Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Giovanni Battista Draghi (4 January 1710 – 16 or 17 March 1736), often referred to as Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (Italian: [perɡoˈleːzi; -eːsi]), was an Italian composer, violinist and organist. His best-known works include his Stabat Mater and the opera La serva padrona (The Maid Turned Mistress). His compositions include operas and sacred music. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.
Born in Jesi in what is now the Province of Ancona (but was then part of the Papal States), he was commonly given the nickname “Pergolesi”, a demonym indicating in Italian the residents of Pergola, Marche, the birthplace of his ancestors. He studied music in Jesi under a local musician, Francesco Santi, before going to Naples in 1725, where he studied under Gaetano Greco and Francesco Feo among others. On leaving the conservatory in 1731, he won some renown by performing the oratorio in two parts La fenice sul rogo, o vero La morte di San Giuseppe [it] (“The Phoenix on the Pyre, or The Death of Saint Joseph”), and the dramma sacro in three acts, Li prodigi della divina grazia nella conversione e morte di san Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania (“The Miracles of Divine Grace in the Conversion and Death of Saint William, Duke of Aquitaine”). He spent most of his brief life working for aristocratic patrons like Ferdinando Colonna, Prince of Stigliano, and Domenico Marzio Carafa, Duke of Maddaloni.
Pergolesi was one of the most important early composers of opera buffa (comic opera). His opera seria, Il prigionier superbo, contained the two-act buffa intermezzo, La serva padrona (The Servant Mistress, 28 August 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 comic actors”) 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 Salustia (1732), Lo frate ‘nnamorato (The brother in love, 1732, to a text in the Neapolitan language), L’Olimpiade (January 1735) and Il Flaminio (1735, to a text in the Neapolitan language). 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 and three Salve Regina settings. The Lenten Hymn ‘God of Mercy and Compassion’ by Redemptorist priest Edmund Vaughan is most commonly set to a tune adapted by Pergolesi. It is his Stabat Mater (1736), however, for soprano, alto, string orchestra and basso continuo, which is his best-known sacred work. It was commissioned by the Confraternita dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo, which presented an annual Good Friday meditation in honor of the Virgin Mary. Pergolesi’s work replaced one composed by Alessandro Scarlatti only nine years before, but which was already perceived as “old-fashioned,” so rapidly had public tastes changed.
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 musical work of the 18th century, and being arranged by a number of other composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who reorchestrated and adapted it for a non-Marian text in his cantata Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (Root out my sins, Highest One), 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 misattributed. Much of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella, which ostensibly reworks pieces by Pergolesi, is actually based on works by other composers, especially Domenico Gallo. The Concerti Armonici are now known to have been composed by Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer. Many colorful anecdotes related by Pergolesi’s 19th-century biographer, Francesco Florimo, were later revealed as hoaxes.
Magnificat in C major
1. Magnificat 2:49
2. Et misericordia 1:44
3. Deposuit 1:47
4. Suscepit Israel 1:51
5. Sicut locutus est… Gloria 3:34
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