Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

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Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista

Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista , remarkable Italian composer; b. Jesi, near Ancona, Jan. 4, 1710; d. Pozzuoli, near Naples, March 16, 1736. The original family name was Draghi; the name Pergolesi was derived from the town of Pergola, where Pergolesi’s ancestors lived. He was the only surviving child of his parents, 3 others having died in infancy. His childhood seems to have been plagued by ill health; a later caricature depicts him as having a deformed leg. He first studied music with Francesco Santi, the maestro di cappella of the Jesi Cathedral. He also studied violin with Francesco Mondini. He then was given a stipend by the Marchese Cardolo Maria Pianetti, which enabled him to enter the Cons, dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples, where he studied violin with Domenico de Matteis, and composition with Gaetano Greco, its maestro di cappella, Leonardo Vinci, and Francesco Durante. Pergolesi became highly proficient as a violinist, playing at the Conservatorio and throughout Naples. His first work to be performed was the dramma sacro Li prodigi della divina grazia nella conversione di S. Guglielmo Duca d’Aquitania, which was given by the Cons, at the monastery of S. Agnello Maggiore in 1731. He graduated shortly thereafter, and received a commission for his first opera, La Salustia (Naples, Jan. 1732). He then became maestro di cappella to Prince Ferdinando Colonna Stigliano, equerry to the Viceroy of Naples, in 1732. His Lo Frate ’nnamorato (Naples, Sept. 27, 1732) proved highly successful. In Dec. 1732 he composed several sacred works for performance at the church of S. Maria della Stella as a votive offering following a series of severe earthquakes in Naples. He was next commissioned to write an opera seria to celebrate the birthday of the empress on Aug. 28,1733; however, the premiere of the resulting II Prigionier superbo was delayed until Sept. 5,1733; it contained the 2-act intermezzo La Serva padrona, which became his most celebrated stage work. He was named deputy to the maestro di cappella of Naples in 1734. During a brief sojourn in Rome, his Mass in F major was performed at the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina (May 16, 1734).

After returning to Naples, Pergolesi became maestro di cappella to Marzio Domenico IV Carafa, the Duke of Maddaloni. For the birthday of the king’s mother, he was commissioned to write the opera Adriano in Siria; it was premiered, without success, in Naples on Oct. 25, 1734, with the intermezzo La Contadina astuta (subsequently staged under various titles). He then was commissioned to write an opera for Rome’s Teatro Tordinona, resulting in his unsuccessful opera seria L’Olimpiade (Jan. 8 or 9, 1735). His last popular success for the stage was the commedia musicale II Flaminio

(Naples, 1735). By 1735 his health had seriously declined, most likely from tuberculosis. Early in 1736 he went to the Franciscan monastery in Pozzuoli, where he soon died at the age of 26. He was buried in the common grave adjacent to the Cathedral. Following his death, his fame spread rapidly through performances of La Serva padrona and several other stage works. The Paris revival of the work in 1752 precipitated the so-called querelle des bouffons between the partisans of the Italian and French factions. His fame was further increased by performances of the Salve regina in C minor and the Stabat Mater in F minor.

The chaotic entanglement of spurious, doubtful, and authentic works attributed to Pergolesi was unraveled in M. Paymer’s G.B. P.: A Thematic Catalogue of the Opera Omnia with an Appendix Listing Omitted Compositions (N.Y., 1976). The Opera Omnia, ed. by F. Caffarelli (5 vols., Rome, 1939–42), is most unreliable; it is being replaced by a critical ed., the first vol. of which appeared in 1985.


