Bononcini, Giovanni Battista

About 1660-about 1750

The most famous member of a noted family of Italian musicians. He was educated by his father and later studied at Bologna. About 1691 he went to Vienna, where he was appointed violoncellist, in the band of the Emperor Leopold, and where, at the age of eighteen, he brought out an opera, Camilla, which was very successful, but which is said to have been the work of his brother. In 1694, Bononcini went to Rome, where he produced his first operas, Tullo Ostilio and Serse. From 1699 to 1711, he was Court composer at Vienna, with the exception of two years, 1703 to 1705, that he spent in Berlin, as composer to Queen Sophie Charlotte. From this time up to 1720 his time was divided between Vienna and Italy. In 1720 he went to London, as one of the composers for the Royal Academy of Music, which had just been founded, with Handel as director. A great rivalry grew up between Bononcini and Handel, which resulted in two factions, almost political in character, the King supporting Handel, and the Duke of Marborough and other nobles favoring Bononcini. Bononcini was finally taken into the Marlborough family and given a pension of five hundred pounds a year. This rivalry was brought to a crisis by the performance of the opera, Muzio Scevola, of which Handel, Bononcini, and probably Ariosti, composed, each an act. The public decided overwhelmingly in favor of Handel. This decision, together with the discovery that Bononcini had published a madrigal of Lotti's as his own, completed his defeat and broke off his connection with the Marlborough family, and, his reputation beginning to suffer, he lost his friends and position. In 1733, a swindler going under the name of Count Ughi, persuaded Bononcini to go to Paris, where he cheated him out of the remains of his fortune, on the pretense of being able to make gold. Bononcini was now compelled to take up his profession again and composed for the Chapel Royal a motet, playing the violoncello himself for Louis XV. In 1848, the Emperor of Germany sent for him to come to Vienna, to compose the music for the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Soon after this he went to Venice as composer to the opera and here, at the age of ninety, we lose trace of him. While composer for the Royal Academy in London, Bononcini produced the operas, Astarto; Crispo; Griselda; Pharnaces; Erminia; Calphurnia; and Astyanax. These with other operas, in all thirty two; oratorios; masses; madrigals and motets, are his most important works. He also published some piano and chamber-music.