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2 sopranos et accordéon

I revisited, as it were, four Italian poems from the 17th C. albeit in English translation, my own. Once serving as lyrics for Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677), renowned then also as ‘la virtuosissima cantatrice,’ these texts were penned by two writers: her father, poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi (1583-1652), as well as most probably Giovanni Francesco Loredan (1607-1661) or Loredano, Venetian public figure who gathered around him a group of intellectuals, littérateurs, philosophers, and musicians including Monteverdi, all members later of his libertine ‘Accademia degli Incogniti’ (‘Academy of the Unknowns’).

Strozzi herself wrote no operas. But in her madrigals, in her one-, two-, and three-voiced ariettes and especially in her cantatas with their succession of passages in aria and recitative style, one finds opera’s chamber music equivalent, the diminutive elements of a compelling music theatre exhibited only in courtly salons, performed by her before a stylish gathering (‘camerata’) of men assembled within the even more elegant chambers of their academy. These texts, almost always construed from a woman’s point of view, are all love poems and invariably look to the suffering caused by unrequited love, presented across a full range of emotions, from ironic mockery to weeping melancholy: the stuff of opera, to be sure.

For me, revisiting these texts signifies something special, now that they are heard in English for the first time. Not only does the combination of two women singers in Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour lend itself to replicating in some respect the intense atmosphere of a ‘camerata’ but the presence of an accordion in another way also points to the intimate soirée. In the continuo accompaniments to her mini-operas, Barbara Strozzi likely employed the ‘organetto’ (portative organ), following the practice of Frescobaldi (1538-1643) who, in his numerous Canzoni da sonare (Venice, 1634), indicates ‘basso ad organo.’ What better instrument than the accordion to suggest this important musical character? (In Italy, there exists still today a folk instrument akin to the accordion endearingly called the ‘organetto.’)

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