating its relevance and accessibility to modern musicians. These performances are interspersed with the interview of Dr. Magner, offering a taste of the musical ability of Barbara Strozzi.


PP: So, Dr. Magner, can you introduce yourself and just tell us a little bit of what you do and your research interests?


CM: I am a singer in my real life, my everyday profession, and teach voice. And I got fascinated with Barbara Strozzi’s music along with other women composers when I was in graduate school. And there were very few recordings, so when I heard a couple of things early on, I went. “I wonder how to find this music?” And it could not be found. Not in normal performance editions at the time. Then I started to go out—even after my doctorate—I went out and studied early music specifically and playing a continuo instrument specifically so that I could understand more about this music.

I started putting together the Barbara Strozzi website ( mainly because I wanted a list of what really existed and how they were organized in the original books, and where to find the originals. And if there were some current editions, what those were, who published them, were thrre more, whether they had realized accompaniments and that kind of thing, or not. And a little bit about the music, and the texts, the poets if we knew it - just whatever I could find. And a list of recordings, which at the beginning was maybe five CD’s. And that was it!


[3:14 - Elise Miller, soprano, and Christine Debus, piano, performs “La, sol, fa, mi, re, do” from Cantate, ariette, e duetti Op. 2]


Text by Giovanni Battista Maiorani, translated by Pamela Dellal

La mia donna perché canta
non vuol dir né sì, né no,
ma parlar sempre si vanta
con la sol fa mi re do.
S’io le chieggo ch’al mio cor
voglia dar mercede un dì
pria che spiri nel dolor,
mi risponde don fa mi.

Mai non canta s’io non conto
né la voce trova il tuon,
né a sonar lo stile ha pronto
se non sente d’oro il suon.
Insegnando ognor mi va
che s’a due cantar vorrò
acciò ch’ella venga al fa
intonar conviemmi il do.

Di strascini ognora ornato
vuol mirarsi il vago pie’
ed in canto figurato
sempre intona il mi fa re.
Per mostrar quant’ella sa
passegiando fa così,
suol tenersi con do la
ed andare in do re mi.

Io credeva ch’il suo canto
fosse fatto per mi sol,
ma suoi vendersi all’incanto
a colui che spender vuol,
tanto che tra noi dirò
ch’ognun canta quel che sa:
io de’ gonzi il mi sol do
lei de’ cucchi il re mi fa.
My lady, since she sings,
does not wish to say yes or no;
but continually boasts of speaking
with “la sol fa me re do.”
If I ask her if she plans
to grant mercy to my heart one day
before I expire from grief,
she answers “don fa mi” [give me a gift].

She never sings without my paying up
nor is in good voice;
nor is ready to pluck her strings
if she does not hear the sound of gold.
She instructs me continually
that if I wish to sing duets with her
before she arrives at “fa” [the deed]
I’d better give her “do” [a gift].

She wishes to show off her lovely feet
in elegant dance steps;
and in ornamented song
always intones “mi fa- re” [do it for me].
Thus to show what she knows
she goes about (sings passage-work) like this:
she usually sustains “con-do-la” [to comfort her]
and moves “in-do-re-mi” [cover me with gold].

I believed that her song
was made for “mi sol” [me alone],
but she sells them at auction
to the highest bidder;
so that among us we say
that everyone sings what he knows:
I, that of a fool are “mi sol- do” [my wages];
she, of cuckolds the “Re mi fa” [the king makes me]


CM: Right. So, Barbara Strozzi was born in Venice in 1619 and she lived until 1677, so that was a pretty good long life during that period. She spent her entire life in Venice as far as we know. And her music was actually printed - not just in manuscript. She did not have a patron, a constant patron, working for a court of some local person or some family. She did not write for the church. And so, everything that she’s quite amazing that the music was published in these collections under an entire opus number. And there were eight of these opus numbers. One is missing: maybe was never published/printed at the time, but we think we know who it was dedicated to, and it seems like it might have just gotten lost in travel but was not a printed book. Otherwise I think we’d have it. So, there’s a mystery for everybody.

