a letter to his sister in May of 1770, Mozart wrote from
"An opera composed by Jommelli begins on the 30th. We have seen the king and queen at Mass in the royal chapel at Portici, and we have seen Vesuvius, too… Madame de Amicis is singing at the opera. We have been to visit her. Caffaro is the composer of the second opera, Ciccio di Majo of the third…".
few weeks later he wrote, again to his sister, that
"… the opera here is by Jomelli; it is beautiful, but too discreet and old-fashioned for the theater. Madame de Amicis sings incomparably… The theater is handsome. The king …always stands on a stool at the opera to appear a little taller than the queen. The queen is beautiful and courteous…"
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supplementary entry #1 - added March 8, 2020
Mozart in Naples
by Luciano Mangiafico
On December 13, 1769, Leopold Mozart and his 13-year-old son Wolfgang left Salzburg for a working trip to Italy. Leopold hoped his son would develop his talents, learn Italian, make contacts, and find a position financially befitting his musical abilities. There was great potential! Who knows? —perhaps meet the royal family of Naples, even become Kapellmeister [lit. "Master of the Chapel" —the one in charge of all the music] at a court.
[ed. note: Readers should realize that "Italy" as used here means the vaguely homogeneous cultural conception that northern Europeans had at the time. They meant the whole Italian peninsula. In reality, that peninsula was made up of a number of different political states, a result of the fragmentation after the fall of the Western Roman Empire centuries earlier. They were separate nations not necessarily on friendly terms with one another. The kingdom of Naples was one of these states. The capital of the kingdom was the city of Naples.]
That capital had long been a cradle of opera, turning out fine composers and performers. It was a leading innovator in both vocal and instrumental music. In most places in northern Europe and, indeed, even in some places in northern Italy young musicians were apprenticed to one master, but in Naples training was along standards tested over time. It was a system where pupils received long, rigorous instruction by a whole series of master teachers. Music was taken seriously as an art form; young musicians could look forward to at least some degree of artistic and financial success. Importantly, performances were not tied solely to the courts or to the church.
Naples and Venice were at the time the major musical centers on the peninsula. They both fostered a "conservatory" system. If you ask, Why 'conservatory'? What were they 'conserving'? Children! A conservatory was a church-run orphanage committed to raising children, teaching them a trade and making them self-reliant. Music was a good trade to learn. Naples had four such conservatories:
(1) Santa Maria di Loreto, founded in 1537;
(2) I Poveri di Gesù Cristo (1589);
(3) Sant’Onofrio a Capuana (1578); and
(4) La Pietà dei Turchini (1583)
[ed. note: Technically, there was a fifth conservatory, San Sebastiano, (at what is now Piazza Dante). It was short-lived (the early 1800s) but served long enough to be a venue for some of the music of Donizetti.]
Great names of Neapolitan music —Cimarosa, Durante, Porpora, A. Scarlatti, G.B Pergolesi, Jommelli, Paisiello, Piccini, Provenzale— all came from these institutions. Training lasted from eight to ten years (!) but those who graduated were superb musicians —composers, instrumentalists, and vocalists.
On May 8, 1770, Leopold Mozart and his son left Rome (capital of the Papal States, one of the other "political states" mentioned above) on the road for Naples, traveling in a convoy of four carriages, with night stops at monasteries. They got to Naples on May 14 and stayed until June 25, a total of 42 days. They brought a letter of recommendation for Prime Minister Bernardo Tanucci and called on him right away. They visited the Royal Villa of Portici; Wolfgang played the organ in the Palatine Chapel; and they got a glimpse of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria Carolina (a daughter of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa). They played at the home of English Ambassador William Hamilton and met the Austrian Ambassador Count Ernest Rietberg von Kaunitz. They also played at the home of Colin McKenzie, Lord Fortrose, a Scottish expatriate nobleman living in Naples. Indeed, there is a painting of that occasion (now in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh) showing among the orchestra Leopold Mozart at the piano and young Wolfgang at a portable keyboard. Later, father and son played a private concert sponsored by Lady Hamilton and were even paid for it. (I have no idea whether that sum was "befitting" Wolfgang's talent, but it was a start!)
