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entry Mar 2008

Obscure composers (4)

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Pietro Guglielmi (1728-1804). This composer is often listed as one of the most important composers of 18th-century opera in Italy. He was prolific and wrote about 100 operas, both serious and comic, oratories, a requiem, symphonies, and sonatas. He was born at Massa in Tuscany and studied at the Santa Maria Loreto conservatory in Naples. Unusually, he went elsewhere to start his career. His first opera opened in Torino in 1755, and in 1762 he took a post as the musical director at the opera theater in Dresden in Germany. In 1768, he went to London and enjoyed considerable success. He returned to Naples in 1777, but his reputation has not stood the test of time in comparison to the younger composers already active there, primarily Paisiello and Cimarosa.

     Antonio Sacchini     
Antonio Sacchini (1730-1786) was born in Florence into the family of a poor fisherman. They moved to Pozzuoli, near Naples, at which point the prominent Neapolitan composer Francesco Durante happened to hear young Antonio singing down at the docks. Durante told Sacchini's parents the 18th-century equivalent of "I can make your kid a star" and off the young boy went to study music at the Sant'Onofrio conservatory. He then lived as a voice coach and by writing dialect comic opera for local theaters, not San Carlo. Five of his early comic operas opened in Naples between 1756-1760. In 1768, his serious opera, Alessandro nell'Indie (to Metastasio's workhorse libretto) was so well received in Venice that he was offered and accepted the post of director of the Ospedaletto conservatory in that city. He then worked abroad in Germany. England and, primarily, France, where he was touted as the successor to Gluck. Although he did have an opera premier in Naples as late as 1771, most of his later works premiered in London and then Paris, where he died. He was certainly not obscure in his day and is another of those often listed as one of the great composers of 18th-century Italian opera. He didn't even live long enough to see music pass him by.

Giacomo Tritto (1733-1824)
was born in Altamura, near Bari in Puglia, and studied at the Pietà dei Turchini music conservatory in Naples. His music first appeared on the stage at San Carlo in the form of a serious opera, Artenice, in 1784 although earlier comic operas of his had appeared elsewhere in the city, such as the Teatro Fiorentino and the Teatro Nuovo. He became the orchestral conductor at San Carlo and was noted as a teacher. Among his music students were Bellini and Meyerbeer. He also became co-director of his old conservatory and when the French, under Murat, unified the conservatories, became co-director of the new conservatory, along with Giovanni Paisiello. Tritto composed more than 50 operas, both serious and comic, 20 of which premiered in Naples, the serious operas at San Carlo and the comic operas at other theaters. Most of his works are forgotten. As is the case with some other composers in this period (Zingarelli, for example) Tritto's very long life went from the late Baroque to early Romanticism, from Bach to Beethoven. In his own Naples, he was up against everyone from Paisiello and Cimarosa to Rossini and Bellini. Music changed greatly during his lifetime and history has forgotten composers who did not change with it.

Giuseppe Giordani (1751-98) was also known as "Giordanello." He studied at the San Loreto music conservatory in Naples. He became the choir director at the cathedral of Naples in 1774. His music was first performed at San Carlo in the form of The Destruction of Jerusalem, a sacred drama that so impressed Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, present at the performance, that Goethe remembered the occasion in his book about his travels in Italy, Italienische Reise. Giordani composed both serious and comic operas, but was primarily known in his day for sacred music. He was known not just in Naples or even just Italian theaters, but in Madrid, Lisbon and Dresden, as well. To this day, it is traditional to perform his Nina Nana (Lullaby) on Christmas night in the church of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples.

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