Her father was a poet, a writer, and librettist for some of the very early operas. Opera got its start in Venice in the early 1600’s and was produced there, and there ended up being several theaters that were supported by noble families. Giulio, her father, was part of the Strozzi family from Florence. And as such, that’s a noble family. They were second only to the Medici in wealth and importance in the town. But Giulio was from a bastard branch of a bastard branch of the family and he grew up in Florence, and so he was actively part of the family but not some noble person. He was a writer - and a slightly disruptive writer at that. He formed in Florence, in Rome, and then in Venice these accademie - “Academy of Intellectuals.” And they would meet, they would discuss poetry or philosophical ideas, they would present music. There were many writers that were part of it, and even such people perhaps as Monteverdi - we’re not quite certain about that.

But they were associated by business, by philosophy, by artistic creativity, but also [by] support for the arts. And so, the people that were mingling in these groups - and fairly small groups: it’s not like a university, but perhaps there were 30 people who would attend these meetings who would present writings. Maybe they would write a satire, a roast, of somebody who was becoming well-known. By the time Giulio was in Venice and introducing ideas and working with some of these other writers - it’s sort of a long, convoluted story that I won’t spend much time on here - but they were very appreciative of a few writers in the libertine school of philosophy. Those who were more open-minded about a lot of things. They weren’t afraid to talk about gender, and sex, and morals, and culture, and all those things together. They really were philosophers, writers, and musicians as well. A little harder to see how some of that shows up without digging.

But certainly, Giulio was kind of a historical writer as well. He wrote about Venice being the “Queen City,” and he wrote about a particular singer who sang in these early operas. That was not Barbara, but it was Anna Renzi. And so, there’s everything we know about early operas that’s written down and particular singers as far as—okay, they were maybe highfalutin' blown descriptions, you know. But to have a female singer, an opera singer, because [sic] there was not at the time a known profession. But certainly, any performers of almost anything weren’t super high on social scale.

So, in 1619 Barbara is born to Isabella, who we think is a member of the household in Giulio’s household. Not married, but certainly had a long-term relationship, whatever that was. They all lived together until Giulio’s death and Isabella’s death. And Barbara was with her family all the time. She was officially adopted by Giulio and so she’s called his figliola elettiva, his “chosen daughter.” Probably his natural daughter, too—we don’t really know. Keeping in mind that there is no social stigma to this at all during the time. The only people who were encouraged to marry in a legal and religious sense would be the ruling class. And that all had to do with handing down patrimony.

So, he [Giulio] mixed with a fairly high level of intellectuals in Venice. He was part of the Accademia degli Incogniti, the unknowns, and that was run by Giovanni Francesco Loredano who was a great writer and epistolary - wrote letters to well-known people and discussed philosophical things. And then he [Giulio] started his own little academy called the “unisons.” Probably thinking musically, but also those of like minds. And Barbara ended up being a, from a fairly young age, I’ll say, "mascot." She was invited to sing. Poems were written in praise of her. There were several groups of songs written dedicated to her as the most virtuosic woman singing and praised her in various ways. And she’s probably not more than mid to late teens at this time.

And I say "mascot" because she also presented, we know from the few books (or let’s call them like the minutes of the meetings during this time) that she presented an idea and acted like the person running the debate. You present to this side and you present this side and then “let me say..” (this is Barbara) “that...” One of the issues was “what is most important in moving the emotions? Is it tears or is it song?” And of course, Barbara was very well placed to talk about song. She probably sang at some of these meetings, although we don’t have anything besides the music that she printed, and that we know about. Or the texts, but there’s hints that she might have been performing there.

She was a singer. She was a soprano, obviously, because most of her music is written for that voice. And then we don’t really know much else about other instruments or what else she was doing there. But I love the tears and song argument because she wraps it up by saying “well, gentlemen, I think it’s very clear that song can move the listener much more than simply tears. And if I had invited you here to come see me cry, you would not have been nearly as interested. You come to hear me sing.” So, we know that she actually participated.

Now we might think that women were not included in these accademia, and for the most part that’s probably true. But they weren’t forbidden. It wasn’t like they covered her head and brought her in the back door to talk and to make fun of her, or praise her, or anything else, but that she was there as a part of it. Because of that I think that she was uniquely placed as a woman in this society and [as] an artist to not only present her own art as a performer, but her own art as a composer. Maybe both being the same at the same time, and being part of the conversation.

