Showing posts with label Baroque. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baroque. Show all posts

8 April 2024

Giuseppe Tartini – composer and violinist

Baroque musician also contributed to science

As well as composing for violin, Tartini
established a new technique for playing
Giuseppe Tartini, who was influential in the development of music by establishing the modern style of violin bowing, was born on this day in 1692 in Pirano in the Republic of Venice.

A violinist, baroque composer, and theorist, Tartini also formulated the principles of musical ornamentation and harmony.

His birthplace of Pirano was part of Venetian territory in the 17th century but is now named Piran and is part of Slovenia.

Tartini spent most of his career in Padua, where he went to study divinity and law and became an expert at fencing. Before he reached the age of 20, he had secretly married Elisabetta Premazore, a protégée of the Archbishop of Padua, but this led to him being arrested on charges of  abduction. He disguised himself as a monk and fled the city, taking refuge in a monastery in Assisi.

Later, Tartini was allowed to return to his wife by the archbishop after news that his violin playing had attracted favourable attention had reached him.

Tartini became principal violinist and maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Sant’Antonio in 1721 and he was invited to Prague in 1723 to direct the orchestra of the Chancellor of Bohemia.

After his return to Padua in 1728 he founded a school of violin playing and composition there.

Tartini composed more than 100 violin concertos and many sonatas, including the Trillo del Diavolo (Devil’s Trill). He also composed music for trios and quartets and religious works.

His playing was said to be remarkable because of its combination of technical and poetic qualities, and his bowing technique became a model for later violinists. He was invited to go on a concert tour of Italy in 1740.

Tartini contributed to the science of acoustics with his discovery of the Tartini tone, which was a third note, heard when two notes are played steadily and with intensity.

He wrote a treatise on music, Trattato di musica, in 1754 as well as a dissertation on the principles of music harmony and a treatise on ornamentation in music.

Tartini died in Padua in 1770 at the age of 77.

Giotto's frescoes lining the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua considered among the world's great artworks
Giotto's frescoes lining the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
considered among the world's great artworks
Travel tip:

The elegant city of Padua, where Tartini was principal violinist and maestro di cappella at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, is an important centre for pilgrims. The Scrovegni Chapel contains frescoes by Giotto, considered to be among the greatest works of art in the world. Dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita (Saint Mary of the Charity), the chapel was decorated with frescoes by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. He was commissioned to paint the frescoes by Enrico degli Scrovegni, who was hoping to atone for the sins of usury committed by himself and his dead father. The frescoes narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ and the stunning scenes cover the interior walls of the chapel. On the wall opposite the altar is Giotto’s magnificent Universal Judgment, which tells the story of human salvation and includes the figure of Enrico degli Scrovegni offering up a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary in a desperate bid to save his father from hell. For more information visit

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua is
visited by some five million pilgrims each year
Travel tip:

The enormous Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova, sometimes known as the Basilica del Santo, where Tartini was principal violinist and maestro di cappella, is one of the most important places of Christian worship in the world. An estimated five million pilgrims visit the basilica every year to file past and touch the tomb of their beloved Sant’Antonio, a Franciscan monk who became famous for his miracles. The magnificent church, in Piazza del Santo, is an architectural masterpiece created between the 13th and 14th centuries, but it was later enriched with works of art by masters such as Titian, Tiepolo and the sculptor Donatello. 

Also on this day:

1492: The death of Medici ruler Lorenzo the Magnificent

1848: The death of composer Gaetano Donizetti

1868: The birth of equestrian pioneer Federico Caprilli

1929: The birth of historian Renzo De Felice

(The portrait of Giuseppe Tartini, by an anonymous artist, is housed in the Museo del Castello Sforzesco in Milan)


26 October 2019

Domenico Scarlatti - composer

Neapolitan famous for his 555 keyboard sonatas

A portrait of Domenico Scarlatti, painted by  Domenico Antonio Valasco in 1738
A portrait of Domenico Scarlatti, painted by
Domenico Antonio Velasco in 1738
The composer Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti, known as Domenico Scarlatti, was born in Naples on this day in 1685.

Born in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, Scarlatti was the sixth of 10 children fathered by the composer Alessandro Scarlatti.

Like his father, Domenico composed in a variety of musical styles, making the transition in his lifetime from Baroque to traditional Classical. Today, he is known mainly for his 555 keyboard sonatas, which expanded the musical possibilities of the harpsichord.

Although he began his career in Naples, Scarlatti spent a large part of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. In fact, he died in Madrid in 1757.

Early in 1701, at the age of just 15, Scarlatti was appointed as composer and organist at the royal chapel in Naples. At 17, his first operas, L’Ottavia restituita al trono and Il Giustino, were produced there.

In 1705 his father sent him to Venice, reputedly to study with the composer Francesco Gasparini, although nothing is known with certainty about his life there. It is thought he may have met a young Irishman, Thomas Roseingrave, who later described Scarlatti’s advances in harpsichord music to the English musicologist Charles Burney, although other accounts of his life suggest he may have first encountered Roseingrave in Rome.

Alessandro Scarlatti passed on his musical versatility to his son, Domenico
Alessandro Scarlatti passed on his musical
versatility to his son, Domenico
Scarlatti is known to have been in Rome from 1709, having entered the service of the exiled Polish queen Marie Casimire. In Rome, Scarlatti is believed to have developed a friendship with Handel, against whom, legend has it, he featured in a trial of skill on harpsichord and organ at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome. Handel is said to have been judged the better organ player but outperformed by Scarlatti on the harpsichord. He became known as the "greatest Italian harpsichord composer of all time".

