Strozzi vs. Jacquet de la Guerre: Baroque Composer War, Battle 2

Written by Stephen J. Trygar
Cover Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash

Barbara Strozzi (formerly Barbara Valle) spent her childhood in the Venetian home of Giulio Strozzi with her mother, Isabella Garzoni. Although there is a significant amount of controversy surrounding the idea that Giulio Strozzi was her father, it is confirmed that Barbara’s mother was his servant. An accomplished poet and librettist, Giulio Strozzi began requesting Barbara to sing in his home for his esteemed guests and friends. Her performances drew the attention of several composers; her most influential acquaintance from that period would be Francesco Cavalli, who, with the help of Giulio Strozzi, became her composition teacher. Her performance in Giulio’s home would begin featuring her own compositions, and by 1644, her first book of madrigals was published. Her early success as a composer was not without its tribulations. As the only woman in attendance at her Giulio’s meetings of the Accademia degli Unisoni (a academy founded by Giulio where intellectual, literary, and musical interests could be discussed), Barbara would be accused of being a courtesan. The rumors of her supposed blemished morality did not deter Barbara from continuing her career as a composer. By 1651, Barbara had published her second book of music that contained cantatas, ariettas, and duets. Despite the loss of Giulio, Barbara’s compositional career blossomed. She completed six more volumes of music after his death, and only the fourth book has been lost.

Barbara Strozzi maintained an independent career as a composer throughout her life without the patronage of a court. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she was a composer who never dabbled in writing opera, but her seven surviving books of music contain some of the most prolific writing of the 17th Century. Her cantata “Donna di maestà, di valor tanto” from Op. 2 was written to celebrate the marriage of Ferdinand III of Austria and Eleanor of Mantua. This work, and many other pieces found in her second book Cantate, Arietta e Duetti, Op. 2 remain some of her most performed works due to the books vast quantity of styles and forms. Because Strozzi would perform many of her compositions herself, most of her songs were written for a soprano, such as her “Lagrime mie” from Op. 7 and “Che si può fare” from Op. 9.

Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (née Elisabeth Jacquet) was a child prodigy born into a French musical family that valued and nurtured her artistic talents. France had become one of the most accepting social and cultural environments, and this climate allowed the budding composer to thrive. Her musical training was initiated by her father, and she was quickly invited to perform the harpsichord before King Louis XIV. Her performance secured her into the French royal where her continuing education was supervised by Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, Marquise de Montespan. She remained in the court until it was moved to Versailles. Soon after she married the organist Marin de la Guerre. Along with her marriage came a shift in her musical career; she began composing, teaching, and giving concerts in her own home and around Paris.

Jacquet de la Guerre’s compositional career began with dramatic music. One of her earliest works, the ballet Les jeux à l’honneur de la victoire, has been lost, but the libretto has been left behind. However, her opera Céphale et Procris has withstood the tests of time. The opera was performed at the Académie Royale de Musique in 1694 (what is now the Opéra national de Paris). Prior to the mediocre success of the opera, Jacquet de la Guerre had already published a book of harpsichord pieces titled Les pièces de clavessin. A second book of harpsichord piece surfaced in 1707 along with the publication of Pièces de clavecin qui peuvent se jouer sur le violon. Throughout her career as a composer, she often confined herself to Italian genres, such as sonatas and cantatas, despite the French rejection of said genres. When composing secular works, Jacquet de la Guerre induced rhythmic vitality and adventurous harmony, such as her Violin Sonata in D minor. In sacred music she kept her musical palate more restrained, as demonstrated in her cantata Le passage de la Mer rouge. Most of her music was dedicated to Louis XIV, excluding one set of secular cantatas written for Maximillian II Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaria. Her final work, a Te Deum, was dedicated to Louis XIV and his son Louis XV in thanks to God for the recovery of the latter’s battle with smallpox. Unfortunately, this last work has been lost, but a great deal of Jacquet de la Guerre’s works remain in the popular Baroque repertoire.

Published by Stephen J. Trygar

I am a musicologist and music historian currently residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My primary focus is on theatrical music (opera, ballet, and incidental music) and symphonic music.

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