I don’t believe that out of hand they were saying “you women don’t know what you’re talking about. You can never be as good as us.” That was not what was going on and it was really an open discussion of “why have people said this in the past. What is it in the culture that is causing any differences in how we treat men and women maybe doing the same kinds of things?”

Now I’ll also say that Venice is unique in lots of ways. And this was the time - 1619 is when she was born as I said. This was a time of a lot of growth. There were a lot of merchants in Venice. That’s not just the name of a play “The Merchant of Venice.” There were many merchants. There were the German merchants. There were the Turkish merchants. There was the Spanish school. There were the Dutch ships. So many intermixing cultures. So, it was a very rich time for ideas, and the arts, and music. And so, Venice really had its own thing going on for music in the church and music that was not of the church, so secular music in some kind of way. The great choral traditions and a lot of the composers who were working at San Marco, for example, the Basilica and writing music there were also writing other music. So, there was a lot of variety of what was going on there. So, Barbara was born into this amazing mix of a wealth of cultures, and wealth in the city too, that really has almost not been superseded since in any particular place.


[21:03 - Paige Henserling, soprano, and Eymen Geylan, piano, performs “L’amante bugiardo” from Cantate, ariette, e duetti Op. 2]


Text by Anonymous, translated by Candace Magner

I miei giorni sereni
infetti col tuo sguardo
e col sospir bugiardo
l’aria tu m’avveleni.
Ah, scherza e non schernire,
ah, mira e non mentire!
Ma falso e menzogner se parli o taci,
i vezzi hai finti e traditori i baci.

Provo dalle bugie
un’aria tormentata
da tue frodi abitata
e dalle furie mie.
Ah, giura e non mentire,
ah, taci e non tradire!
Ma falso e menzogner se parli o taci,
i vezzi hai finti e traditori i baci.
You infest my peaceful days
with your glances,
and with your deceptive sighs
you poison the air.
Oh, dally without pretense,
oh, look without deception: but you’re false and deceitful whether you speak or remain silent,
your charms are feigned, your kisses treacherous.

The lies make me suffer
a tormented condition,
infused with your falseness
and my derangement.
Oh, affirm without lying,
be silent without betrayal: but you’re false and deceitful whether you speak or remain silent,
your charms are feigned, your kisses treacherous.


PP: Why do you think that Barbara Strozzi’s music is still relevant today?


CM: She was writing in an idiom, let’s say: first of all she was writing for a solo voice. We might think it now as “art” music, whatever that means to us, but it was not written for the church. And it wasn’t folk music, and it wasn’t opera, although it could have potentially been. She’s the first person we know of to write on a piece of music — [to] call it a cantata. Now that only means that ‘it’s to be sung’ right? That’s all it actually means.

But what we know today (or let’s say a hundred years later after her time) as a cantata, for example, an oratorio or Händel or something like that, we know those things fairly well. In sections, perhaps, with different kinds of accompaniment for different sections, where the music itself is not the same all the way through. It could be in different meters from one section to another. There could be a section that was kind of recited, now we call it recitative. But not sung so fully, not a big tune. But transitional moments between a couple of tunes. And she is writing a lot of this from the very first solo opus, which is Op. 2, calling things cantata. And also aria, which we use later for opera.

Her influences. We know that she studied with Francesco Cavalli, who was following Monteverdi at San Marco as the music minister, but [he] also wrote something like thirty-seven, maybe there’s more, operas during that time. And they’re - all the ones I’ve heard are amazing. They’re not what we would think of as later like Händel. You know, it’s this - there’s a little dry moment where we explain all the stuff, and then we stop and we sing this thing and it’s got a tune and you can probably remember, and then we stop that moment. Maybe there’s even talking, saying there’s other stuff. That’s not really what it was, not in Cavalli, and not what Barbara was doing either. A lot of her pieces are kind of like miniature operas, five minutes long, ten minutes long.

