Spontini, Gasparo



Famous Italian operatic composer, who wrote for the French stage and tried to imitate the French style. He was the predecessor of Meyerbeer and Halevy, and the logical successor of Cherubini. He was born in Majolatti, in the Roman state, but passed the greater part of his life in France and Prussia. He received his musical education in the Royal College of Naples, entering that institution in 1791, and from his earliest years was devoted to the study of music. He had originally been intended for the church by his parents, who were poor peasants, but he ran away from the school where they had placed him, and an uncle paid for his musical education. In 1796 Spontini was commissioned to compose an opera for the Theatre Argentine, Rome, and he thereupon left the Conservatory, where he was a student, without permission, and produced I Puntigili delle Donne with striking success. Piccini then brought about his reinstatement, and from that time he produced operas in various cities, and in Palermo was conductor of the Neapolitan Court, which had fled before the French. After bringing out sixteen light operas in the Italian style, he went in 1803 to Paris, where he was appointed director of music to the Empress Josephine, and set to work upon La Vestale. After it was finished Spontini submitted it to the jury of the Academy, but because of the extravagance of style and the audacity of its score it was rejected. The composer then appealed to the Empress Josephine and through her influence it was put upon the stage in 1807, was well received by the public and was awarded Napoleon's prize as the best dramatic work of the decade. It is generally considered Spontini's masterpiece, and contains a great many beautiful numbers. His next opera, Fernand Cortez, was produced at the Academy two years later (1809), and met with less success. His other operas which attained a fair amount of popularity in their day were Milton, Julia, and Olympia. The year following the production of Cortez, Spontini was appointed director of the Opera, but was dismissed from the position for financial irregularity. In 1814 he was appointed Court composer by Louis XVIII. and wrote two pieces for the stage in commemoration of the Restoration. His opera, Olympe, did not attract any great amount of favor, although when polished and revised in 1826 it attained considerable success. In 1820 Spontini was appointed to the post of Court composer and general musical director of the Royal Opera, Berlin. He produced there some of his old operas, and composed a festival play, Lalla Rukh, and the operas, Alcidor, and Agnese von Hohenstaufen, none of which, however, gained any great degree of success. After a series of quarrels with the intendant, Bruhl, Spontini was severely reprimanded by the King and practically driven out of the theatre by an enraged populace. In 1841 he was retired on full pay, went to Paris, and then to Italy, where, in 1844, the Pope gave him the title of Count di Saint Andrea. He received many other honors, was made a knight of the Prussian Order of Merit, and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by France; but grieved over his disgrace and finally died, a wornout, dissillusioned old man, who was unfortunate enough to outlive his glory and see his rivals carry off all the honors he had so long coveted. He had married in 1809 the daughter of firard, the piano-maker, and as there were no children Spontini left all his property to the poor of Jesi, Italy. Spontini was probably the strongest figure in French grand opera between Gluck and the romantic movement of 1830. He combined in his character both small and great qualities. He was generous to those poorer than himself, but to the world in general showed a jealous, spiteful nature; was conceited and biased and arrogant in the extreme. He entertained the most intense animosity toward Meyerbeer, whom he considered a mere intriguer and interloper. On the other hand he had the keenest admiration for the works of Mozart and Handel.