Tuesday, January 4, 8710

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)

La Serva Padrona (The Maid as Mistress) (1752)

Son imbrogliato io gia (I Am All Mixed Up)


Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (January 4, 1710, Jesi, Italy – 16 or March 17, 1736) studied music at

Iesi (Jesi) under a local musician, Francesco Santini, before going to

Naples in 1725, where he studied under Gaetano Greco and Francesco Feo among others. He spent most of his brief life working for aristocratic patrons like the principe di Stigliano and the duca di Maddaloni.

Pergolesi was one of the most important early composers of opera buffa (comic opera). His opera seria Il prigioner superbo contained the two-act buffa intermezzo,

La Serva Padrona (The Servant Mistress / The Maid as Mistress, August 28, 1733), which became a very popular work in its own right. When it was performed in Paris in 1752, it prompted the so-called Querelle des Bouffons ("quarrel of the comedians") between supporters of serious French opera by the likes of Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau and supporters of new Italian comic opera. Pergolesi was held up as a model of the Italian style during this quarrel, which divided Paris's musical community for two years.

Among Pergolesi's other operatic works are his first opera La conversione e morte di San Guglielmo (1731), Lo frate 'nnammorato (The brother in love, 1732, to a Neapolitan text), L'Olimpiade (January 31, 1735) and Il Flaminio (1735). All his operas were premiered in Naples apart from L'Olimpiade, which was first given in Rome.

Pergolesi also wrote sacred music, including a Mass in F. It is his Stabat Mater (1736), however, for male soprano, male alto and orchestra, which is his best known sacred work. It was commissioned by the Confraternità dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo (the monks of the brotherhood of San Luigi di Palazzo) as a replacement for the rather old-fashioned one by Alessandro Scarlatti for identical forces which had been performed each Good Friday in Naples.

While classical in scope, the opening section of the setting demonstrates Pergolesi's mastery of the Italian baroque "durezze e ligature" style, characterized by numerous suspensions over a faster, conjunct bassline. The work remained popular, becoming the most frequently printed work of the 18th century, and being arranged by a number of other composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who used it as the basis for his psalm Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083.

Pergolesi wrote a number of secular instrumental works, including a violin sonata and a violin concerto. A considerable number of instrumental and sacred works once attributed to Pergolesi have since been shown to be falsely attributed. Much of Igor Stravinsky's ballet, Pulcinella, which ostensibly reworks pieces by Pergolesi, is actually based on spurious works.

The Concerti Armonici are now known to be composed by Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer.

Many colorful anecdotes related by his early biographer Florimo, were later revealed as fabrication, though they furnished material for two nineteenth-century operas broadly based on Pergolesi's career.

Pergolesi died at the age of 26 in Pozzuoli from tuberculosis.

Related Reading:

Pietro Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
La Serva Padrona (Opening Scene) (Pages 273-279)


[Marin Marais (1656-1728), Composer and Violist]

Hubert Le Blanc (b. c. 1710) was a French viol player, doctor of law and abbé. Strongly regretting that viol playing was falling out of fashion, he wrote the treatise Défense de la basse de viole contre les enterprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncel, which was published in Amsterdam by Pierre Mortier in 1740.

Those who have written about him are unanimous in considering him an eccentric: his German translator (Erhard, 1951) called him "a somewhat sarcastic old gentlemen"; his English one (Jackson, 1973) said he had a "colorful and eccentric personality"; his only biographer (Fétis, 1863) tells us that when he learned that his treatise was to be published in Amsterdam, he was so transported with joy that he set off immediately (presumably from Paris), attired as he was when he received the news, in bathrobe, slippers, and nightcap. Despite his reputation for eccentricity and his purple prose, larded with mythological allusions, he provides a wealth of eyewitness information about 1700's musical life. The treatise is divided into three parts.

In the first, Le Blanc associates pièces with the viol, music in the French taste, and musical poetry; he associates sonatas with the violin, music in the Italian taste, and musical prose. He discusses the viol playing of Marin Marais (1656-1728) and Antoine Forqueray (c. 1671-1745) in detail, suggesting that he was old enough to have witnessed their playing in person.

The second part, the longest in the treatise, is told in the form of a dialogue between "Sultan Violin, an abortion and a pygmy," and Lady Viol, in which these allegorical characters debate the relative merits of the viol and the violin in the Jardin des Tuilieres prior to a Concert Spirituel in which the violinists Giovanni Battista Somis (1686-1763) and

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) are to play in the Italian style at a highly publicized concert.

This section provides insight into the transition from private music-making by amateurs amongst the nobiltiy and high bourgeoisie to music-making by professionals in a public concert hall.

In Part III, Le Blanc offers a solution to the declining popularity of the viol and expanding popularity of the violin, by explaining how to play violin music on the viol. The wealth of detail in this part demonstrates that Le Blanc must have been an expert player himself, and describes contemporary performance practice, both on viol and other instruments.

Related Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Abbe Hubert Le Blanc
Defense of the Viola da Gamba Against the Designs of the Violin and the Pretenses of the Cello (1740) (Pages 205-206)

[8710 Arne / 8710 G.B. Pergolesi / 8709 Zulu]