Even some of the church pieces are like that. Now the sacred music was written later, that’s Op. 5. There’s only one opus of sacred music but it wasn’t written for a church or anything. We don’t know exactly why she wrote that. It’s fresh during its time, and it still sounds very fresh today. Now she’s choosing texts, too, that are very emotional. She might have written some of the texts - there’s a lot of texts that are not attributed. The first opus (her father wrote all the texts for it) is a group of madrigals (there’s twenty-six. I think) madrigals in Op. 1. He wrote all of the texts and they’re very...they’re more like Monteverdi’s late madrigals than they are almost anything else, but then they take their own life. They’re even more intricate and interesting.

The texts are never trivial…are they never trivial? Well, maybe sometimes. But of course, they’re talking about life and love, a lot of them about love. But they’re never, “oh baby, baby I miss you so much.” Even in 17th century Italian. They’re very heartfelt. Sometimes they’re from a gender standpoint that it doesn’t really matter who sings it or what gender sings it, although they’re all written for soprano. But it wouldn’t be weird at all to have tenor singing the same texts. In fact, a lot of the times the text seemed to be written from the standpoint of a male voice. And yet having it sung in a female voice - there is no disconnect there. Of course, there’s lots of music like that all over the planet, all over time.

The combination of that poetry and the music is something that I think separates hers from the rest of the people writing during this time. It’s intricate, it’s very heartfelt, and the rhetoric that she’s been exposed to (I think) informs a lot of how things were put together. So that you might have a moment that is happy and joyful and full of hope. And then the next moment is “but here’s the present situation and all we can do right now. I feel despair, and yet I know things will change.” That can all be happening in one four-page piece of music. A good example of that would be “L’amante segreto,” which is part of op. 2. You could treat it as if it was just a trite - “oh, I’m so sad, because my loved one does not know I exist.” And yet it’s not that kind of emotion. It’s real inside. “I would rather die than let anybody know how I am feeling and why.” And then we get some more of the story and it’s helpful. “But, no, I would just rather die than tell anyone how I’m suffering in this way.” So, you have these emotions and it’s all within three minutes, so it is like a micro opera.

I think it’s very important, and because it can change from one moment to the next. Not just repetition, repetition, repetition - nothing becomes banal, I think. So even in “L’amante segreto,” you hear something that recurs - the “oh, I wish I would die instead of being in, telling anybody about this.”  But each time it comes from some different source. So, the music is the same, the words are the same. But it’s not the same. And we get that from the rest of the music. So, I think that’s very deep. It’s something that we don’t find in earlier music. We find in this period, seconda practica, where we’re looking more at serving the words rather than just having a nice tune and fitting the words in there.


[32:09 - Amanda Ronquillo, soprano, Jasmine Fernandez, soprano, and Christine Debus, piano, performs “Mentita” from Cantate e ariette, Op. 3] 


Text by Giovanni Francesco Loredano, translated by Pamela Dellal

S’io vi giuro mia vita
Ch’io v’amo
Voi mi date con parole spietate
Subito una mentita.
Io che sensi ho vivace
Corro raffronto
À scaricar coi baci.
If I swear, my life,
that I love you,
with spiteful words you respond
immediately with a denial.
I, whose feelings are sensitive,
hurry to relieve the insult
with kisses.


PP: So, the music of women is often judged more harshly than the music of men. Did Barbara Strozzi struggle with this in her lifetime, or has there been the case for her music in years since?

CM: That’s a really good question because we’re in our own time, and we see how we or our immediate predecessors have “discovered” more music of women composers. During her time, I think her music was quite well-known. The fact that it was printed. Published in print. In books. Not in manuscript, but in a moveable type kind of print - which wasn’t happening all over Europe. There were maybe two printing centers, and Venice was one of them. So, these are beautifully put together books. There are very few mistakes. I’m sure that she must have looked at them herself.

How were they being paid for? Not quite sure, but each of the opus numbers was dedicated to a different person, and so we can assume (although we don’t have a track of - “and then she was paid this or given this”) a couple of hints of things. But the whole point of dedicating any book or music or anything (up to the present day) to somebody is appreciation and hope of some kind of support. “I dedicate these 20 pieces to so-and-so.” And here’s an interesting point: that from the very first opus number up through the last, we see her formal dedications at the beginning of the book. The first one is, “I’m just a poor woman, I know that my works are probably not nearly as sophisticated as you merit, and yet I offer them humbly to you.” And we get less and less of that as time goes on. And she also dedicated several pieces to well-placed women. And so, there is that kind of female solidarity maybe? (Maybe, we don’t know.) That says "yes, I am a woman' but look at the place that you’re in' too. And I appreciate that, and I hope you appreciate these." And by the time we get to op. 8, there is this self-assurance that “I am offering these to you because it is the best thing you’re going to get. These are wonderful songs and I offer them heartfeltly to you, without apology.” Which is kind of cool for anybody because most dedications are extremely obsequious (“I am but a worm and I offer these to your highness.”)

