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Steffani, Abbé Agostino

1655-1730

 

Eminent Italian composer of operatic church-music, and a most remarkable man. Was born in Castelfranco, but nothing is known of his parentage. He was a boy chorister at St. Mark's in Venice, and was educated by Kerl at Munich at the expense of the Elector Ferdinand Marie. Later Steffani studied at one of the Conservatories at   Naples; also received instruction in music at Rome. He returned to Munich in 1674. In 1680 he was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, and shortly afterward was made director of chamber-music to the Elector. The following year he composed his first opera, Marco Aurelio, which had a great success. Other operatic works, among them II Solone, Servio Tullio and Alarico soon followed, and in 1688 he went to Hanover as Court chapelmaster. While in that city his opera, Enrico detto il Leone, was brought out, and from that time Steffani produced a large number of works. His services had for some years been in requisition as a diplomatist, and continued to be, although he never forsook the art of music. In 1696 he was appointed bishop of Spiga; from 1698 was privy councillor at Düsseldorf, and held the post of chapelmaster at Hanover until 1710, when he relinquished it to Handel. His last work for the Court of Munich was the opera, Niobe, written for a carnival in 1710. His operas brought him great fame, but he won his greatest popularity as a composer with his duets for various voices with bass accompaniment. Beside his operas, he wrote masses and other music for the church; madrigals; and the duets, which are remarkable for their melody and ingenuity of contrivance. The titles of many of his compositions have been lost, and many of them were published under other names. More than one hundred of his duets are in the library of Buckingham Palace, London. Steffani continued to sing until he was seventy-four, and in Rome at one of Cardinal Ottoboni's performances of music Handel, for whom he had obtained the Hanover post, met him again and spoke of the sweetness and affability of the aged musician and prelate. In 1724 Steffani was elected president of the Academy of Ancient Music in London. He died at Frankfort, where he had gone for a short visit, in 1730. His career is of interest because he attained to the greatest heights in music and in diplomacy from a most obscure and humble beginning.