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La Scusa, Cantata à voce sola di Contralto (1780)

(Revision by Edward Smith) DV 20740 36 Pages Baroque

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BIOGRAPHY

(b Burano, nr Venice18 Oct 1706dVenice3 Jan 1785). Italian composer. He was a central figure in the development of the dramma giocoso and one of the most important mid-18th-century opera seria composers. Known widely as ‘Il Buranello’, from his birthplace, he was routinely listed in Venetian documents and early manuscripts as ‘Baldissera’.

Galuppi’s father, a barber, played the violin in small orchestras, which provided entr’acte music for theatres of spoken comedy, and was probably the boy’s first music teacher. In his 16th year Baldassare composed Gli amici rivali for Chioggia (also performed in Vicenza as La fede nell’incostanza, probably by the same troupe), but Caffi reported this as a fiasco, a ‘scandal’. The boy went for advice to Marcello, who severely scolded him for attempting something so grand on so little experience and swore him to three years’ hard labour, studying under Antonio Lotti (first organist at S Marco), refraining from operatic composition altogether and focussing instead on counterpoint and the organ. Evidence for all this is circumstantial, however; other evidence suggests that Galuppi’s studies with Lotti had begun earlier.

If the young composer made this promise, he did not keep it, for two years later he was playing the cembalo in opera houses and writing substitute arias for revivals and pasticcios. By the age of 20 he had established a reputation as a cembalist in Venice and Florence, and was soon engaged in the S Angelo (where Vivaldi reigned), the S Samuele and the S Giovanni Grisostomo theatres, performing and supplying arias. He collaborated with his friend and fellow Lotti pupil, Giovanni Battista Pescetti, writing alternate acts of Gl’odi delusi del sangue in 1728 (set earlier by Lotti) and Dorinda in 1729. This modest success led to further commissions, and by 1738 his operas were appearing outside Venice; at the same time his nickname, ‘Il Buranello’, is first encountered. Tobia il giovane, an oratorio written for Macerata in 1734, was perhaps his earliest attempt in the genre. Alessandro nell’Indie was given its première in Mantua at about the same time that Issipile graced the stage in Turin (December 1737); the composer was probably present only in Mantua. In 1738 he was in the service of the patrician Michele Bernardo in Venice. Galuppi’s music for the festival of S Maria Magdalena in July 1740 at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti led to a permanent appointment there on 4 August. His duties ranged from teaching and conducting to composing liturgical music and oratorios.

Before 1740 and 1741 Galuppi’s Venetian career remained diverse, but unexceptional. Neapolitan composers were favoured at Venice’s most important theatres, and of the native sons only Vivaldi enjoyed any particular favour. In 1740 and 1741, the year of Vivaldi’s death, two serious operas by Galuppi appeared: Oronte at the prestigious S Giovanni Grisostomo and Berenice at the S Angelo. Galuppi petitioned for nine months’ leave and accepted an invitation to travel to London. Permission from the Mendicanti was reluctantly granted, and Galuppi arrived in London in October 1741 and supervised 11 opera productions over the next year and a half, including four original works. Some reported his tenure as less than admirable – Walpole claimed that the ‘music displeases everybody’ and Handel, in a letter of 29 December 1741, ridiculed the one serious opera he heard – but in general Galuppi’s trip was successful and he was well received. His music was often reprinted for the English public, and two more Galuppi works appeared there soon after he had left. Back in Venice by May 1743, he took up his old professions of cembalist and arranger; not much had changed, and his contract with the Mendicanti was extended for three more years. The spread of comic opera from Naples and Rome had just found its way to Venice, however, and Galuppi began adapting these to northern taste, beginning in 1744 with three Roman works by Latilla and Rinaldo di Capua. His own comic opera in Carnival 1745, La forza d’amore, was not particularly successful.

Galuppi’s fame began to spread and his fees to climb (as attested by documents from Milan, Madrid, Padua and elsewhere). In 1747 (and probably again in 1748) Galuppi was in Milan for L’olimpiadeVologeso received its première in Rome in 1748, and Venice was increasingly enthusiastic. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Galuppi continued to arrange comic operas throughout these years. In May 1748 he was elected vicemaestro of the cappella ducale of S Marco. His work for the basilica and the ospedali was to lead to an enormous collection of sacred works, but for the near future his focus was on opera. By August he was in Vienna, where Demetrio and Artaserse were enormously successful, despite Metastasio’s criticism that Galuppi’s music did not serve the text well; Demetrio, performed 19 times over a short period, broke all box-office records. Galuppi left Vienna before the Artaserse première and was in Milan for the first performances of Semiramide riconosciuta, the second carnival opera of 1749.