While in Rome, Scarlatti was maestro di cappella at St. Peter's from 1715 to 1719. Also in Rome, he produced his last opera, Ambleto and collaborated with Nicola Porpora in Berenice, regina di Egitto.

His Rome adventure also brought a commission from the Portuguese embassy, for which in 1714 he composed a cantata in honour of the birth of a crown prince of Portugal. A few years later, he quit his position at the Vatican to move to Lisbon, where his serenata La Contesa delle Stagioni was performed at the royal palace.

Scarlatti became musical director to King John V of Portugal, as well as music master to the king’s younger brother Don Antonio and to Princess Maria Bárbara de Bragança, who was to remain his patroness and for whom most of the harpsichord sonatas were written.

In 1728, after his father had died, Scarlatti returned to Italy, where he married a Roman girl, Maria Caterina Gentili, who was much younger than him and who bore him six children.  In the same year, after his pupil, Maria Bárbara, married the Spanish crown prince, the future Ferdinand VI, he followed the newlywed royal couple to Spain.

The castrato singer Farinelli, like Scarlatti, enjoyed the patronage of the court of Madrid
The castrato singer Farinelli, like Scarlatti, enjoyed
the patronage of the court of Madrid
Initially based in Seville, Scarlatti moved to Madrid in 1733 to be music master to Maria Bárbara. He stayed in Spain for the last 25 years of his life.  After the death of his first wife in 1742, he married a Spaniard, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes, with whom he had five more children.

Among his compositions for the Spanish court were most of his 555 keyboard sonatas.  While in their service, he befriended the Neapolitan castrato singer Farinelli, who also enjoyed royal patronage in Madrid.

Scarlatti died in Madrid at the age of 71. His residence on Calle Leganitos is designated with a historical plaque. His descendants still live in the Spanish capital.

His music, the sonatas in particular, had a profound influence on the compositions of contemporary and subsequent composers. Among his admirers, apart from Handel and Bach, were Bartók, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, Chopin and Debussy.

The Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella became  the centre of the 18th century music scene in Naples
The Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella became
the centre of the 18th century music scene in Naples
Travel tip:

The famous Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella, which became the centre of the city’s musical world in the years after Scarlatti, evolved from four institutions set up in the 16th century with the prime purpose of providing a refuge for orphan children.  The name ‘conservatorio’ relates to this original purpose, which was to conserve the lives of the children.  The oldest was the orphanage of Santa Maria di Loreto, situated in the poor fisherman’s district of the city. These institutions aimed to provide tuition in various skills, including music.  In time they acquired such a good reputation for providing a musical education that they began to be seen as music colleges primarily, and Naples eventually became one of the most important centres for musical training in Europe, nicknamed the “conservatory of Europe". Under the rule of Joachim Murat, the French cavalry leader Napoleon installed as King of Naples for a short period in the early 19th century, the original four conservatories were consolidated into a single institution, which was relocated in 1826 to the premises of the ex-monastery, San Pietro a Maiella.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome was the home of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, a patron of music in the city
The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome was the home of
Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, a patron of music in the city
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni where Domenico Scarlatti’s musical trial against Handel is thought to have taken place, is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori. It is probably the earliest Renaissance palace to be built in Rome. It is the work of the architect Donato Bramante between 1489 and 1513, initially as a residence for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was the Camerlengo - treasurer - of the Holy Roman Church under Pope Sixtus V. It evolved as the seat of the Chancellery of the Papal States.  The Roman Republic used it as their parliament building.


4 November 2018

Guido Reni – painter

Bolognese artist who idealised Raphael

Guido Reni: a self-portrait executed in about 1603, currently in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome
Guido Reni: a self-portrait executed in about
1603, currently in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome
The leading Baroque painter, Guido Reni, was born on this day in 1575 in Bologna, then part of the Papal States.

He was to become a dominant figure in the Bolognese school of painting, which emerged under the influence of the Carracci, a family of painters in Bologna. He was held in high regard because of the classical idealism of his portrayals of mythological and religious subjects.

Although his father, Daniele, wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a musician, Guido Reni passionately wanted to become an artist and was apprenticed to the Flemish painter Denis Calvaert when he was 10 years old. He focused on studying the works of Raphael, who, for the rest of his life, remained his ideal.

Reni went on to enter the academy led by Ludovico Carracci, the Accademia degli Incamminati - The academy of the newly-embarked - in Bologna. He was received into the guild of painters in the city in 1599 when he was nearly 24.

After this he divided his time between his studios in Bologna and Rome.

One of his most famous works, Crucifixion of St Peter, which is now in the Vatican Museum in Rome, was painted for Cardinal Aldobrandini in 1605.

Reni's dramatic depiction of the Crucifixion of St Peter (1605)
Reni's dramatic depiction of the
Crucifixion of St Peter (1605)
Early in his career, Reni executed important commissions for Pope Paul V, painting frescoes in churches in Rome, including the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. One of his most celebrated works from this period is the Aurora fresco, painted between 1613 and 1614 for the large central hall of the Casino dell’Aurora, located in the grounds of the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi.

Reni travelled to Naples in 1622 to paint frescoes on the ceiling of the chapel of San Gennaro in the Cathedral.

