Giulio Strozzi, a poet and librettist, recognised Barbara as his adopted daughter. She was most likely the illegitimate daughter of Strozzi and Isabella Garzoni, his long-time servant and heir. She was baptised in the church of Santa Sofia in the Cannaregio district of Venice.
Giulio encouraged his daughter's musical talent, even creating an academy in which Barbara’s performances could be validated and displayed publicly. He seemed to be interested in exhibiting her considerable vocal talents to a wider audience. However, her singing was not her only talent. She was also compositionally gifted, and her father arranged for her to study with composer Francesco Cavalli.
It is conceivable that Strozzi may have been a courtesan, however, she also may have merely been the target of jealous slander by her male contemporaries. She appears to have led a quiet, if not slightly unusual life; there is evidence that at least three of her four children were fathered by the same man, Giovanni Paolo Vidman. Vidman (also spelled Widmann) was a patron of the arts and supporter of early opera. After Vidman's death it is likely that Strozzi supported herself by means of her investments and by her compositions. He did not, apparently, leave anything to her or her children in his will.
Strozzi was said to be "the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice in the Middle of the century." Her output is also unique in that it only contains secular vocal music, with the exception of one volume of sacred songs. She was renowned for her poetic ability as well as her compositional talent. Her lyrics were often poetic and well-articulated.
Nearly three-quarters of her printed works were written for soprano, but she also published works for other voices. Her compositions are firmly rooted in the seconda pratica tradition. Strozzi’s music evokes the spirit of Cavalli, heir of Monteverdi. However, her style is more lyrical, and more dependent on sheer vocal sound. Many of the texts for her early pieces were written by her father Giulio. Later texts were written by her father's colleagues, and for many compositions she may have written her own texts.
- Il primo libro di madrigali, per 2–5 voci e basso continuo, op. 1 (1644)
- Cantate, ariette e duetti, per 2 voci e basso continuo, op. 2 (1651)
- Cantate e ariette, per 1–3 voci e basso continuo, op. 3 (1654)
- Sacri musicali affetti, libro I, op. 5 (1655)
- Quis dabit mihi, mottetto per 3 voci (1656)
- Ariette a voce sola, op. 6 (1657)
- Diporti di Euterpe ovvero Cantate e ariette a voce sola, op. 7 (1659)
- Arie a voce sola, op. 8 (1664)
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- Glixon, Beth L. (1999). "More on the life and death of Barbara Strozzi". The Musical Quarterly. 83 (1): 134–141. doi:10.1093/mq/83.1.134.
- Heller, Wendy (2006). "Usurping the place of the muses: Barbara Strozzi and the female composer in seventeenth-century Italy". In Stauffer, George B. The World of Baroque Music: New Perspectives. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 145–168. ISBN 978-025334798-5.
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- Ellen Rosand with Beth L. Glixon. "Barbara Strozzi", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (grovemusic.com (subscription required).
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- Rosand, Ellen (1978). "Barbara Strozzi, virtuosissima cantatrice: the composer’s voice", Journal of the American Musicological Society, 31, (2) 241–281.
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