Jommelli, Nicolo


Frequently spelled Niccolo or Nicola Jomelli. A celebrated composer of the school of Scarlatti and Pergolesi, and noted both for his numerous operas and his excellent sacred music, being the last of the great Roman church composers. Born at Aversa, formerly Avellino, a little town not far from Naples, where he received his first instruction in music under the canon, Mozillo. In 1730 he went to Naples, where he studied at the Conservatory of San Onofrio and the Conservatory degli Poveri di Gesu Criste, later at Pieta der Turchini, where he was in the classes of Leo, Feo, Prato and Marchini. His first compositions were ballets of no particular worth, but in 1737, then twenty-three years old, he wrote his first opera, L'Errore Amoroso, under the assumed name of Valentino. So great was its success that he wrote another called Oroardo, the following year, produced under his own name. He was called to Rome in 1740, and under the patronage of the Cardinal of York he wrote Ricimero, his first grand opera, and Astiannasse. He then went to Bologna, where he became acquainted with Martini and there his Ezio came out in 1741. Later went to Naples, Venice and Vienna, where  he met the famous poet, Metastasio, with whom he formed a lasting friendship, and where he had the honor of teaching Empress Maria Theresa. He returned to Rome in 1749 and took the position of chapelmaster at St. Peter's Cathedral. Here he wrote many sacred compositions. In 1754 he became chapelmaster to the Duke of Würtemberg. On his return to Naples in 1770, Armida, one of his best operas, was hissed off the stage and Demofoonte and Ifigenia were also distasteful to the Neapolitans. His disappointment at their failure is thought to be the cause of a stroke of paralysis in 1773. It did not prove fatal, however, and he was afterwards able to compose a cantata in honor of the birth of a Prince of Naples, and his last composition in 1774, the beautiful and elaborate Miserere for two soprano voices and chorus, set to a version of the 51st Psalm by his friend Mattei. This composition is considered by some his masterpiece, but it is too difficult to perform to advantage. The King of Portugal tried in vain to bring him to Lisbon but had to be content with the operas written annually   for him. Death prevented Jommelli from fulfilling one of the commissions of His Highness for two operas and a cantata.

Jommelli was buried in state, a requiem especially composed for the occasion being sung at the funeral, in which all the musicians of Naples took part. Among his sacred music are the oratorios, Isacco Figura del Redentore, Betulia Liberata, Santa Elena al Calvario, La Nativita di Maria Vergini, and La Passione, for four voices, chorus and orchestra, which is the best of this class; cantatas; masses; a Te Deum; graduals; psalms; responses; a motet for five voices' offertories, one with an Alleluja chorus in four parts; a requiem; and misereres. Some especially good works for double chorus are a Dixit; two Inconvertendos; a Laudate, written in Venice; a Magnificat with echo; and a hymn to St. Peter, sung annually at Rome on the Festival of St. Peter as late as 1852. For the above mentioned Laudate he was appointed director of the Conservatorio degl' Incurabili. In addition to the operas already named he wrote Penelope; Enea nel Lazio; II re Pastore; Nitteti; La Clemenzo di Tito; Alessandro nell Indie; II Fedonte; L'Olympiade; Endimone; II Pastorelle Illustra; L'Isola Disability; and the comic operas II Matrimonio per Concorso; La Schiava Liberata; II Cacciatore Deluse; Ifigenia in Tauride; and Ifigenia in Aulide. During his long stay at Rome he brought out Artaserse; L'Incantato; Atillo Regolo; Talestri; and Semiramida. Of his operas which number about fifty, Didone is considered the best, and Merope the most popular. Though Jommelli was Mozart's model, that master considered his dramas " too lofty and antique for theatrical performance." The dance music in his operas has been a model for European composers. Jommelli was the first to break Scarlatti's rule of using the da capo or repeat, and tended to make the music of the opera more natural  and better in accord with the sentiment expressed. For this reason he may be called the predecessor of Gluck.