But we will see this change over the time that she’s writing from 1648 to 1664. This is the milestone of being very confident in her work and these beautiful editions that are practically free from any mistakes. We talked about this the other night. There is some evidence in the things that I have seen where there is more than one extant copy of the printed book. That something was found that wasn’t quite right and I can see her going into the print shop and saying, “this isn’t right, can we fix this?” And it was fixed. And so, there’s two editions that are ostensibly the same, not even editions, but the same book. But not exactly the same. So, she was very careful. And this is kind of a big deal. Right? So, her being able to print things. Not having a permanent patron but considering who would be most suitable at any particular time, or certain kinds of music. And probably how those patrons were placed, or dedicatees, were placed socially. But they weren’t in Venice for the most part. They were in Florence, Austria. Sophia Lindenbergh. They’re not the Venetian noble people.

Now how do we know that she was actually appreciated during her time? One kind of funny way is that there was a set of satires written that also included her, and I don’t think you roast somebody [unless] they’re pretty well known. Cause what’s the point? Otherwise it’s just being rude.


[41:21 - Shirlyn Davenport, soprano, and Ji Hyun Kim, piano, performs “Amor non si fugge” from Cantate e ariette, Op. 3]


Text by Anonymous, translated by Pamela Dellal

Cara Filli, quella tu sei ch’adoro,
per te sola, per te languisco e moro.
Ben vid’io ch’un guardo adesca
Ch’allettando il seno adugge,
ma pur ardo e ‘l cor si strugge
che non fugge d’amor chi seco tresca.
Cara Filli, quella tu sei ch’adoro,
per te sola, per te languisco e moro.
S’è il languir colpo d’amore
fuggirò s’amor m’assale,
ma ‘l fuggir, ohimè, che vale?
Non si scioglie dal pie’ laccio del core.
Cara Filli, quella tu sei ch’adoro,
per te sola, per te languisco e moro.
Dear Filli, you are indeed the one I adore
For you alone do I languish and die.
Well do I see that an enticing glance,
By its allure, oppresses my bosom,
But yet I burn and my heart is undone,
For whoever dallies with love cannot flee it.
Dear Filli, you are indeed the one I adore,
For you alone do I languish and die.
If languishing is a stroke of love,
I shall flee, if love assails me,
But alas, to flee what avails me?
My feet cannot loosen what binds my heart.
Dear Filli, you are indeed the one I adore,
For you alone do I languish and die


PP: In that same light, women composers are often held to different standards in their personal lives rather than their male counterparts. Do you have any thoughts on how the likelihood of her work as a courtesan might have impacted later scholars' understanding of her work and whether or not it had a negative or positive influence on what people thought about her and her music or why was or was not performed?

CM: So, the idea that she may have been a courtesan comes from some historical precedent, and from a painting that was suggested to be - and then following up on, and David Rosen found some documents, I’ve seen them, too - they say this painting is of Barbara Strozzi. It was painted by Bernard Strozzi. And the iconography of it; it’s a woman blushing with flowers in her hair. She has a low-cut blouse, and on the table is some music. She’s holding a viola da gamba. There’s a violin on the table as if she was waiting for somebody to come and play a duet with her. So, the iconography of that on the surface could be that of Flora, the patroness of music and the arts and the patroness of courtesans. And certainly, the painting has suggested to a lot of people, because her breast is mostly bare, that says “well, I’m a floozy.”

Now by contemporary standards you could certainly think that. So, it’s easy to take just the painting looking at it and going, “Oh, well, was she playing the viola da gamba? Is that her music there? (And the answer is no, it’s not.) Is she playing one of these instruments? And what’s the costume? What are we saying here?” So, it could be a nod to that - that music is that disruptive libertine kind of thing that decent women aren’t meant to engage in.