[editorial note: At least the facade (from 1715) of the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo (image, left) looks more or less like it used to centuries ago. It is now a shelter for the homeless and hungry. If you go through a side entrance, you are in the courtyard of the old monastery, again a working religious institution. And I mean working! Sisters of the order of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) scurry about, heeding the injunction to help those who need help They even have a long-term shelter with room for about 20 residents at any given time. It is on via dei Tribunale across from the large white church of the Girolamini. You didn't just study music, either. They worked on the total education of the child, so when you finished your violin or piano lessons, you went to lessons in "grammatica". That instructor in this conservatory was none other than philosopher Giambattista Vico! Other conservatories from the 1500s have not been so lucky. The image on the right used to be the Santa Maria di Loreto conservatory. The chunk (or slab!) of wall with the window in the center of the image is what is left of it. The area is near the train station and port, both victims of severe bombing and even ground combat in WWII. There is more information on the conservatories here and here. jm]
photo info: The large image of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is a well-known copy and "rendering" of an equally well-known original attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli (1706–1770), an Italian painter of the Rococo and early Neoclassic period. The creator of this later version is sourced simply as "the painter, Bode." Young Wolfgang is 14 years old here. The image of his father, Leopold (1719-1786), is by an unknown artist. The painting is dated 1780.They attended the first performance of Niccolò Jommelli's new opera Armida Abbandonata at the Teatro San Carlo. In a letter home, Wolfgang wrote that he liked both the music and the performance, but felt the subject and its treatment were, as he wrote to his beloved older sister, "Nannerl" “… too discreet and old-fashioned for the theater. Madame de Amicis sings incomparably… The theater is handsome. The king …always stands on a stool at the opera to appear a little taller than the queen. The queen is beautiful and courteous…"
There is an oft-told story about Wolfgang's concert at the conservatory of the Pietà dei Turchini, that says as much about Neapolitan audiences as it does about Wolfgang: He played the harpsichord with such dexterity and passion that the superstitious crowd thought he was being aided by something magical in the ring he wore on his left hand. Not wanting to be “fatti fessi d’o guaglione” (fooled by a boy), they yelled for him to take off the ring. He did and kept playing like an angel. They broke into cheers.
As you might expect, the Mozarts went out of their way to meet well-known composers such as Jommelli and Paisiello, and even made friends with the famous castrato singer Gaetano Majorano, known as "Caffarelli". The royal Kapellmeister (and, importantly, also the manager of San Carlo), even offered Wolfgang a commission to write an opera for San Carlo. The timing conflicted with Mozart’s commitment for an opera he had promised to Milan and he had to turn down the opportunity. Important, however —his contacts were increasing.
Father and son were typical Grand Tourists while waiting for what they hoped would be an invitation to play before the royal family. They went to Lake Avernus, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Caserta, the Roman baths at Baiae, the Grotta of Pozzuoli, the Tomb of Virgil, the Royal Palace of Capodimonte, and climbed Vesuvius.
[editorial note: AND !! they also played typical Alpine bumpkin-billy tourists by defacing the walls of at least one monument with their signatures. The graffiti is still legible (image, right). The complete story is here.] photo credit: Fulvio De Marinis
That royal invitation never came. There may be two reasons: first, the queen may have heard from her mother (the Empress Maria Theresa) in Vienna that the Mozarts were quarrelsome and annoying. Indeed, Daddy Leopold was often overly insistent on peddling his prodigious Wunderkind; second, the 18-year-old king of Naples, Ferdinand, was not a music lover. He was a vulgar lout and liked to hunt, chase women, and hang out with fishermen down at the port, where he felt at home.
Papà Mozart in his letters home expressed mixed feelings about Naples: he loved the pulsing vitality of the city, the fertile land, the scenic countryside, but he hated the noise, filth, and unruly superstitious populace. Finally, on the afternoon of June 25, he and his son left Naples by post-coach, traveling 27 hours straight and getting to Rome on the evening of June 26. The trip to Italy, and Naples in particular, had been profitable for young Wolfgang. He always valued the experience. A few years later, when he was not doing well financially, he wrote his father from Munich:
“When I reflect on it, in no country have I received such honors, or been so esteemed, as in Italy, and nothing contributes more to a man's fame than to have written Italian opera, especially for Naples… Once I have written for Naples I shall be sought after everywhere. As papà well knows, there is opera buffa in Naples in spring, summer, and autumn. I might compose a few just for practice, not to be totally idle. True, there is not much to be had by that, but it would mean more to my honor and reputation than a hundred concerts in Germany…”Such was the high regard of the world of music for Naples!
-D’Alessandro, Domenico Antonio. I Mozart e la Napoli di Hamilton: Due quadri di Fabris per Lord Fortrose. Napoli: Grimaldi & C. Editori, 2006.
-Davenport, Marcia. Mozart. New York: Avon Books, 1979.
-Eisen, Cliff et al. In Mozart's Words, (off-site here). Version 1.0, pub. HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.
-Eisen, Cliff, and Simon P. Keefe. The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
-Melograni, Piero, and Lydia G. Cochrane. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
-Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. The Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vol. 1, March 2004. (off-site here).
-Sadie, Stanley. Mozart: The Early Years 1756-1781. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
-Scialo, Pasquale, editor. Mozart a Napoli. Napoli: Alfredo Guida,1991