Strozzi: L'Astratto - Cantata for Soprano and Continuo
Barbara Strozzi's Cantata L'Astratto for soprano (a-a'') and and basso continuo.
L'Astratto, the amusing fourth cantata in Arie Op. 8 3, depicts a man striving to express his suffering in poetry and song. Maybe he has pen in hand, or a library of arias to choose from, but either way he begins by stating his resolve to sing, in a recitative in D major (bars 1-26) which sets the word tormento to a poignant chromatic Passacaglia and gives the continuo a Ciaccona solo. He rejects his first attempt, in e minor (preceded by a Passacaglia Ritornello), overwhelmed by its sadness; he interrupts the second, a virtuoso outburst in G major (bars 41-55), speaking (Parlato) rather than singing; he then tries a "motto" aria in D major (bars 56-79) with affected tempo changes, but can’t invent a way out of the eternal fires of Hell. He tries again without success in A major (80-101). He aborts another Ciaccona, this time in C major (bars 102-9), as "even worse" after only half a line; likewise an attempt to develop a melodic sequence in 6/8 time (110-116). Dejected and distracted (astratto), he claims to have tried a "hundred” things. The D major Ciaccona bass returns (124), he pours out two moving stanzas in 6/4 about the mental imprisonment of love, to his utter surprise (148), and then concludes with a smoothly flowing arioso in 6/8 (154-171) that leaps three times to the high a'' he had previously reserved for the Furies and the Heaven of desire. Every sort of contrast is exploited in this 9 minute piece, including the comic portrayal of the lover’s mental suffering.