In 1630, the Barberini family commissioned from Reni a painting of the Archangel Michael for the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. There was a rumour that Reni had represented Satan, crushed under St Michael’s foot, with the facial features of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphili, in revenge for a slight he had experienced from him.

Reni’s unique style was to paint religious and mythological subjects in light, soft colours, posing the figures gracefully, as in Atalanta and Hippomenes, executed in 1625.

Ancient Greek sculptures and the frescoes of Raphael were the main inspiration for his type of art.

He became one of the most famous painters of his day in Europe and was the model for other Italian Baroque artists who came later.

Reni died, aged 66, in 1642 in Bologna. He was buried in the Rosary Chapel of the Basilica of San Domenico. The painter Elisabetta Sirani, whose father had been Reni’s pupil, and who was considered by many to have been the artistic reincarnation of Reni, was later interred in the same tomb.

Reni painted frescoes in the Naples Duomo, also known as the Cattedrale di San Gernnaro
Reni painted frescoes in the Naples Duomo, also known
as the Cattedrale di San Gernnaro
Travel tip:

The Duomo in Naples, in Via Duomo, off Via Tribunali, was built over the ruins of two earlier Christian churches for Charles I of Anjou at the end of the 13th century. One of the main attractions inside is the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, which contains Reni’s frescoes, along with many other precious works of art. The Duomo is also sometimes referred to as Cattedrale di San Gennaro. It is open to the public from 8.30am to 1.30pm and 2.30 to 8pm, Monday to Saturday, and 8.30am to 1.30pm and 4.30 to 7.30pm on Sundays.

The Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna, where Reni is buried, contains several important works of art
The Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna, where Reni is
buried, contains several important works of art
Travel tip:

Guido Reni is buried in the Rosary Chapel of the 13th century Basilica of San Domenico in Piazza San Domenico in Bologna. The church is close to the Archiginnasio, once the main building of the University of Bologna. Behind the red-brick façade of the church, which was added as recently as 1910, lies a treasure house of art including works by Pisano, Michelangelo, Iacopo da Bologna and Guido Reni himself. In the Rosary Chapel, the most important work is the Mystery of the Rosary, a group of paintings worked on by Lodovico Carracci, Bartolomeo Cesi, Denis Calvaert, Lavinia Fontana, Guido Reni and Domenichino. The artist Elisabetta Sirani was later interred in the same tomb as Guido Reni.

More reading:

Elisabetta Sirani - talented young painter whose sudden death shocked Bologna

How Annibale Carracci made his mark in Rome

Domenichino - the Bolognese master who rivalled Raphaal

Also on this day:

1333: Florence devastated by catastrophic floods

1737: The inauguration of Teatro San Carlo in Naples

1964: The birth of crime writer Sandrone Dazieri


13 September 2018

Girolamo Frescobaldi – composer

Organist was a ‘father of Italian music’

Girolamo Frescobaldi was a strong influence on a number of composers, including Bach
Girolamo Frescobaldi was a strong influence on
a number of composers, including Bach
Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi, one of the first great masters of organ composition, was born on this day in 1583 in Ferrara.

Frescobaldi is famous for his instrumental works, many of which are compositions for the keyboard, but his canzone are of historical importance for the part they played in the development of pieces for small instrumental ensembles and he was to have a strong influence on the German Baroque school.

Frescobaldi began his career as organist at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome in 1607. He travelled to the Netherlands the same year and published his first work, a book of madrigals, in Antwerp.

In 1608 he became the organist at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and, except for a few years when he was court organist in Florence, he worked at St Peter’s until his death.

He married Orsola Travaglini in 1613 and they had five children.

Frescobaldi published 12 fantasie that are notable for their contrapuntal mastery.

The title page of Frescobaldi's important and influential work, Fiori Musicali
The title page of Frescobaldi's important and
influential work, Fiori Musicali
In a collection of music published in 1626 he provides valuable information about performing his work. He writes in the preface: ‘Should the player find it tedious to play a piece right through he may choose such sections as he pleases provided only that he ends in the main key.’

A lot of his keyboard music was intended for the harpsichord as well as the organ. In another collection of his music published in 1627 he gives valuable information about the interpretation of Baroque instrumental music. He advises: ‘Play the opening of a toccata slowly and arpeggiando…if one hand has a trill while the other plays a passage, do not play note against note, but play the trill rapidly and the other expressively.’ Such directions indicate the extent to which keyboard style had developed between the Renaissance and the early Baroque period.

One of Frescobaldi’s most influential collections of compositions, Fiori Musicali, was published in 1635.

His work is known to have influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell, Johann Pachelbel and many other composers. Bach is known to have owned a manuscript copy of Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali.

Frescobaldi died in Rome in 1643, aged 59. He was buried in the Church of Santi Apostoli but his tomb disappeared during work carried out on the church in the late 18th century. However, a grave bearing his name and honouring him as one of the fathers of Italian music exists in the church today.

A plaque marks Frescobaldi's
birthplace in Ferrara 
Travel tip:

There is a commemorative plaque on the front of the birthplace of Girolamo Frescobaldi in Ferrara, a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50km (31 miles) northeast of Bologna. Ferrara was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent Este Castle in the centre of the city began in 1385 and it was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line.

