The Italian composer Pietro Cesti (1623-1669), also called Marc' Antonio Cesti, was the most cosmopolitan representative of the Venetian opera school in the generation following Monteverd.
Pietro Cesti is supposed to have written more than 100 operas, but only 15 have survived, and of these the ones composed for Italian audiences were heavily influenced by Pietro Francesco Cavalli. Cesti also composed a great many cantatas to both sacred and secular texts, as well as some occasional pieces. His cosmopolitanism is demonstrated in the operas he wrote while residing in Innsbruck and Vienna, which differ from the typical Venetian opera in the number of choruses, the enlarged orchestra, and the inclusion of ballets, this last showing the influence of French taste, an influence that was very powerful in Germany and Austria at that time.
Cesti was born in Arezzo on Aug. 5, 1623. He was a chorister in the Cathedral and later at the Pieve di S. Maria in his native city. He became a Minorite friar in 1637 and remained in the order until 1662.
From 1640 to 1645 Cesti studied with A. M. Abbatini and Giacomo Carissimi in Rome and then became music director at the seminary and Cathedral in Volterra until 1648. The following year saw the production of his first opera, Orontea, in Venice, and 2 years later his Cesare amante; extremely successful, they established his fame. He was in Venice, Florence (at the Medicean court), and Lucca from 1648 to 1652, when he became maestro di cappella to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria at Innsbruck, a position he retained until 1665. The appointment did not, however, prevent Cesti from serving as a member of the papal choir in Rome from 1659 to 1662. Three operas composed for Innsbruck are extant, of which the first, L'Argia (1655), was performed in honor of the conversion of Queen Christina of Sweden to Catholicism. During this period he wrote La Dori (1661), also extant; first produced in Florence, it was his most successful opera and is generally regarded as his masterpiece.
In 1665 Cesti moved to Vienna and in the next year became vice kapellmeister at the imperial court, a position he held until a few months before his death, when he settled in Florence, dying there on Oct. 14, 1669. In Vienna he wrote at least five operas, the most famous being II pomo d'oro (1667), which demonstrates, though in an admittedly extreme form, the kind of opera favored north of the Alps. Commissioned for the wedding of Emperor Leopold I of Austria, the work is divided into 67 scenes, requires 48 characters, and necessitates 24 stage settings, some of them very elaborate. In addition there are numerous ballets and choruses (one for eight parts), and an exceptionally large orchestra is required, including trumpets, trombones, cornetts, lutes, and a regal organ, as well as the normal strings and harpsichord.
Information on Cesti is available in Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, from Monteverdi to Bach (1947); Donald J. Grout, A Short History of Opera (1947; 2d ed. 1965); and Simon T. Worsthorne, Venetian Opera in the Seventeenth Century (1954). □