Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista



Also spelled Pergolese. The family name was originally Draghi, but coming from Pergola, they were called Pergolesi. Giovanni was born in the little town of Jesi, near Ancona, in the eastern part of Italy, where his father was a surveyor and his grandfather a shoemaker. They are said to have been very poor; but the boy studied music under Santini and Mondini in his native town until he was sixteen. Then he was sent to finish his education at Naples. There he continued his violin lessons under Matteis, and studied counterpoint under Greco, Durante and Feo. He is said to have attracted much attention by improvising harmonic and chromatic passages on his instrument, for at that time harmony was as yet comparatively unknown. At the close of his student life he wrote an oratorio, La Conversione di San Guglielmo d'Aquitania, picturing the struggle between good and evil as personified in an angel and a demon. This was sung with his comic intermezzo, II Maestro di Musica, at Sant' Agnello Maggiore in 1731. So great was the success of this performance that the Prince of Stigliano immediately took the young composer under his protection and through his influence Pergolesi's first serious opera, La Sallustia, was produced soon after with considerable success at the Teatro Nuovo, though his intermezzo, Nerino e Nibbia, was a failure. For the same theatre he wrote his next work, the serious opera Ricimero. It failed completely, and, greatly discouraged, he turned to other kinds of composition, writing for his patron, the Prince, thirty terzets or trios for two violins and harpsichord, twentyfour of which were afterward published in London; and a mass for a double chorus and orchestra, which was sung as an offering to the patron saint of Naples after the earthquake of 1731. This mass, though not in strict polyphonic style, shows an effective use of chorus against chorus, and greatly enhanced the reputation of its composer. The failure of the three-act serious opera, Ariano in Seria, in 1734, was mediated by the success of the intermezzo, Livietta e Tracolo, which was afterwards played separately as La Contadina, II finto pazza, and under other titles. In 1734 he visited Rome in the train of the Duke of Maddaloni, and was recalled to that city the next year to write an opera for the Tordinona theatre. Accordingly he set Metastasio's L'Olympiade, but the music was beyond its hearers and after a few days the piece was jeered off the stage, and Pergolesi returned to Naples downhearted. After the failure of L'Olympiade, Pergolesi devoted himself to church-music, but it was not long before failing health compelled him to go to Pozzuoli. Consumption had, however, made such terrible headway that he had barely time to complete a Salve Regina and his great Stabat Mater, which, even before he wrote L'Olympiade, had been ordered for a stipend of ten ducats, something over eight dollars, to replace the one by Alexander Scarlatti so long used by the Confraternity of San Luigi di Palazzo, before death cut short his career at twentysix years of age.


During his life his successes had not been many or great, but immediately after his death he became very popular. L'Olympiade was enthusiastically applauded at Rome, and even penetrated as far as London in 1742. Most of his operas were written in the Neapolitan dialect, and the only ones which attained great European celebrity were II Maestro di Musica and La Serva Padrona. The former was given at Venice 'in 1743 as L'Orazio, at Florence in 1760 as La Scolara alia moda, and at Paris in 1752 and subsequently. La Serva Padrona is of great importance in the development of comic opera, especially in France, where it was introduced by a company of t Italian actors at the Italiens in Paris in 1746. It is written for two singers, Serpina, the designing servant, and Uberto, the master, whom she is determined to marry. The accompaniment consists of a string quartet, which is frequently in unison with the voices, yet the music is so natural and charming that the interest is sustained throughout, and in comparison with the stiff style of Lully's school at was a welcome relief. Rousseau and others immediately took it up and made it the model for opera bouffe, and between the adherents of the Italian and French styles a fierce war sprang up, called the "guerre aux bouffons," which ended in the establishment of the French Opera Comique as a school separate from the Grand Opera. Mozart, too, is said to have drawn inspiration from La Serva Padrona. Pergolesi's orchestra usually consisted of strings, but occasionally was reinforced by horns and a trumpet. The work by which Pergolesi is known today is his Stabat Mater. It is a most beautiful work, full of grace, sweetness and melody, but learned musicians have condemned it as too dramatic. It was written for soprano and contralto with the accompaniment of a string orchestra and organ, but later Paisiello added parts for wind instruments, and it has been differently arranged by many musicians. It has been sung all over the world and frequently reprinted. Besides the works already mentioned Pergolesi wrote another oratorio, La Nativita; the cantatas, Orfeo, for solo voice and orchestra, Giasone for five voices; also five others for one voice and clavichord; and six for three voices and instruments; many masses; the motets, Conturbat mentem mean, Dies Irae, and Domine ad Adjuvandum; also psalms; a Miserere; and other church-music. He also wrote arias and scenes; sonatas and concertos for the violin and other instruments; two sinfonia; and two sets of eight lessons for the harpsichord. Many manuscript scores of Pergolesi's works are preserved in Naples, Rome, Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin and other German cities, but only a few are available in modern score. Over his grave in the Cathedral at Pozzuoli are the words Giovane e Moribundo, " Young and Dying," and in consideration of the fact that all his works were written before his genius had had time to mature, some lenience should be shown in comparing his works with those of his predecessors and contemporaries, a comparison which modern critics seem to find detrimental to his former high renown. The town of Jesi is preparing to celebrate, in 1910, the twohundredth anniversary of his birth. Lazzari has been commissioned to build a monument and Radiocitte has started research in the archives in Naples, preparatory to writing a complete monograph of the life and works of this master, whom the Italians call the Raphael of music.