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"Pitch aggregates in Italian theory and Barbara Strozzi’s tonal style"

This presentation explores the use and eventual abandonment of the two inherited pitch aggregates – canto per bemolle (♭, that is, a signature of a single flat) and canto per bequadro (♮, or a void signature) – among seventeenth-century Italian composers. Its focus is the changing tonal practice of Barbara Strozzi. On the basis of earlier testimony by Giovanni Lanfranco (1533) and Gioseffo Zarlino (1558), we understand that bemolle and bequadro represent sub-systems within the Guidonian gamut. Adriano Banchieri (1613) testifies further that they denote the flatward or sharpward tonal orientations of a composition that result in its different modulations and points of tonal focus. According to this distinction of orientations between bemolle or bequadro pitch aggregates, pieces that share the same final and quality of third above it but differ in their single flat or void signature demonstrate contrasting tonalities (for example, Strozzi’s “Tra le speranze e’l timore,” from Op. 2 and “Aure già che non posso,” Op. 8).

This much outlines the tradition of pitch aggregates that served as Strozzi’s point of departure. In her changing notational practice and tonal-harmonic style between the 1640s and 1660s, we see the widening gap between bemolle/bequadro and eventual keys. The characteristics of different pieces by Strozzi in C with a minor third (“Consiglio amoroso,” from Op. 1, versus “Pensiero troppo audace,” Op. 6) or her manner of distinguishing major- and minor-third tonalities (“Sul Rodano severo”), for example, reveal a developing idiom of diversified pitch content and strengthened tonal-harmonic focus. The larger picture and Strozzi’s place within it illustrate, on the one hand, how she typifies a pathway of tonal evolution in seventeenth-century music, a symptom of which lies in how composers notated key signatures. On the other hand, Strozzi stands out in her era – perhaps uniquely – in the exotic and even bizarre harmonic features that underlie her vivid text-expressive style.

Gregory Barnett is Professor of Musicology at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University. He is the author of Bolognese Instrumental Music, 1660-1710: Spiritual Comfort, Courtly Delight, and Commercial Triumph (Ashgate) and is a contributor to The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music, Geminiani Studies (Ut Orpheus Edizioni), Regole Armoniche (1775) by Vincenzo Manfredini (Brepols), and The Early Keyboard Sonata in Italy (Brepols). He has also published articles in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Early Music, The Journal of Musicology, Theoria, Oxford Bibliographies Online, and the Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis. His interests include the history of modal theory and tonal organization in seventeenth-century music, Baroque-era instrumental music and instruments, and historical performance practice. His research has been supported by awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Bellagio Center of the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Program, and the American Musicological Society.

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