Bononcini, Giovanni, Italian composer, son of Giovanni Maria and brother of Antonio Maria Bononcini; b. Modena, July 18, 1670; d. Vienna, July 9, 1747 (buried July 11). His first teacher was his father, and he also studied with G.P. Colonna in Bologna and took cello lessons from Giorgio. In 1687 he was a cellist in the chapel of S. Petronio in Bologna; in the same year he became maestro di cappella at S. Giovanni in Monte. He publ, his first work, Trattenimenti da camera for String Trio, in Bologna at the age of 15. This was followed in quick succession by a set of chamber concertos, “sinfonie” for small ensembles, masses, and instrumental duos (1685–91). In 1691 he went to Rome, where he produced his first opera, Serse (Jan. 25, 1694), and shortly afterward, another opera, Tullo Ostilio (Feb. 1694). In 1698 he went to Vienna as court composer, where he brought out his operas La fede pubblica (Jan. 6, 1699) and Gli affetti più grandi vinti dal più giusto (July 26, 1701). He spent 2 years (1702–04) at the court of Queen Sophie Charlotte in Berlin. At her palace in Charlotten-burg he produced, in the summer of 1702, the opera Polifemo, as well as a new opera, Gli amori di Cefalo e Procri (Oct. 16, 1704). After the Queen’s death (Feb. 1, 1705) the opera company was disbanded. Bononcini returned to Vienna and staged the following operas: Endimione (July 10, 1706), Turno Ariano (July 26, 1707), Mario fuggitivo (1708), Abdolonimo (Feb. 3, 1709), and Muzio Scevola (July 10, 1710). In 1711 Bononcini returned to Italy with his brother (who had also been in Vienna). In 1719 he was in Rome, where he produced the opera Erminia. In 1720 he received an invitation to join the Royal Academy of Music in London, of which Handel was director, and the Italian Opera Co. connected with it. A famous rivalry developed between the supporters of Handel, which included the King, and the group of noblemen (Marlborough, Queensberry, Rutland, and Sunderland) who favored Bononcini and other Italian composers. Indicative of the spirit of the time was the production at the King’s Theatre of the opera Muzio Scevola, with the first act written by Amadei, the second by Bononcini (he may have used material from his earlier setting of the same subject), and the third by Handel (April 15, 1721). By general agreement Handel won the verdict of popular approval; this episode may have inspired the well-known poem publ, at the time (“Some say, compar’d to Bononcini, That Mynheer Handel’s but a ninny,” etc.). Other operas brought out by Bononcini in London were Astarto (Nov. 19, 1720), Crispo (Jan. 10, 1722), Farnace (Nov. 27, 1723), Calpurnia (April 18, 1724), and Astianatte (May 6, 1727). He then suffered a series of setbacks: first the death of his chief supporter, Marlborough (1722), and then the revelation that a madrigal he had submitted to the Academy of Music was an arrangement of a work by Lotti, which put Bononcini’s professional integrity in doubt. To this was added his strange association with one Count Ughi, a self-styled alchemist who claimed the invention of a philosopher’s stone, and who induced Bononcini to invest his earnings in his scheme for making gold. After his London debacle, Bononcini went (in 1732) to Paris, where he was engaged as a cellist at the court of Louis XV. He was referred to in Le Mercure de France (Feb. 7, 1735) as the composer of 78 operas. In 1735 he was in Lisbon; in 1737, in Vienna, where he produced the oratorio Ezechia (April 4, 1737) and a Te Deum (1740). Reduced to poverty, he petitioned the young Empress Maria Theresa for a pension, which was granted in Oct. 1742, giving him a monthly stipend of 50 florins, received regularly until his death on July 9, 1747, at the age of 77. This date and the circumstances of his last years in Vienna were first made known in the valuable paper by Kurt Hueber, Gli ultimi anni di Giovanni Bononcini, Notizie e documenti inediti, publ, by the Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts of Modena (Dec. 1954). Among Bononcini’s works, other than operas, are 7 oratorios (including Ezechia; all on various biblical subjects), and instrumental works publ, in London by Walsh: several suites for Harpsichord; Cantate e Duetti, dedicated to George I (1721); Divertimenti for Harpsichord (1722); Funeral Anthem for John, Duke of Marlborough (1722); 12 Sonatas or Chamber Airs for 2 Violins and a Bass (1732); etc.
K. Hueber, Die Wiener Opern G. B.s von 1697 bis 1710 (diss., Univ. of Vienna, 1955); L. Lindgren, A Bibliographic Scrutiny of Dramatic Works Set by G. and His Brother Antonio Maria Bononcini (diss., Harvard Univ., 1972).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire