Showing posts with label Sacred Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sacred Music. Show all posts

4 April 2019

Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli - composer

Neapolitan who snubbed Napoleon wrote 37 operas

Niccolò Zingarelli was one of the most  successful composers of his time
Niccolò Zingarelli was one of the most
successful composers of his time
The composer Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli, who wrote 37 mainly comic operas and more than 500 pieces of sacred music, was born on this day in 1752 in Naples.

His success made him one of the principal composers of opera and religious music of his time. At various points in his career, he was maestro di cappella - music director - at Milan Cathedral, choir master at the Sistine Chapel and director of the Naples Conservatory.

Many of Zingarelli’s operas were written for Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Early in his career he worked in Paris, which held him in good stead later when he was arrested after refusing to conduct a hymn for the newly-born son of the Emperor Napoleon, who at the time was the self-proclaimed King of Italy.

Sometimes known as Nicola, the young Zingarelli studied from the age of seven at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, which was the original conservatory of Naples, dating back to 1537. He was tutored by Fedele Fenaroli, whose pupils also included Domenico Cimarosa and, later, Giuseppe Verdi, and also by Alessandro Speranza.

As a young man, Zingarelli earned a living as a violinist, while also composing. His first opera, Montezuma, was successfully produced at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples in 1781. Four years later Alsinda was staged at La Scala, the first of a series of his operas produced there until 1803.

Zingarelli refused to conduct a service for Napoleon's new son at the Sistine Chapel
Zingarelli refused to conduct a service for
Napoleon's new son at the Sistine Chapel
In 1789, he was invited to Paris to compose Antigone to a libretto by Jean-François Marmontel for the Opéra. He might have stayed longer in Paris had the French Revolution not driven him to Switzerland.

From there he returned to Milan, where in 1793 he became music director at the Duomo.

A year later, Zingarelli moved again, to take up the post of maestro di cappella at the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, in Marche, an important and prestigious position at the time. He stayed there for 10 years, composing a large number of sacred works, at the same time continuing to write operas for La Scala and other theatres.

When he left Loreto, it was to become music director and choir master at the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where he composed cantatas on poems by Torquato Tasso and Dante.

It was in Rome that he wrote Berenice (1811), an opera that achieved great popularity, although two operas he composed for La Scala, Il mercato di Monfregoso (1792), based on a play by Carlo Goldoni, and Giulietta e Romeo (1796), inspired by William Shakespeare’s play, are said to be his finest work.

It was in 1811 that he was asked to conduct a Te Deum - a short religious service, held to bless an event or give thanks, which is based on the Latin hymn of the same name - for Napoleon, to celebrate the emperor’s new-born son.  As an Italian patriot, however, he felt he could not and, as a consequence of his public refusal, was arrested.

As it happened, though, Napoleon was a fan of his music and not only allowed Zingarelli to go free, he also awarded him a state pension.

In 1813, he left Rome to return to Naples, where he became director of the Conservatorio di San Sebastiano, before moving to the current site, the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella, in 1826. By then, he had also replaced Giovanni Paisiello as choir master of Naples Cathedral, a position he held until his death, in 1837, in Torre del Greco, just along the coast.

The huge Basilica della Santa Casa sits at the highest point of Loreto and therefore dominates the skyline
The huge Basilica della Santa Casa sits at the highest point
of Loreto and therefore dominates the skyline
Travel tip:

The hill town of Loreto, about 5km (3 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast about 25km (16 miles) south of Ancona and a similar distance north of Civitanova Marche, is easily identified from a distance away by the dome of the basilica, which stands taller than anything else in the area. The Basilica della Santa Casa takes its name from the rustic stone cottage that once occupied its site - and indeed is preserved inside the structure of the cathedral - which was said to be the place of refuge to which angels brought the Madonna as a safe haven after the Saracens who had invaded the Holy Land. The beautiful basilica itself is a late Gothic structure upon which Giuliano da Maiano, Giuliano da Sangallo and Donato Bramante all worked at different times. Inside, there are artworks by Luca Signorelli and Lorenzo Lotto, who died there in 1556.

Torre del Greco was once a thriving upmarket seaside resort, as depicted in this late 19th century postcard
Torre del Greco was once a thriving upmarket seaside
resort, as depicted in this late 19th century postcard
Travel tip:

Torre del Greco was once part of Magna Graecia – Great Greece – in the eighth and seventh centuries BC but its name is thought to originated in the 11th century AD when a Greek hermit was said to have occupied an eight-sided coastal watch tower called Turris Octava. From the 16th century it became popular with wealthy families and even Italian nobility, who built elaborate summer palaces there. The area is largely run down these days but in the 19th century and early 20th century Torre del Greco enjoyed its peak years as a resort to which wealthy Italians flocked, both to enjoy the sea air and as a point from which to scale Vesuvius via a funicular railway. A thriving café scene developed, and the art nouveau Gran Caffè Palumbo became famous across the country.  Since the 17th century it has been a major producer of coral jewellery.

More reading:

Why Carlo Goldoni is seen as the greatest Venetian dramatist

The story of the troubled Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso

How Domenico Cimarosa developed the model for comic opera

Also on this day:

1951: The birth of singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori

1960: The birth of businesswoman Daniela Riccardi

1963: The birth of politician and journalist Irene Pivetti


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


21 December 2016

Lorenzo Perosi - priest and composer

Puccini contemporary chose sacred music over opera

Lorenzo Perosi forsook opera in  favour of religious music
Lorenzo Perosi forsook opera in
 favour of religious music
Don Lorenzo Perosi, a brilliant composer of sacred music who was musical director of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican for almost half a century, was born on this day in 1872 in the city of Tortona in Piedmont.

