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Critical Analysis of: Barbara Strozzi: From Madrigal to Cantata

Barbara Strozzi: From Madrigal to Cantata By Susan J Mardinly

Critical Analysis By Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

The article describes the life and work of the Baroque female composer Barbara Strozzi. Dr. Mardinly, the author of the article, is focused in describe the Strozzi style as the conjunction of emotion and intellectual venetian environment. Those elements, according to the author, can be founded in the strong relation of music and rhetoric in Strozzi compositions. This information is important to singers, voice professors and conductors due to the explanations of how the rhetoric influences the music and the necessary performances practices to achieve that. In addition, the opera related musicians can found in this article interesting ideas of the text influencing the music. However, due to her background as singer major more than musicology, Dr. Mardinly is in many times using feelings as facts and some ideas are placed without supports.

The problem with Feelings as Facts

The article has important problems as an academic article due to the use of feelings as facts to describe the music of Barbara Strozzi. Examples of it can be founded even at the beginning of the article where the author describe the Barbara Strozzi work as: “…her music is sublime, superbly crafted, melodically and vocally exquisite…”[1] As a reader of this article the first question starts, what is the academic result of using those others words as a way to describe the music of the baroque composer? This is important because as an article the facts that are placed and even published should be correct.

To understand the problem with those descriptions the present critical analysis will take the first word: Sublime. If we review the Oxford Dictionary Online, we can see that the word as an adjective has 3 possible definitions: “…1. Of very great excellence or beauty […] 1.1. producing an overwhelming sense of awe or other high emotion through being vast or grand. […] 2. (of a person's attitude or behavior) extreme or unparalleled”[2] The first definition probably is what Dr. Mardinly try to said. However, the excellence or beauty is totally subjective.

The works of Beethoven are a good example; different kind of reviews can be founded to describe its beauty. For one side, some Beethoven’s contemporaries disliked the work: “["Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect."] (Zeitung fur die Elegente Welt, Vienna, May 1804)”[3] On the other hand, others thought great things about the Bonn born composer “…His contemporaries applauded his Second as a noteworthy piece full of power and depth…”[4] This simple example that can be done with any work of music not only with Beethoven, explains how easy is contra-argue the words of Dr. Mardinly when is describing the Barbara Strozzi music.

Similar problems can be founded in other parts of the article. Describing the basso characteristics of Strozzi compositions[5], operatic relations with her works or describing the vocal lines as “angular” without supporting ideas.[6] With this analysis a pattern appears in the way that the author organize her ideas with a lack of supporting ideas or facts that can probe or really convince the reader about those. Therefore, is important that the author review the way that is expressing is thoughts and how each new idea is supported in order to be more effective and academically correct.

This problem in the article probably can be understood by the article’s writer expertise. As a singer professor of Hartford Conservatory, University of Connecticut and Post University, Dr. Mardinly primarily field is teaching voice technique.[7] However, a little review of her publications can show more than 25 publications with 10 works.[8] Therefore the questions appears, there is a problem of expertise or is a problem of ideas outside the primordial goal of the article?

The author is very effective in the description of the Barbara Strozzi compositions and life. Her descriptions of the amount of opus and publications is very precise. In addition, her descriptions of the Venetian life of courtesans and artistic field in Strozzi years is very clear. Furthermore, the ideas of how the relation between Barbara and her foster father Giulio Strozzi can affect his music are clear. Her supporting with the father being a member of the Academia Degi Incogni and the founder of the first opera theater create strong logic for the idea.[9] What starts to appears is that Dr. Mardinly in addition to point out the amount of works published by a female composer in the baroque, that is done academic correct in this article; is trying to convince the reader that the Barbara Strozzi music is beautiful and highly unique but do not give support to it.

Three important suggestions can be given to the writer in this aspect. First, due to the amount of information placed in the article to describe the works of Barbara Strozzi, the esthetical analysis of her style could be placed in a different article. Second, due to the difficulties of this kind of analysis, is important to be objective in the analysis and just use facts in the music to describe it, being aware of any feeling or subjective idea in this aspect. Third, due to the ideas of “huge melodic invention”[10] and vocally exquisite[11], a serious research contrasting Strozzi’s works with other contemporary and previous composers will help the writer to give more academic support for her assumptions.


The article is very effective describing the life and work of the Barbara Strozzi. Focused primarily in describe the Strozzi style, the author states that it can be defined as the emotion and intellectual venetian environment conjunction. The author is effective in the describe how the music and rhetoric are related in Strozzi works. The article is a good source for singers, voice professors and conductors. There they can find explanations rhetoric influencing the music and some advices for performances practices. In addition, musicians that are related with the opera can read interesting ideas of the text influencing the music. However, the article is weak in the ideas about the esthetical aspect of the Strozzi’s work. Ideas without necessary supports and feelings used as facts creates an article that need to be read with careful attention to identify the real facts and author subjective desires.

[1] Susan J Mardinly, “Barbara Strozzi: From Madrigal to Cantata,” The Official Journal of the National Association of Teachers ofSinging(May 2002): 375-91, accessed February 13, 2018, (Page 1)

[2] Oxford University Press, “Sublime Definition,” Oxford Dictionaries, accessed February 13, 2018,

[3] Kevin Weng- and Yew Mayner, “Critical Assaults on Beethoven,” New York Public Radio, accessed February 13, 2018,

[4] The Philadelphia Orchestra Association, “Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 21,” Southern California Public Radio, accessed February 13, 2018,

[5] Susan J Mardinly, “Barbara Strozzi: From Madrigal to Cantata,” The Official Journal of the National Association of Teachers ofSinging(May 2002): 375-91, accessed February 13, 2018, (Page 17)

[6] Ibid. (Page 20)

[7] University of Hartford, “SUSAN MARDINLY,” University of Hartford, accessed February 13, 2018,

[8] WorldCat Identities, “Mardinly, Susan J.,” WorldCat Identities, accessed February 13, 2018,

[9] Susan J Mardinly, “Barbara Strozzi: From Madrigal to Cantata,” The Official Journal of the National Association of Teachers ofSinging(May 2002): 375-91, accessed February 13, 2018, (Page 5)

[10] Ibib (Page 20)

[11] Ibib (Page 1)

This Critical Analysis is Partial Fulfillment of M.M. in Opera and Orchestra Conducting at APU

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