The Church of Santi Apostoli in Rome, where Girolamo Frescobaldi was buried following his death in 1643
The Church of Santi Apostoli in Rome, where Girolamo
Frescobaldi was buried following his death in 1643

Travel tip:

Girolamo Frescobaldi was buried in the Church of Santi Apostoli - the Church of the 12 Holy Apostles - a minor basilica in Piazza Santi Apostoli near Palazzo Quirinale in Rome. The Church was dedicated to St James and St Philip, whose remains are kept there and later to all the Apostles. Among the many Cardinal Priests who have served there are Pope Clement XIV, whose tomb by Canova is in the church, and Henry Benedict Stuart, the final Jacobite heir to claim the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland publicly.


6 September 2018

Isabella Leonarda – composer

Devout nun wrote an abundance of Baroque music

Isabella Leonarda - a portrait from 
Isabella Leonarda, a nun who was one of the most productive women composers of her time, was born on this day in 1620 in Novara.

Leonarda’s published work spans a period of 60 years and she has been credited with more than 200 compositions.

She did not start composing regularly until she was in her fifties, but noted in the dedication to one of her works that she wrote music only during time allocated for rest, so as not to neglect her administrative duties within the convent.

Leonarda was the daughter of Count Gianantonio Leonardi and his wife Apollonia. The Leonardi were important people in Novara, many of them church and civic officials.

Leonarda entered the Collegio di Sant’Orsola, a convent in Novara, when she was 16 and rose to a high position within the convent.

Listen to an example of Leonarda's music:

Her published compositions began to appear in 1640 but it was the work she produced later in her life that she is remembered for today and she became one of the most prolific convent composers of the Baroque era.

The title page of a musical
score by Leonarda 
It is believed she taught the other nuns to perform music, which would have given her the opportunity to have her own compositions performed.

Leonarda wrote in nearly every genre of sacred music and is one of only two Italian women who wrote instrumental music at this time.

Her predominant genre was the solo motet, but her most notable achievements are considered to be her sonatas. Sonata 12 is her only solo sonata and is one of her best known compositions.

All her compositions carried a double dedication, one to the Virgin Mary and one to a highly-placed living person, perhaps in the hope they would give financial support to the convent. In one of her dedications she stated that she wrote music not to gain credit in the world, but so that all would know she was devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Leonarda died in Novara in 1704 at the age of 83.

The Piazza Gramsci in the heart of Novara
The Piazza Gramsci in the heart of Novara
Travel tip:

Novara, where Leonarda was born and died, is to the west of Milan in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is the second biggest city in the region after Turin. Founded by the Romans, it was later ruled by the Visconti and Sforza families. In the 18th century it was ruled by the House of Savoy. In the 1849 Battle of Novara, the Sardinian army was defeated by the Austrian army, who occupied the city. This led to the abdication of Charles Albert of Sardinia and is seen as the beginning of the Italian unification movement.

The cupola and the bell tower of the Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara
The cupola and the bell tower of the
Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara
Travel tip:

The most imposing building in Novara is the Basilica of San Gaudenzio, which has a 121-metre high cupola, but the centre of religious life in the city is the Duomo, which was built where the temple of Jupiter stood in Roman times. Facing the Duomo is the oldest remaining building in Novara, the Battistero. The pretty courtyard of the Broletto, is the historic meeting place of the city council and right at the centre of the city is the Piazza delle Erbe. Outside the city is the Novara Pyramid, which is also called the Ossuary of Bicocca. It was built to hold the ashes of fallen soldiers after the 19th century Battle of Novara.

More reading:

The Puccini contemporary who chose sacred music over opera

The music of Barbara Strozzi

The first Battle of Novara

Also on this day:

1610: The birth of Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena

1925: The birth of author Andrea Camilleri, creator of Inspector Montalbano


18 June 2018

Bartolomeo Ammannati – sculptor and architect

Florentine artist created masterpieces for his home city

Bartolomeo Ammannati sculpted the  Fountain of Neptune in Florence
Bartolomeo Ammannati sculpted the
Fountain of Neptune in Florence
Bartolomeo Ammannati, whose buildings in Italy marked the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1511 at Settignano near Florence.

Ammannati began his career as a sculptor, carving statues in a number of Italian cities during the 1530s.

He trained first under Baccio Bandinelli and then under Jacopo Sansovino in Venice, working with him on the Library of St Mark, the Biblioteca Marciana, in the Piazzetta.

Pope Julius III called Ammannati to Rome in 1550 on the advice of architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. Ammannati then worked with Vasari and Giacomo da Vignola on the Villa Giulia, which belonged to the Pope.

In the same year, Ammannati married the poet Laura Battiferri and they spent the early years of their marriage in Rome.

Cosimo I de' Medici brought Ammannati back to Florence in 1555, and it was where he was to spend the rest of his career.

His first job was to finish the Laurentian Library begun by Michelangelo. He interpreted a clay model sent to him by Michelangelo to produce the impressive staircase leading from the vestibule into the library.

The garden entrance of the Ammannati Courtyard at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence
The garden entrance of the Ammannati Courtyard at the
Palazzo Pitti in Florence
Ammannati’s masterpiece in Florence is considered to be the Pitti Palace, where he enlarged Filippo Brunelleschi’s basic structure and designed a courtyard and facade opening on to the Boboli Gardens.

His other major works in Florence are the Bridge of Santa Trinità over the Arno and the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria. It is believed the sculptor modelled Neptune’s face on that of Cosimo I de' Medici.

As he became older Ammannati was influenced by the philosophy of the Jesuits and turned away from sculpting nude statues in order to create more austere buildings.