C. de Rosa, Marchese di Villarosa, Lettera biografica intorno alla patria ed ali vita di G.B. P. celebre compositore di musica (Naples, 1831; 2nd ed., 1843); F. Villars, La Serva padrona, Son apparition à Paris en 1752, son influence, son analyse (Paris, 1863); G. Annibaldi, Alcune delle notizie più importanti intorno al P. recentemente scoperte: II P. in Pozzuoli: Vita intima (Jesi, 1890); E. Faustini-Fasini, G.B. P. attraverso i suoi biografi e le sue opere (Milan, 1900); G. Radiciotti, G.B. P.: Vita, opere ed influenza su l’arte (Rome, 1910; 2nd ed., rev., 1935; Ger. tr., 1954); A. Della Corte, G.B. P. (Turin, 1936); R. Giraldi, G.B. P. (Rome, 1936); F. Schlitzer, G.B. P. (Turin, 1940); S. Luciani, ed., G.B.P. (1710–1736): Note e documenti (Siena, 1942); E. Luin, Fortuna e influenza della musica di P. in Europa (Siena, 1943); M. Paymer, The Instrumental Music Attributed to G.B. P.: A Study in Authenticity (diss., City Univ. of N.Y., 1977); A. Dunning, Count Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692–1766); A Master Unmasked; or, The P.-Ricciotti Puzzle Solved (Buren, 1980); H. Beckwith, G.B. P. and the Chamber Cantata (diss., Univ. of Md., 1983); F. Degrada, ed., Studi P.ani/P. Studies (4 vols., N.Y., 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000); M. Paymer and H. Williams, G.B. P.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1989).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Baroque composer of the Neapolitan school; b. Iesi (The Marches), Italy, Jan. 4, 1710; d. Pozzuoli (near Naples), March 17, 1736. Between 1720 and 1724 he attended the Conservatorio di Poveri di Gesù Cristo at Naples. His brief but successful career began in the summer of 1731 with the production of a dramma sacro, La Conversione di San Guglielmo, and thereafter his finest works were operas and sacred music. The popularity of his music caused many anonymous works to be attributed to him; thus the majority of extant compositions carrying his name are spurious. To the early Pergolesi period belong a Mass in D major, a Dominus ad adjuvandum me, and the psalms Dixit Dominus and Confitebor, probably commissioned by the city of Naples toward the end of 1732. In May 1734 he conducted his two-choir Mass in F major (commissioned by Duke Carafa Maddaloni and rewritten several times) in San Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome. In content and quality these works were far superior to the general music of that period. Long al fresco -like counterpoint or contrapuntal phrases alternate with concerto passages for solo and choir, solo ensembles, and arias, in which the unusual melodic talents of Pergolesi are effectively expressed.

Pergolesi's Masses consist only of Kyrie and Gloria. To the late Pergolesi period belong the psalm Laudate pueri, in which he finds a new form of expression in the exchange between solos and choir, and probably also the very popular Stabat Mater for two solo voices and strings and the Salve Regina in C minor for soprano and strings. All are outstanding examples of the sentimental style in Catholic sacred music. At the end of 1735 Pergolesi was forced by serious illness (probably bone tuberculosis) to retire.

Bibliography: Opera omnia, ed. f. caffarelli, 5 v. (Rome 193942), performing edition. g. radiciotti, G. B. Pergolesi (Rome 1910; 2d ed. Milan 1935). a. della corte, Pergolesi (Turin 1936). w. kahl, "Pergolesi und sein Stabat Mater," Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch 35 (1951) 8497. h. hucke, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 10:104864. p. h. lang, Music in Western Civilization (New York 1941). p. m. young, The Choral Tradition (New York 1962). h. e. beckwith, "Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and the Chamber Cantata" (Ph.D. diss. University of Maryland, 1983). f. degrada, ed., Studi Pergolesiani: Prolusione el Convegna "Lo stato attuale degli studi su Pergolesi e il suo tempo" (Jesi, 1819 novembre 1983) 2v. (Florence 1986). h. hucke and m. e. paymer, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians ed. s. sadie (New York 1980) 14:394400. d. e. monson, "Adriano in Siria, " International Dictionary of Opera 2 v., ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993); "La Serva Padrona, " ibid. m. e. paymer, "The Instrumental Music Attributed to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: A Study in Authenticity" (Ph.D. diss. City University of New York, 1977). d. m. randel, ed., The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (Cambridge 1996). n. slonimsky, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (8th ed. New York 1992).

