Steffani, Agostino

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Steffani, Agostino

Steffani, Agostino, eminent Italian composer, churchman, and diplomat; b. Castelfranco, near Venice, July 25, 1654; d. Frankfurt am Main, Feb. 12, 1728. He most likely received his early musical training in Padua, where he was probably a choirboy. In 1667 Elector Ferdinand Maria of Bavariatook him to his court in Munich, where Steffani became a ward of Count von Tattenbach; he sang in Le pretensioni del sole (1667) by J.K. Kerll, the court Kapellmeister, who gave him organ lessons (1668–71); then studied composition with Èrcole Bernabei, maestro di capella at St. Peter’s in Rome (1672–74). In 1674 he returned to Munich with Bernabei, who assumed the post of Kapellmeister; Steffani appears to have taken on the duties of court and chamber organist in 1674, although the court records only list him as such from 1678. In 1680 he became a priest. With the accession of the Elector Maximilian II Emanuel in 1680, he found great favor at the court. In 1681 the position of director of the court chamber music was especially created for him; that same year his first opera, MarcoAurelio, to a libretto by his brother Ventura Terzago, was premiered; it was also about this time that he became active as a diplomat for the court. He was made Abbot of Lepsingen in 1683. In 1688 he was called to Hannover by Duke Ernst August to serve as court Kapellmeister; he was in charge of the first permanent Italian opera company there (1689–97); he subsequently was mainly active as a diplomat for the Hannoverian court. In 1691 he was sent to Vienna to assist in creating Hannover as the 9th electorate. In 1693 he was made envoy extraordinary to the Bavarian court inBrussels, where he worked diligently to persuade the Elector Maximilian to support the Emperor rather than Louis XIV as the War of the Spanish Succession loomed in the background; however, his mission failed, and he returned to Hannover in 1702. In 1703 he entered the service of Johann Wilhelm, Palatine Elector, in Düsseldorf; since he had virtually given up composing, a number of his works were circulated from 1709 under the name of one of his copyists, Gregorio Piva. He began his duties in Düsseldorf in 1703 as privy councillor and president of the Spiritual Council for the Palatinate and the duchies of Julich and Berg; later that year he was named general president of the Palatine government; also was the first rector magnificus (1703–05) and then a curator (from 1705) of the Univ. of Heidelberg. In 1706 he was elected Bishop of Spiga in partibus infedelium (Asia Minor). In 1708–09 he was in Rome to mediate the war between the Pope and the Emperor, which resulted in the Pope making him a Domestic Prelate and Assistant to the Throne. In 1709 he was appointed Apostolic Vicar in northern Germany, and later that year settled in Hannover. He continued to be active at the court there as well, having served as minister and Grand Almoner to the Elector Johann Wilhelm from 1706. His ecclesiastical duties were particularly onerous, but he carried them out faithfully until retiring to Padua in 1722. However, at the insistence of Rome, he returned to Hannover in 1725. In 1727 he received the honor of being elected president of the Academy of Vocal Music in London, the forerunner of the Academy of Ancient Music. This honor renewed his interest in composing, but ill health soon intervened. He died while on his way to Italy. Steffani was an important composer of operas, notably influential in the development of the genre in northern Germany. All the same, his most significant achievement was as a compose of outstanding chamber duets for 2 Voices and Continuo, which had a major impact on Handel.


DRAMATIC (all operas unless otherwise given): Marco Aurelio (Munich, 1691); Serenata for the wedding of Countess von Preysing (Munich, 1682); Solone (Munich, 1685); Audacia e rispetto (Munich, 1685); Servio Tullio (Munich, 1686); Alarico il Baltha, cioè L’audace rè de’ gothi (Munich, 1687); Niobe, regina di Tebe (Munich, 1688); Henrico Leone (Hannover, 1689; German version by G. Schürmann, Braunschweig, 1716); La lotta d’Hercole con Acheloo, divertimento drammatico (Hannover, 1689); La superbia d’Alessandro (Hannover, 1690); Orlando generoso (Hannover, 1691); Le Rivali concordi (Hannover, 1692); La libertà contenta (Hannover, 1693); Baccanali, favola pastorale (Hannover, 1695); I trionfi del fato or Le glorie d’Enea (Hannover, 1695); Arminia, pasticcio (Düsseldorf, 1707); Amor vien del destino (Düsseldorf, 1709); II Tassilone (Düsseldorf, 1709). VOCAL: Sacred: Psalmodia vespertina for 8 Voices and Organ (Rome, 1674); Sacer Ianus quadrifons for 3 Voices and Basso Continuo (Munich, 1685); other works, including a Stabat mater for 6 Voices, Strings, and Basso Continuo (1727). Secular: About 75 chamber duets for 2 Voices and Basso Continuo; many cantatas; arias; etc. instrumental: Sonata da camera for 2 Violins, Viola, and Basso Continuo (Amsterdam, c. 1705).


J. Hawkins, Memoirs of the Life of A. S.(London, c. 1749–52); F. Woker, Aus den Papieren des kurpfälzischen Ministers A. S., Bischofs von Spiga, spätem apostolischen Vicars von Norddeutschland … 1703–1709: Erste Vereinsschrift der Görresgesellschaft (Cologne, 1885); idem, A. S., Bischof von Spiga, i.p.i, apostolischer Vikar von Norddeutschland 1709–28: Dritte Vereinsschrift der Görresgesellschaft (Cologne, 1886); A. Neisser, Servio Tullio: Eine Oper aus dem Jahr 1685 von A. S. (Leipzig, 1902); W. Baxter Jr., A. S.: A Study of the Man and His Work (diss., Eastman School of Music, 1957); G. Croll, A. S. (1654–1728): Studien zur Biographic Bibliographie

der Opern und Turnierspiele (diss., Univ. of Münster, 1960); C. Timms, The Chamber Duets of A. S. (1654–1728): With Transcription and Catalogue (diss., Univ. of London, 1976)

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Steffani, Agostino

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