Ammannati’s wife, Laura, died in 1589 and he attempted to have a final anthology of her poetry compiled, but he died in Florence in 1592 before it was completed. He left all his possessions to the Jesuits and was buried in the same church as his wife, the Church of San Giovannino degli Scolopi in the San Lorenzo district of Florence, which he had himself designed for the Jesuits.

The view from Piazza Desiderio in the centre of Settignano
The view from Piazza Desiderio in the centre of Settignano
Travel tip:

Settignano, where Ammannati was born, is a hilltop village northeast of Florence with wonderful views that have attracted tourists for years. Three other Renaissance sculptors were born there, Desiderio da Settignano, Bernardo Rossellino and Antonio Rossellino. The young Michelangelo lived there for a time with a sculptor and his wife in a farmhouse, which is now known as Villa Michelangelo. Mark Twain and his wife stayed in Settignano in the 1890s and the writer wrote that their villa had the ‘most charming view to be found on this planet.’ Gabriele D’Annunzio bought a villa on the outskirts of Settignano in 1898 to be nearer to his lover, Eleonora Duse, who was living there.

The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria
The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in
Piazza della Signoria
Travel tip:

The Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchia in Piazza della Signoria in Florence is one of Ammannati’s most famous sculptures. Created in 1575, it features the Roman sea god Neptune surrounded by water nymphs and it was designed to commemorate Tuscan naval victories. The work was originally assigned to Baccio Bandinelli after Cosimo I de' Medici invited designs to be submitted in a competition, but Bandinelli died before he could start work and Ammannati was asked to complete the project.

More reading:

Filippo Bruneleschi - genius behind the dome of Florence Cathedral

How Benvenuto Cellini made his mark on Florence

The story of Michelangelo's David

Also on this day:

1943: The birth of singer and TV presenter Raffaella Carrà

1946: The birth of former England football manager Fabio Capello


19 March 2018

Francesco Gasparini – musician and writer

Opera composer who gave Vivaldi a job

Francesco Gasparini, captured in a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi
Francesco Gasparini, captured in a
caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi
Francesco Gasparini, one of the great Baroque composers, whose works were performed all over Europe, was born on this day in 1661 in Camaiore near Lucca in Tuscany.

Gasparini also worked as a music teacher and was musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice for about 15 years, where he made the inspired decision to employ a 25-year-old Antonio Vivaldi as a violin master.

By the age of 17, Gasparini was a member of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. He moved to Rome, where he studied under the musicians Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. His first important opera, Roderico, was produced there in 1694.

After arriving in Venice in 1702, he became one of the leading composers in the city. He wrote the first opera to use the story of Hamlet - Ambleto - in 1705, although he did not base the work on Shakespeare’s play.

Gasparini was appointed musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in Venice where young girls received a musical education. The most talented pupils stayed on to become members of the Ospedale’s orchestra and choir.

Listen: Excerpt from Gasparini's "Amore e Ombre"

He engaged the services of Antonio Vivaldi in 1703 to teach the violin. Vivaldi, who had been taught to play the violin to a high level by his father, composed most of his major works while working there over the next 30 years.

Gasparini hired Antonio Vivaldi to teach violin at the Ospedale della Pietà, in Venice
Gasparini hired Antonio Vivaldi to teach violin
at the Ospedale della Pietà, in Venice
Gasparini’s Missa canonica, written in Venice in 1705 for four voices, became known to Johann Sebastian Bach, who copied it out in 1740 and, after adding parts for strings and wind instruments, performed it in churches in Leipzig.

While in Venice, Gasparini also taught the Venetian composer Benedetto Marcello and wrote a treatise on the harpsichord, published in 1708, which continued to be reprinted for more than 100 years and was used in Italy well into the 19th century.

Gasparini was the leading composer for the theatre in Venice, having written 23 operas and 15 oratorios by the time he left the city.

After his return to Rome in about 1720, he was maestro di cappello in two churches and taught the Neapolitan composer Domenico Scarlatti. He also taught counterpoint to the German flautist and composer Johann Joachim Quantz.

In his day, Gasparini was the principal composer of the Italian operas presented in London. His last important work, Tigrane, was produced in Rome in 1724.

The composer died in Rome in 1727, aged 66.

Piazza Principale, the main square in Camaiore
Piazza Principale, the main square in Camaiore
Travel tip:

Camaiore, the birthplace of Francesco Gasparini, is a city within the province of Lucca in Tuscany. It derives its name from the time it was a large Roman encampment, Campus Major, and an important station along the Via Cassia. It has two Romanesque churches, the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santi Giovanni e Stefano as well as a Benedictine Abbey, Badia di San Pietro, that dates back to the eighth century.

The church of La Pietà, also known as Santa
Maria della Visitazione, in Venice
Travel tip:

The Church of La Pietà, or Santa Maria della Visitazione, on Riva degli Schiavoni facing the lagoon in Venice, dates back to the 15th century. It started its life as a foundling home for orphans. After Gasparini was appointed musical director there, he employed Vivaldi to teach the violin and they both composed music for the orchestra and choir. The church is now a regular venue for music concerts.

5 December 2017

Francesco Gemianini - composer and violinist

Tuscan played alongside Handel in court of George I

Francesco Geminiani moved to London in 1714 and settled there
Francesco Geminiani moved to London in
1714 and settled there
The violinist, composer and music theorist Francesco Saverio Geminiani, who worked alongside George Frideric Handel in the English royal court in the early 18th century and became closely associated with the music of the Italian Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli, was baptised on this day in 1687 in Lucca, Tuscany.