A devoutly religious man who was ordained as a priest at the age of 22, Perosi was a contemporary of Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni, both of whom he counted as close friends, but was the only member of the so-called Giovane Scuola of late 19th century and early 20th century composers who did not write opera.

Instead, he concentrated entirely on church music and was particularly noted for his large-scale oratorios, for which he enjoyed international fame.

Unlike Puccini and Mascagni, or others from the Giovane Scuola such as Ruggero LeoncavalloUmberto Giordano and Francesco Cilea, Perosi's work has not endured enough for him to be well known today.

Yet at his peak, which music scholars consider to be the period between his appointment as Maestro of the Choir of St Mark's in Venice in 1894 and a serious mental breakdown suffered in 1907, he was hugely admired by his fellows in the Giovane Scuola and beyond.

Perosi with Arturo Toscanini before the  premiere of his work Mosè in Milan
Perosi with Arturo Toscanini before the
premiere of his work Mosè in Milan 
Arturo Toscanini conducted his work Mosè on the occasion of its premiere at La Scala in Milan in November 1901, his French admirers included Claude Debussy and Jules Massenet and many of the great opera singers on his day were keen to perform in his works, including Enrico Caruso, Mario Sammarco, Carlo Tagliabue and Beniamino Gigli.

Puccini is quoted as saying that "there is more music in Perosi's head than mine and Mascagni's put together".

Perosi is credited with reviving the oratorio as a musical genre. His grand productions for chorus, soloists, and orchestra based on Latin texts were noted for their bringing together of Renaissance harmony, Gregorian chant, and the flamboyant melodies and orchestrations characteristic of the Giovane Scuola. 

Perosi was one of 12 children born into a pious Catholic family in Tortona, only half of whom survived infancy.  His own birth was said to have been difficult and music historians believe it was probably the cause of the mental health problems he suffered in adulthood.

His father, Giuseppe, was choir director at the cathedral in Tortona and his talent for music was shared with his brothers Carlo, who also became a priest, and Marziano, who would later be musical director at the Duomo of Milan.

Listen to the choir of the church of the Beata Vergine in Mandria, near Padua

Lorenzo enrolled at Milan Conservatory, where he began his association with Puccini and Mascagni, after which he took his first professional post as organist at the Abbey of Montecassino.  He spent a year studying in Germany under Franz Xaver Haberl, where he learnt Renaissance polyphony, but declined a permanent teaching position in Germany in favour of a position nearer home as director of sacred music at the Duomo in Imola.

The bust of Lorenzo Perosi in the  gardens at the Pincio in Rome
The bust of Lorenzo Perosi in the
gardens at the Pincio in Rome
From Imola he went to Solesmes Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in France to study under the Gregorianists Dom André Mocquereau and Dom Joseph Pothier.

The appointment at St Mark's in Venice came in 1894 and brought Perosi under the influence of Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice who would go on to be elected as Pope Pius X.  It was Sarto who ordained Perosi to the priesthood but just as importantly encouraged his music and was influential in his appointment in Rome.

Perosi's mental health problems began to manifest themselves in 1906, when doctors felt he was suffering from nervous exhaustion as a consequence of the hours he spent writing music in addition to his duties as a priest.

They became so severe following the deaths of both his parents within the space of a few years that at one stage his brother, Carlo, was nominated legal guardian as some doctors deemed him incurable. In time, however, his condition improved and he returned to a normal life.

He added to an already enormous body of work and the popes Pius XI and Pius XII waived the rules regarding mandatory retirement and retained him as 'maestro perpetuo' into his 80s. By the time his health deteriorated irreversibly he had served under five popes.  He died in Rome in October 1956.

The Duomo of Tortona, where Lorenzo Perosi is  buried along with his brother, Carlo
The Duomo of Tortona, where Lorenzo Perosi is
buried along with his brother, Carlo
Travel tip:

Tortona is an elegant small city of around 27,000 inhabitants in the eastern part of Piedmont, roughly halfway between Milan and the Ligurian coast at Genoa.  It sits on the right bank of the Scrivia river between the plain of Marengo and the foothills of the Ligurian Apennines.  Lorenzo Perosi, along with his brother, Carlo, is buried at the Duomo, where his father was the choir director.  The Duomo has a 19th century neoclassical facade but the building itself dates back to the 16th century.

Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel choir is one of the oldest religious choirs in the world, consisting today of 20 adult professional singers and 30 unpaid boy choristers.   Its reputation today owes much to Lorenzo Perosi, who raised its artistic level to a level as high as any it had known during his time as Maestro di Cappella and supported Pope Pius X in outlawing the use of boys whose voices were preserved by the barbaric practice of castration. Pius declared that only "whole men" should be allowed to be choristers or priests, and the last of the castrati were in time eased out of the choir.  A bust of Perosi can be found in the gardens on Pincian Hill - the Pincio - in Rome.

More reading:

How Giovanni Gabrieli helped popularity of Venetian Baroque

What made Puccini one of the greatest of opera composers

The genius of Venice's musical priest, Antonio Vivaldi

Also on this day:

1401: Birth of the great Renaissance artist Massacio

(Picture credits: bust by Lalupa; Tortona Duomo by Vincenzo da Tortona; both via Wikimedia Commons)