But in her period, we were so far past that anyway. We knew that women sang - it wasn’t that there were no women on the stage. There certainly were. There were satires, as I have mentioned before, and one of them says, “well, here she is like Flora, dispensing the flowers before the fruit, and what does that imply?” And kind of teasing in that sort of way. Is it real? Maybe. We don’t really know. But my feeling is this - that she was living with her parents, she had four children with the same man. They were living in the same household (I mean the children and Barbara and her parents). And she was writing music. Now, how much spare time did she have, really? And her first child was born in about 1641. So, she’s 21 or 22.

The father of her children was a nobleman, and [he was] part of this great revival of the arts, and a patron of the opera houses. And some of these operas from the early operas of this period were dedicated to him or his brothers and to the family because they were supporting the arts in Venice during that time. And he was the father of her children - probably all four of them. Certainly, the oldest three, and if not the youngest, then it was his brother. But I sense that it was all the same person. So that was a different way of family life than we’re used to in this century or the century before. But that was not an uncommon thing in Venice. Noblemen often had relationships that weren’t the dynastic relationships that brought “this house” and “this house” together to cement the finances of these merchant nobles. So, [this] wasn’t too weird actually. And people did not marry 'just because.' There was often a reason, like these dynastic things. And so he had a family, but he supported her and the children and when he, the father of the children, died, his family, his wife, and his brothers provided funds for education for the children and even recognized them in the same way that Barbara was recognized by her father as his daughter.

The eldest son was recognized by his father’s family and the [Strozzi] name so that he could take the name and possibly inherit something; we don’t know much about that. Now there’s more research, and I’m not privy to all of it at the moment. So, I don’t have a hard way of saying "no, she was not a courtesan" but what I do have to say is: it doesn’t matter. And it’s interesting. There are writers and all kinds of people, especially in Venice. Think of Gaspara Stampa, for example, who was a poet who was indeed a courtesan, and we know that through archive kinds of things and [a] courtesan in the sense of Japanese geisha. Somebody, a woman, who was educated, trained in the arts, trained in rhetoric and discussion, who could discuss two sides of an argument in debate or in a friendly talk among the Academies. Not lots of ways that you could do that besides that your family thought it was important and you belong to the church or you married into another family. She was not of a noble family, so that wasn’t going to happen. You were independently educated, which she was.

And so, does that itself make - does that make her [Barbara Strozzi] a courtesan? No. But she may have been trained in the same kind of way that you would say, “this young woman is very talented. Let’s make sure she’s educated…whatever it takes.” And I don’t know what that means really, but I think given the fact that we know she was living in the same house with her parents and her children with no shame about it. It’s just how it was. In Venice during that time there were literally thousands of registered courtesans. And you might ask why? What was that about? And that also had to do with noble families and inheritance and that the eldest son would be the next generation to keep the family monies and business together. The second son would probably be military. The third son would go to the church, and everybody else were essentially ne’er-do-well’s that were not going to marry and split the inheritance. What are you going to do with those boys, huh? And so, there were all these registered courtesans to keep these young dandies out of trouble, literally. So, Venice was kind of weird that way because it was small and condensed. And the families needed to consolidate their inheritance basically.

So, there were educated women. Barbara was not among the list of registered courtesans. I don’t know what that tells us either, but it’s not as important a thing as we might make it from our social, moral, standing in this century or the one before.


[55:14 - Erin McAdams, soprano, and Christine Debus, piano, performs “Che si può fare” from Arie a voce sola, Op. 8]


Text by Gaudenzio Brunacci, translated by Candace Magner

Che si può fare
le stele rubelle
non hanno pietà
che s’el cielo non da
un influso di pace
al mio penare
che si può fare.

Che si può dire
da gl’astri disastri
mi piovano ogn’or;
che si può dire
che le perfido
amer un respiro
di niega al mio martire
che si può dire.
What can one do
if the rebel stars
have no pity;
what can be done
if heaven has
no peaceful influence
to soothe my sorrows.

What can one say
from the stars disasters
rain upon me at all hours;
what can be said
if perfidious love
denies the slightest repose
to my martyrdom;
what can be said?
2174 Last modified on April 15, 2020