“One who doesn’t risk never finds joy” advises the madrigal L’amante timido eccitato(The timid, excited lover). It’s a line that epitomises the life of its composer, Barbara Strozzi.

Gambenspielerin (The Viola da Gamba Player), c. 1630–1640, (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) by Bernardo Strozzi, believed to be of Barbara Strozzi Gambenspielerin ( The Viola da Gamba Player), c. 1630–1640, by Bernardo Strozzi, believed to be of Barbara Strozzi.

No fewer than eight collections of exquisite vocal works published between 1644 and 1664 prove she was a prolific composer. Her output surpassed celebrated contemporaries Giacomo Carissimi, Antonio Cesti and Salamone Rossi, an achievement that was astonishing simply because Strozzi was a woman. Not only that, she was a headstrong woman, unafraid to explore eroticism in her music, to challenge convention and to push the boundaries of form and tradition. Her experience as a singer informed...

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