Although he composed many works and at his peak was renowned as a virtuoso violinist, he is regarded as a significant figure in the history of music more for his writings, in particular his 1751 treatise Art of Playing on the Violin, which explained the 18th-century Italian method of violin playing and is still acknowledged as an invaluable source for the study of performance practice in the late Baroque period.

Geminiani himself was taught to play the violin by his father, and after showing considerable talent at an early age he went to study the violin under Carlo Ambrogio Lonati in Milan, later moving to Rome to be tutored by the aforementioned Corelli.

Returning to Lucca, he played the violin in the orchestra at the Cappella Palatina for three years, after which he moved to Naples to take up a position as Leader of the Opera Orchestra and concertmaster.

He was by that time recognised as a brilliant violin virtuoso, although his tendency to improvise off the cuff posed problems at times for the orchestra, who had difficulty in following him.  He acquired the nickname Il Furibondo – the Madman. Some of his violin sonatas were so challenging that only a few of his contemporary violinists dared to play them in public.

The cover from a French edition of Gemianini's  treatise on how to play the violin
The cover from a French edition of Gemianini's
treatise on how to play the violin
By the time Geminiani was in his mid-20s, London had become a major centre for music, not least because Handel, the German-born Baroque maestro, had chosen to base himself there.

Handel, like Geminiani, had studied under Corelli and had introduced London to Italian musical style and. In 1714 Geminiani decided he would try his luck there too.

His accomplished performances soon attracted patronage, including that of William Capel, the third Earl of Essex, who would become a regular sponsor and whom he taught to play. Capel at one time had to rescue Geminiani from prison, the consequence of debts run up through art dealing and collecting.  

It was through the Earl of Essex that Geminiani was invited to play his violin concerti in front of George I, with Handel accompanying him on harpsichord.

He established himself in London as the leading master of violin-playing, making a good living through his concerts, his published compositions and his theoretical treatises.  He also taught music and many of his students went on to have successful careers.

Gemianini is best known for his concerti grossi – a form of Baroque music that involves an orchestra and a small group of soloists, as opposed to the single soloist of a solo concerto – of which there were 42. He also reworked some of Corelli’s pieces as concerti grossi.

Geminiani spent time in Paris and Dublin but preferred to make his permanent home in London rather than return to Italy. It was  during a visit to Dublin that he died in 1762 at the age of 74.  He was buried in the Irish capital but his remains were later reburied in the church of San Francesco in Lucca.  

Lucca's oval Piazza dell'Amfiteatro
Lucca's oval Piazza dell'Amfiteatro
Travel tip:

Lucca is situated in western Tuscany, just 30km (19 miles) inland from Viareggio on the coast and barely 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, with its international airport.  It is often overlooked by travellers to the area in favour of the Leaning Tower and the art treasures of Florence, 80km (50 miles) to the east, yet has much to recommend within its majestic walls, where visitors can stroll along narrow cobbled streets into a number of beautiful squares, with lots of cafes and restaurants for those content to soak up the ambiance but also a wealth of churches, museums and galleries for those seeking a fix of history and culture.   The Renaissance walls, still intact, are an attraction in their own right, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists.

A bronze statue of Giacomo Puccini sits outside his birthplace museum
A bronze statue of Giacomo Puccini sits
outside his birthplace museum
Travel tip:

Lucca has a rich musical tradition of which Francesco Geminiani is just part. The city’s main claim to musical fame is as the home of the great opera composer Giacomo Puccini, who was born there in 1858. Visitors can look around the house where the composer was born in Corte San Lorenzo, off Via di Poggio in the city centre, which is now a museum, or his villa on the shores of nearby Lago di Massaciuccoli, on the way to Viareggio, while there are daily Puccini concerts throughout the summer in Lucca at the church of Santi Giovanni e Raparata in Piazza San Giovanni. The composers Alfredo Catalani and Luigi Boccherini were also from Lucca.

21 October 2017

Domenichino - Baroque master

Artist whose talents rivalled Raphael

Domenichino's picture St John the Evangelist sold for £9.2 million in 2009
Domenichino's picture St John the Evangelist
sold for £9.2 million in 2009
The painter Domenico Zampieri, in his era spoken of in the same breath as Raphael, was born on this day in 1581 in Bologna.

Better known as Domenichino (“Little Domenico”), the nickname he picked up early in his career on account of his small stature, he painted in classical and later Baroque styles in Rome, Bologna and Naples.

Noted for the subtle, almost serene lighting and understated colours of his compositions, he painted portraits, landscapes, religious and mythological scenes and had a prolific output. Among his most notable works were significant frescoes commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese for the Badia (monastery) at Grottaferrata, outside Rome, and for Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini at the Villa Belvedere (also known as the Villa Aldobrandini) in nearby Frascati, as well as Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, not far from Piazza Navona, in Rome itself.

Domenichino’s paintings can be seen in art galleries in many countries, with the largest single collection held by the Louvre in Paris.

One of his most celebrated paintings, the depiction of St John the Evangelist that he worked on between 1621 and 1629 and which has been described as a “masterpiece epitomising the grandeur and nobility of Roman Baroque", sold for £9.2 million at auction in London in December 2009 only to be the subject of an intervention by the British government to keep it from leaving the United Kingdom.

