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) 163–171. r. eitner, Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker und Musikgelehrten, 10 v. [Leipzig 1900–04; New York n.d. (1947)] 9:230–233. 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]