4 January 2017

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi – composer

Brief career of 'opera buffa' genius

A portrait of Pergolesi presented to the Naples Conservatory by his brother, Florimo
A portrait of Pergolesi presented to the Naples
Conservatory by his brother, Florimo
Opera composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was born on this day in 1710 as Giovanni Battista Draghi, in Jesi, in what is now the province of Ancona.

He later acquired the name Pergolesi, the Italian word for the residents of Pergola in Marche, which had been the birthplace of his ancestors.

Pergolesi was the most important early composer of opera buffa - comic opera. He wrote a two-act buffa intermezzo for one of his serious operas, which later became a popular work in its own right.

He also wrote sacred music and his Stabat Mater, composed in 1736, has been used in the soundtracks of many contemporary films.

Pergolesi received a musical education at the Conservatorio dei Poveri in Naples where he gained a good reputation as a violinist.

Watch a complete performance of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

In 1732 he was appointed maestro di cappella to the Prince of Stigliano in Naples and produced for him an opera buffa, Lo frate ‘nnammorato, and a sacred work, believed to be his Mass in D, which were both well received.

The following year his serious opera, Il prigionier superbo, was produced but it was the comic intermezzo, La serva padrona, inserted between the acts, that was most popular, revealing his gift for comic characterisation.

A poster advertising a performance of Pergolesi's  intermezzo La Serva Padrona in 1739
A poster advertising a performance of Pergolesi's
 intermezzo La Serva Padrona in 1739
In 1734 Pergolesi went to Rome to direct the performance of his Mass in F.

After that his health began to fail and he went to live in the Franciscan monastery at Pozzuoli, near Naples, where he finished his last work, the celebrated Stabat Mater, which demonstrated his ability to handle large, choral and instrumental forces.

He died in extreme poverty at the age of 26 and was buried in the Cathedral at Pozzuoli.

When Pergolesi died, his fame had scarcely spread beyond Rome and Naples, but later in the century it grew enormously. The success of La serva padrona was mainly posthumous and it reached its peak after it was performed in Paris in 1752.

It led to the so called ‘guerre des bouffons’ - the war of the buffoons - which divided the supporters of serious opera and the supporters of the new Italian comic opera, with Pergolesi held up as a model of the Italian style. Musical forgers produced works claiming to be by Pergolesi, and a number of works originally attributed to him have since been shown to be by other composers.

Jesi's Teatro Pergolesi was named in honour of the composer
Jesi's Teatro Pergolesi was named in honour of the composer
Pergolesi was the subject of a 1932 Italian film, Pergolesi , directed by Guido Brignone with Elio Steiner playing the role of the composer.

His Stabat Mater was used in the films, Farinelli, Jesus of Montreal, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Amadeus, The Mirror, Cactus and a 2016 documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid, which was about Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.

Pergolesi was honoured in his home town of Jesi in the 19th century when the Teatro della Concordia was renamed Teatro Pergolesi.

Travel tip:

The Conservatorio dei Poveri in Naples, where Pergolesi studied, was founded in 1589 by Marcello Fossataro, a Franciscan monk. It was adjacent to the Baroque Church of Santa Maria della Colonna in Via dei Tribunali. It was converted into a religious educational institution in 1743.

The Baroque church of Santa Maria della Colonna in Naples
The Baroque church of Santa Maria
della Colonna in Naples
Travel tip:

Pozzuoli is a comune of Naples in the region of Campania, lying in the centre of an area of volcanic activity. In the 1980s the city experienced hundreds of tremors and the sea bottom was raised by almost two metres, making the Bay of Pozzuoli too shallow for large craft. After Pergolesi died in poverty in Pozzuoli, his body was placed in an unmarked mass grave in the Cathedral.

More reading:

Why Domenico Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto is regarded as one of the greatest comic operas

The opening of Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1737

Jacopo Peri - the 'inventor' of the opera

Also on this day:

1975: Death of writer Carlo Levi

(Picture credits: Teatro Pergolesi by Gaspa; church of Santa Maria della Colonna by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)


No comments:

Post a Comment