[h. hucke]

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Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

The Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) excelled in comic opera, and his works in this genre had a profound influence on the course of operatic history.

Born in the small town of lesi near Ancona on Jan. 4, 1710, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi received instruction on the violin from the Marchese Gabriele Ripanti and other musical training from the two priests who directed the cathedral choir and gave public instruction in music. His obvious talent led to his enrollment in the famous Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples, under the patronage of the Marchese Cardolo Maria Pianetti of lesi. Pergolesi's studies there probably began in 1726, and one of his teachers was the composer Francesco Durante.

Pergolesi's career as a professional composer was launched with the opera Salustia at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples in 1732. His first truly successful works were written later that year: Lo frate 'nnammorato was an opera buffa written in the local dialect; and a Mass commissioned by the city after a series of earthquakes won public praise from the composer Leonardo Leo. A series of dramatic and sacred works followed, including an apparently minor one, the intermezzo La serva padrona, performed between the acts of his opera seria II prigionier superbo in 1733.

Pergolesi was made deputy to the official maestro di cappella of the city of Naples, was twice summoned to Rome to direct performances of operatic and sacred works, and was for a time in the service of the Prince of Stigliano and the Duke of Maddaloni. His health failing, he went to the Capuchin monastery in Pozzuoli, completing there his Stabat Mater shortly before his death on March 16, 1736, at the age of 26.

At the time of his death Pergolesi appeared to have been a talented composer of largely local fame, but circumstances thrust him into the small group of people whose posthumous fame was greater than that achieved during their lifetime. Opera needed new directions. La serva padrona was revived in Parma in 1738, then done in Bologna, Graz, Venice, and Dresden, and soon in all parts of Europe. The freshness of its character delineation and music attracted those who were weary of the stilted conventions of opera seria. Parisians who were disillusioned with traditional French opera—among them the writers Friedrich Melchior Grimm, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot—rallied behind the work and made it an issue in the War of the Buffoons. This modest work received some 200 performances in the city in the 1750s.

With the fame of La serva padrona came success also for other of Pergolesi's compositions that might otherwise have remained neglected. His best pieces are characterized by freshness and liveliness and a fluid handling of solo voices. A large number of sacred, secular, and instrumental works published after his death and attributed to him are undoubtedly spurious.

Further Reading

The standard work on Pergolesi is in Italian. The best source in English is F. Walker's article in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 6 (5th ed. 1954); Walker did not merely condense other writings on Pergolesi but did considerable original research. For general background see Donald Jay Grout, A Short History of Opera (2 vols., 1947; 2d ed. 1965).

Additional Sources

Pergolesi, Napoli: S. Civita, 1986. □

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Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista (b Jesi, nr. Ancona, 1710; d Pozzuoli, nr. Naples, 1736). It. composer, violinist, and organist. Principally talented as composer of comic operas, the first of which, Salustia, was a failure in Naples in 1732. In 1733 he comp. Il prigioner superbo, now forgotten except for its 2-act intermezzo La serva padrona, which has remained popular. Other operas, recently revived, incl. Lo frate 'nnamorato (1732), Adriano in Siria (1734), and Il flaminio (1735). His Stabat Mater (1736) for male sop., male alto, and orch. is still perf. After his early death from tuberculosis, many works were and still are falsely ascribed to him, such as the comic opera Il maestro di musica, concs., and songs. Stravinsky in Pulcinella ‘recomposed’ material by Pergolesi, but even there some of the attributions are false.

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Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista (1710–36) Italian composer. His intermezzo, La Serva Padrona (1733), became a model for Italian opera buffa. His Stabat Mater (1730) is one of the finest examples of religious music of the Baroque period.

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