Gaspare Spontini

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SPONTINI, GASPARE

Romanticist conductor and composer; b. Majolati (Ancona), Italy, Nov. 14, 1774; d. Majolati, Jan. 24, 1851. Although destined for the priesthood, the boy studied instead at the Turchini conservatory in Naples, in which city his first opera was produced in 1796. He was active successively in Rome, Palermo (as maestro to the Naples court in exile), Venice, and Paris, where he became compositeur particulier to Empress Josephine (1804). In Paris he produced his best opera, La Vestale (1807), and introduced mozart's Requiem, Don Giovanni (original version), and other compositions. In 1819 he became court composer to Friedrich Wilhelm III and music director in Berlin. The première of Carl M. von weber's Der Freischütz in 1821 threatened the reign of Italian opera, and Spontini's highhanded and dilatory ways were unpopular, but the King remained loyal until his death in 1840. His successor, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, proving less sympathetic, Spontini returned to Paris in 1841, and in 1850 retired to his birthplace. Spontini was an ambitious man whose career was a series of feuds, rivalries, and litigations; yet he was capable of great generosity. After Weber's death he conducted Der Freischütz as a benefit for the composer's widow and children, and he gave his retirement years and all his possessions to the needy. His operas and church works (mostly very early) were mounted in the grand "revolutionary style" of the time of Napoleon, with rich orchestration and majestic choruses.

Bibliography: c. bouvet, Spontini (Paris 1930). a. ghislan zoni, G. Spontini (Rome 1951). g. abraham, "The Best of Spontini," Music and Letters 23 (1942) 163171. r. eitner, Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker und Musikgelehrten, 10 v. [Leipzig 190004; New York n.d. (1947)] 9:230233. t. barfoot, "La Vestale " in International Dictionary of Opera, ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993); "Gaspare (Luigi Pacifico) Spontini," ibid. k. h. cochran, The Genesis of Gaspare Spontini's "Agnes von Hohenstaufen": A Chapter in the History of German Opera (Ph.D. diss. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1995). p. fragapane, Spontini (Florence 1983). d. libby in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. s. sadie (New York 1980). n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (New York 1992).

[w. c. holmes]

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Spontini, Gaspare (Luigi Pacifico) (b Majolati, Ancona, 1774; d Majolati, 1851). It. composer. Some church mus. earned him opera commission for Rome, 1796. 5 other operas followed. Went to Paris 1803, meeting with barely moderate success until the triumph of La Vestale in 1807. Became composer to Empress Joséphine 1805, and won favour with Napoléon. Became cond. of It. Opera in Paris 1810, improving standards and giving f. Paris p. of Mozart's Don Giovanni in its orig. form. Dismissed 1812, but reinstated 1814. Cond., Berlin Court Opera 1820. There, too, his tenure was stormy and controversial, partly because his quick temper and pompous manner made him hard to work with, and partly because he continued to promote his own Italianate works in the face of the new enthusiasm for Ger. romantic opera engendered by the success of Weber's Der Freischütz. When his royal patron died in 1840, Spontini was dismissed in 1841 and sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for lèse majesté, but the new king lifted the sentence. Thereafter he lived chiefly in Paris until returning to his native village, to whose poor he left all his property. Operas incl.: Li puntigli delle donne (1796), L'eroismo ridicolo (1798), Il finto pittore (1800), La fuga in maschera (1800), La finta filosofa (1799), Milton (1804), La Vestale (1807), Fernand Cortez (1809), Olympie (1819), Nurmahal (1822), Alcidor (1825), Agnes von Hohenstaufen (1829). Fest. pageant: Lalla Rookh (1821). Most of Spontini's operas were rev. several times. Some have been perf. in It. since 1945 and La Vestale was also revived at Wexford, 1979.

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