Pergolesi, John Baptist

, one of the most excellent of the Italian composers, was born at Casoria in the | kingdom of Naples, in 1701; and was educated at Naples under Gaetuno Greco, a very famous musician of that time. The prince of San-Agliano, or Stigiiano, becoming acquainted with the talents of yonng Pergolesi, took him under his protection, and, from 1730 to 1734, procured him employment in the new theatre at Naples, where his operas had prodigious success. He then visited Rome, for which place his “Olympiade” was composed, and there performed, but was by no means applauded as it deserved; after which he returned to Naples, and falling into a consumptive disorder, died in 1737, at the premature age of thirty-three. It is not true, as some authors have asserted, that he was poisoned by some of his rivals, nor indeed was thesuccess of his productions sufficiently great to render him an object of envy. His fame was posthumous. From the style of his composition, the Italians have called him the Domenichino of music. Ease, united with deep knowledge of harmony, and great richness of melody, forms the characteristic of his music. It expresses the passions with the very voice of nature, and speaks to the soul by the natural force of its effects. It has been thought, by some, of too melancholy a cast, which might arise, perhaps, from the depression produced by infirmity of constitution. His principal works are, 1. The “Stabat Mater,” usually considered as his most perfect work, and much better known than any other, in this country. 2. Another famous mass, beginning, “Dixit et laudate,” first heard with rapture at Naples, soon after his return from Rome. 3. The mass called “Salve Regina,” the last of his productions, composed at Torre del Greco, a very short time before his death, but as much admired as any of his compositions. 4. His opera of “Olympiade,” set to the words of Metastasio. 5. “La serva Padrona,” a comic opera. 6. His famous cantata of “Orfeo e Euridice.” The greater part of his other compositions were formed for pieces written in the Neapolitan dialect, and unintelligible to the rest of Italy. Pergolesi’s first and principal instrument was the violin. Dr. Burney says, that “he had, perhaps, more energy of genius, and a finer tact, than any of his predecessors; for though no labour appears in his productions, even for the church, where the parts are thin, and frequently in unison, yet greater and more beautiful effects are often produced in the performance than are promised in the score.” “The church-music of Pergolesi has been | censured by his countryman, Padre Martini, as well as by some English musical critics, for too much levity of movement, aud a dramatic cast, even in some of his slow airs; while, on the contrary, Eximeno says, that he never heard, and perhaps never shall hear, sacred music accompanied with instruments, so learned and so divine, as the Stabat Mater.” Dr. Burney thinks it very doubtful whether the sonatas ascribed to this author are genuine; but observes, that the progress since made in instrumental music, ought not, at all events, to diminish the reputation of Pergolesi, “which,” he adds, “was not built on productions of that kind, but on vocal compositions, in which the clearness, simplicity, truth, and sweetness of expression, justly entitle him to supremacy over all his predecessors, and contemporary rivals; and to a niche in the temple of fame, among the great improvers of the art; as, if not the founder, the principal polisher of a style of composition both for the church and stage, which has been constantly cultivated by his successors; and which, at the distance of half a century from the short period in which he flourished, still reigns throughout Europe.” The learned historian, for this reason, justly considers the works of Pergolesi as forming a great sera in modern music. 1

1

Hawkins and Barney’s Hist, of Music~ and Burney in Rees’s Cyclopædia.