Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Italian Born 04 Jan 1710 Died 16 Mar 1736

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, born on 4th January 1710, was an Italian composer who greatly affected the course of opera history, though he only composed for six years before his premature death.  Pergolesi joined the Conservatori dei Poveri di Gesu Cristo in Jesi (his home town) when he was 16, sponsored by a local aristocrat.  He studied there for five years, impressing teachers with his technical and improvisational skills on the violin.  Pergolesi began composing around 1727, the first work to attract attention being a sacred drama, La Conservatione di San Guglieme d'Aquitania (1731).  He attracted three patrons, one of whom - the Prince of Stigliano - made Pergolesi his maestro di capella.

In 1973 Pergolesi's father died, and his new opera and intermezzo were poorly received, and, dispirited, he decided to turn from theatre to instrumental music.  He composed more than 30 sonatas for violin and bass for the Prince of Stigliano, as well as some sacred music (including a mass on the subject of the earthquake that hit Naples in 1731, which has since been lost).  His inevitable return to theatre with Lo Fratre 'Nnamorato (1732) was a great success.  A year later came Il Prigioner Superbo, with its comic intermezzo La Serva Padrona.  While the opera itself was successful, the intermezzo was a huge hit, and went on to win international fame.  Pergolesi entered the service of the Duke of Maddaloni in 1734, and had mixed succeses with his new work.  At the premiere of L'Olimpiade in 1735, a disgruntled member of the audience threw an orange at his head, but Il Flaminco (his next and final opera) was well received and is still performed today.

Pergolesi died of tuberculosis when he was 26 on 16th March 1736, the illness perhaps encouraged by his reckless lifestyle.  His fame increased in the following years, when Stabat Mater, a setting of a Latin poem, was performed throughout Europe.  In 1752 a performance of La Serva Padrona sparked off a pamphlet war between supporters of traditional, serious French opera and those of the new Italian opera buffa genre.  It was known as the war of the Bouffons, and divided all Paris, with Louis XV, the court and the aristocracy on the traditionalist side, and the Queen and intellectuals (including Diderot and Rousseau) standing with the Italian innovators.  The birth of French comic opera was a result of this war.  Pergolesi became a household name, but his fame tempted copyists and publicists into attributing many more works to him than he had actually written, distorting his musical history greatly.

Related composers: Bach, Stravinsky, Durante

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