The year 1749 marks the beginning of Galuppi’s long-term collaboration with the librettist Carlo Goldoni. Over the next eight years a rapid sequence of drammi giocosi appeared, beginning with Arcadia in Brenta (14 May 1749) and extending through four more works before a year had passed. These operas surged over Europe with unprecedented ease, and by the middle of the next decade Galuppi was the most popular opera composer anywhere. His professional obligations forced his resignation from the Mendicanti in 1751. His opere serie continued to command high praise. He wrote his first setting of Demofoonte for Madrid in December 1749, to mark the engagement of Maria Antonietta Ferdinanda of Spain to Vittorio Amedeo, heir to the throne of Piedmont, and then supplied the wedding festival music itself, La vittoria di Imeneo, for Turin the following June (it was performed more than 20 times). A new Artaserse opened the Teatro Nuovo in Padua in 1751. By April 1762 Galuppi was unanimously appointed maestro di coro of S Marco, the most important musical position in Venice, and in July he was elected maestro di coro at the Ospedale degli Incurabili.

In the meantime Galuppi continued to travel, fulfilling commissions for various (mostly serious) operas. Early in 1764 the Venetian ambassador to Vienna conveyed the wishes of the Russian minister to acquire Galuppi’s services; the Russian court knew his work and had already staged seven of his operas. In June 1764 the Venetian senate granted the composer leave to go (with the stipulation that he continue to supply a Christmas mass and other Vespers compositions for the basilica), and, after securing the welfare of his family and resigning from the Incurabili, Galuppi travelled to St Petersburg, visiting C.P.E. Bach (in Berlin) and Casanova along the way and arriving on 22 September 1765. For Catherine the Great’s court he produced new works (Ifigenia in Tauride, possibly a comic work, now lost, and two cantatas), revived Didone abbandonata (in Carnival 1766, an enormous success) and Il re pastore, and arranged other operas, as well as providing religious and occasional music. His 15 a cappella works on Russian texts for the Orthodox liturgy proved to be a watershed. Their Italian, light contrapuntal style joined with native melodic idioms was continued by Traetta and Sarti and maintained by, among others, D.S. Bortnyans’ky, his pupil in Venice and possibly earlier in St Petersburg. Galuppi travelled with the court to Moscow, where comic works were performed (no comic operas were allowed on the St Petersburg stage before 1779). He returned to Venice with many honours and gifts, took up his position at S Marco in late 1768 after visiting Hasse in Vienna, and was reappointed at the Incurabili. In summer 1769 Il re pastore was presented in Venice to honour the future monarch, Joseph II.

After this, Galuppi dedicated himself mainly to sacred music, although his operas continued to be performed. Burney reports that the composer was busy all year, playing the organ for Venetian churches and presiding over S Marco. La serva per amore, performed in October 1773, was his last operatic work. In May 1782 he conducted performances to honour the pope in Venice (including the sacred cantata Il ritorno di Tobia, with 60 musicians from the four Venetian conservatories) and received a visit from the future Tsar Paul of Russia. By 1784 his health declined, but he continued to compose, completing the Christmas mass for S Marco a few weeks before his death on 3 January 1785, after a two-month illness. He was buried in the church of S Vitale (exact location unknown), and a month later was honoured by a lavish requiem mass in S Stefano led by Bertoni, his deputy in S Marco. His wealth was not as extensive as once thought, but his will left inheritances to three sons and the bulk of a sizable estate to his wife, whom he names with tender praise. Seven other children (all daughters) are not mentioned.

Burney offered the most extensive account of Galuppi’s personality and appearance from a visit in 1770: ‘His character and conversation are natural, intelligent, and agreeable. He is in figure little and thin but has very much the look of a gentleman’. Galuppi’s lifelong dedication to his large family was well known, as Burney reported: ‘He has the appearance of a regular family man, and is esteemed at Venice as much for his private character as for his public talents’. To Burney he was witty and charming, referring to his study as the room ‘where he dirtied paper’. Burney named him the most inspired of all Venetian composers, superior to Piccinni and Sacchini and second only to Jommelli, and said that late in life Galuppi had lost none of the fire of his former years. Hasse, writing to Metastasio, referred to him as a ‘most excellent composer’ and in a poem Goldoni praised him with the epigram ‘What music! What style! What masterworks!’.

Galuppi’s son Antonio (d c1780) wrote the librettos for two of his father’s most successful operas, L’amante di tutte (1760) and Li tre amanti ridicoli (1761), and was probably involved also in arranging other comic works for S Moisè. His poetry and sense of comedy were in the tradition of Goldoni, though less inspired and articulate, more inclined to slapstick, buffoonery and caricature.

DALE E. MONSON

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