Domenichino's talent put him not far behind Raphael among the Italian greats
Domenichino's talent put him not far behind
Raphael among the Italian greats
The painting had been on a wall at the Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex for more than 100 years, having been bought by the owners of the house for 70 guineas in 1899. Put up for sale at Christie’s it was bound for the United States before the culture minister, Margaret Hodge, imposed an export bar. It was sold eventually to a British buyer on condition that it was on public display for at least three months each year.

The son of a shoemaker, Domenichino studied in Bologna, first in a local studio and then joining Lodovico Carracci’s Accademia degli Incamminati.

He left Bologna for Rome in 1602 to work under Annibale Carracci and became one of the most talented apprentices to emerge from Carracci's supervision.

Following Annibale Carracci's death in 1609, his Bolognese pupils, the best of whom were Domenichino, Francesco Albani, Guido Reni and Giovanni Lanfranco, became the leading painters in Rome, upstaging even the followers of Caravaggio, who had left Rome in 1606.

Domenichino's masterpiece, his frescoes of Scenes of the Life of Saint Cecilia in the Polet Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, was commissioned in 1612 and completed in 1615.

At the same time he was painting his most celebrated altarpiece, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, for the church of San Girolamo della Carità, noted for the accuracy of facial expressions, which would subsequently be compared with Raphael's great Transfiguration and was at one time hailed as "the best picture in the world".

Domenichino's River Landscape with Boatmen and Fishermen demonstrates qualities that influenced many landscape painters
Domenichino's River Landscape with Boatmen and Fishermen
demonstrates qualities that influenced many landscape painters 
He would later move away from the rigid classicism of his early work towards a broader, less conventional Baroque style, evident in the last works he produced in Rome and in his fresco cycle, Scenes from the Life of San Gennaro (1631–41), which he painted for the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, in the Duomo in Naples.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Domenichino’s paintings were regarded as second only to those of Raphael.

His work fell from favour in the mid-19th century but his importance to the evolution of Baroque classicism was recognized again in the 20th century.

Domenichino also occupies an important place in the history of landscape painting, his work known to have had a deep influence on the classical landscapists Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain.  In 1996 the first major exhibition of his work was held at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

He died in Naples in 1641 while still working at the Duomo. There were suspicions he had been poisoned by the Spanish painter Jusepe di Ribera, the leading member of a group of three artists known as the Naples Cabal, furious to have been passed over for the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro commission in favour of an outsider.

Part of the Domenichino fresco cycle at San Luigi dei Francesi
Part of the Domenichino fresco
cycle at San Luigi dei Francesi
Travel tip:

The Baroque church of San Luigi dei Francesi can be found in Via della Dogana Vecchia, a couple of blocks to the east of Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome’s historic centre. Built in the 16th century to serve the French community in Rome, it is notable not only for Domenichini’s fresco Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia but for the cycle of paintings by Caravaggio about the life of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel.

The Cattedrale di San Gennaro, as the Naples Duomo is more frequently known
The Cattedrale di San Gennaro, as the Naples Duomo is
more frequently known
Travel tip:

The Duomo of Naples, known locally more often as the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, was completed in the 14th century after being commissioned by King Charles I of Anjou, the youngest son of Louis VIII of France. Nowadays the seat of the Archbishop of Naples, it is most famous for housing a vial supposedly containing the dried blood of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint.  The blood is put on public display twice a year, in May and September, when it usually is seen miraculously to liquefy. If the blood fails to liquefy on these days, legend has it that a disaster will befall Naples. Many have doubted the authenticity of the blood and the miracle.  A recent hypothesis is that it actually contains iron oxide (rust) in the form of a thixotropic gel that has the colour of old blood and would become less viscous if shaken or otherwise agitated, and therefore appear to liquefy.

31 July 2017

Alessandro Algardi – sculptor

Baroque works of art were designed to illustrate papal power

Algardi's extraordinary marble relief, Fuga d'Attila, which he created for St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Algardi's extraordinary marble relief, Fuga d'Attila,
which he created for St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Alessandro Algardi, whose Baroque sculptures grace many churches in Rome, was born on this day in 1598 in Bologna.

Algardi emerged as the principal rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture and although Bernini’s creations were known for their dynamic vitality and penetrating characterisation, Algardi’s works were appreciated for their sobriety and surface realism. Many of his smaller works of arts, such as marble busts and terracotta figures are now in collections and museums all over the world.

Algardi was born in Bologna, where he was apprenticed in the studio of Agostino Carracci from a young age.

He soon showed an aptitude for sculpture and his earliest known works, two statues of saints, were created for the Oratory of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna.

After a short stay in Venice, he went to Rome in 1625 with an introduction from the Duke of Mantua to the late pope’s nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who employed him to restore ancient statues.

This portrait by Carlo Maratta  is thought to be of Algardi
This portrait by Carlo Maratta
 is thought to be of Algardi
Although it was a time for great architectural initiatives in Rome, Algardi struggled for recognition at the start as Bernini was given most of the major sculptural commissions.

Algardi was commissioned to produce some terracotta and marble portrait busts and also worked on the tombs of the Mellini family in the Mellini Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo.

He received his first major commission in about 1634 to sculpt a funeral monument for Pope Leo XI, who had reigned for less than a month in 1605.

Then he was asked to create a colossal statue of Filippo Neri for Santa Maria in Vallicella and after this Algardi produced a sculptural group to represent the beheading of St Paul for the Church of San Paolo in Bologna. These works firmly established his reputation.

In 1644 the new pope, Innocent X, and his nephew, Camillo Pamphili, favoured Algardi over Bernini.

A large bronze of Innocent X by Algardi is now in the Capitoline Museums. In the grounds of Villa Pamphili, Algardi and members of his studio executed fountains adorned with sculptures and created other garden features.

Algardi's funeral monument for Pope Leo XI
Algardi's funeral monument for Pope Leo XI
In 1650 Algardi received commissions from Spain and there are four chimney pieces by him in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez and figures by him on the fountain of Neptune in the gardens. A tomb in the Augustinian monastery at Salamanca is also by him.

The Fuga d’Attila relief, Algardi’s large marble panel of Pope Leo XI and Attila for St Peter’s Basilica, reinvigorated the fashion for marble reliefs. It depicted the historical legend of the Pope stopping the Huns from looting Rome, illustrating papal power.

Algardi died in 1654 within a year of completing this work, which was much admired by his contemporaries.

The 17th century Villa Doria Pamphili is situated in Rome's largest landscaped public park
The 17th century Villa Doria Pamphili is situated in
Rome's largest landscaped public park
Travel tip:

The Villa Doria Pamphili is a 17th century villa in Rome with, what is today, the largest, landscaped public park in the city. The villa is situated just outside Porta San Pancrazio in the ancient walls of Rome. It began as a villa for the Pamphili family and when the line died out in the 18th century it passed to Prince Andrea IV Doria, from which time it has been known as the Villa Doria Pamphili. In 1644 Cardinal Giambattista Pamphili was elected to the papacy and took the name of Innocent X. He aspired to a grand villa and brought in Algardi to help with the design and create the sculptures in the garden.

Travel tip:

The huge marble Fuga d’Attila relief, showing Pope Leo XI restraining Attila from marching on Rome, was the largest high relief sculpture in the world when it was created by Algardi between 1646 and 1653 for St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Basilica had been completed and consecrated in 1626. It was believed to be the largest church in the world and was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of Saint Peter.

12 December 2016

Lodovico Giustini – composer

Church organist who wrote the first music for piano

Lodovico Giustini
Lodovico Giustini
Lodovico Giustini, composer and keyboard player, was born on this day in 1685 in Pistoia in Tuscany.

Giustini is the first composer known to write music for the piano and his compositions are considered to be late Baroque and early Classical in style.

Giustini was born in the same year as Bach, Scarlatti and Handel. His father, Francesco Giustini, was a church organist, his uncle, Domenico Giustini, was a composer of sacred music and his great uncle, Francesco Giustini, sang in the Cathedral choir for 50 years.

After the death of his father in 1725, Giustini took his place as organist at the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo in Pistoia, where he began to compose sacred music, mostly cantatas and oratorios.

In 1728 he collaborated with Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari on a set of Lamentations, which were performed later that year.

The dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà in Pistoia
The dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà in Pistoia
In 1734 he was hired as the organist at the Basilica of Santa Maria dell’Umiltà in  Pistoia. He was to hold this position for the rest of his life. In addition to playing the organ he also gave performances on the harpsichord, often playing his own music.

Giustini is mainly remembered for his collection of 12 Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti, 12 sonatas written for the piano.

These were composed by Giustini specifically for the hammered harpsichord, or fortepiano, which had been invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in around 1700.

The sonatas were published in Florence in 1732 and are dedicated to the younger brother of the King of Portugal, probably because the Portuguese court was one of the few places where the early piano was being regularly played.

They were written for the church and have alternating fast and slow sections. They predate all other music specifically written for the piano by about 30 years.

The 1720 Cristofori piano, the oldest surviving,  at the  Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York
The 1720 Cristofori piano, the oldest surviving,  at the
 Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York
Giustini uses all the capabilities of the piano in his music, effects that were not available on other keyboard instruments at the time. They are typical of pieces written during the transition from the late Baroque to the early Classical period.

It is considered surprising by some music experts that the sonatas were ever published at all as, at the time they were composed, there were only a few pianos in existence and these were owned mainly by royalty.

The oldest surviving Cristofori piano is a 1720 model, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Giustini died in 1743 and since then most of his sacred music has been lost, but his published piano sonatas have kept his memory alive and are well worth hearing.

Travel tip:

Pistoia, where Lodovico Giustini was born and worked as an organist, is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany to the north west of Florence. The city developed a reputation for intrigue in the 13th century and assassinations in the narrow alleyways were common, using a tiny dagger called the pistole, made by the city’s ironworkers, who also specialised in manufacturing surgical instruments.

Fresco of the Madonna at the Basilica
della Madonna dell'Umiltà

Travel tip:

The Basilica della Madonna dell’Umiltà, where Lodovico Giustini played the organ in the 18th century, is in Via della Madonna in Pistoia. It was built to replace an ancient church after a miracle involving a 14th century fresco of the Madonna. According to legend, in 1490 in the middle of a period of fighting between the local power factions, people noticed blood dripping from the forehead of the Madonna in the fresco, which was interpreted as a sign that the Virgin Mary was suffering because of the bloodshed in the region at the time. Important local families got together to build a new Basilica to house the Madonna fresco. The octagonal church was designed by architect Ventura Vitoni. A heavy dome was added to the Basilica in 1560, designed by architect Giorgio Vasari.

More reading:

How Bartolomeo Cristofori adapted a harpsichord to create the first piano

Alessandro Scarlatti - a prolific composer ahead of his time

How Giovanni Gabrieli inspired the spread of Baroque style

Also on this day: