Pietro Francesco Cavalli: CDs & DVDs: Best CDs & DVDs of Pietro Francesco Cavalli

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Pietro Francesco Cavalli: CDs & DVDs - The Best CDs & DVDs of Pietro Francesco Cavalli

Pietro Francesco Cavalli: Overview

Pietro Francesco Cavalli: Pietro Francesco Cavalli (b.Crema, 14 Feb 1602; d. Venice, 17 Jan 1676).

Pietro Francesco Cavalli was the son of Giovanni Battista Caletti Bruni, the maestro di cappella at the cathedral in the small North Italian town of Crema. His earliest instruction in music naturally was given him by his father, and in his early teens, his singing attracted the attention of the Podesta (the Venetian governor of the town), one Federigo Cavalli, who eventually suggested that the boy should go to Venice to study. In December 1616, he was appointed as a singer in the Doge's chapel, the basilica of St Mark's, at the quite generous salary for his age of 80 ducats. He soon augmented this by becoming the part-time organist of the large church of SS Giovanni e Paolo, and he also attracted the patronage of one of the noble houses of Venice, living in the palazzo of Alvise Mocenigo. In the 1620s he became one of the best known tenors in the city, but he does not seem to have had a great reputation as a composer at this time, although he produced motets and probably larger works for use in the churches in which he was working. The outbreak of the plague of 1630, which carried off a great proportion of the population, caused him to give up his part-time job, and little is known about his life for some years after this, although an examination of his compositions suggests that he was very close to Monteverdi, whose pupil he undoubtedly was.

Pietro Francesco Cavalli's fame came quite suddenly. On the opening of the public opera houses in Venice in 1637, he was one of the two or three experienced corhposers on the spot, and although he seemingly had written no theatre music, he was commissioned to write Le Nozze di Teti e di Peleo for the Teatro S Cassiano where it was produced during the carnival season of 1639. This was quickly followed by other operas for various other Venetian houses, until by the mid 1640s he was the most sought after composer of the genre. He owed his success partly to his flair for drama, which he had learned largely from Monteverdi, and partly to his gift for melody. His operas gradually increased the number of tuneful arias until they predominate, a fact which helped his works to succeed even when they were given in France and Austria, as happened with several of them. But Pietro Francesco Cavalli's most powerful pieces are the laments and grand scenas, an art in which he developed the basic operatic philosophy of Monteverdi. By the 1650s he became the composer-in-ordinary to the Teatro S Appolinare, for which he wrote at least one opera - sometimes three or four - each year, receiving the ample fee of 400 ducats, for which he had to rehearse and direct the work, as well as compose it in close collaboration with the librettist. All this time he was still in the service of St Mark's, having been promoted to the position of Second Organist in 1640. He published a large volume of church music in 1656, this including the Messa Concertata, which has been revived and performed a number of times in recent years, and some Vespers psalms, which however, do not constitute a unified set.

Pietro Francesco Cavalli's Orione was given under his direction in Milan in 1653, and his fame was such that seven years later he was asked to compose an opera for the marriage celebrations of Louis XIV, for which he was granted special dispensation from his official duties in St Mark's. He went to Paris in July 1660, with the intention of producing L'Ercole amante; this was impeded by a chapter of accidents - the illness and death of Cardinal Mazarin which lead to political intrigues, the difficulties of building a new theatre in the Tuileries, the complexity of the stage machines. In the end an old opera, Serse, was given in 1660 and L'Ercole amante was delayed until February 1662, when his music received an indifferent reception, although the designer and producer were much praised, and Lully's ballet music proved more to the taste of the audience than did the opera itself.

Pietro Francesco Cavalli returned to Venice an embittered man, and swore that he would never compose another opera. Nevertheless, within a short time he was tempted by commissions from Venetian theatres and wrote several operas on quasi-historical themes, Scipione Africano (1664), Mutio Scevola (1665), Pompeo Magno (1666), all of which were used by later operatic composers; and there were other productions of works revived from the 1650s. In 1665 he was made First Organist at St Mark's, and then on the death of Giovanni Battista Rovetta (one of his contemporaries and colleagues in the basilica since his earliest days) he became in 1668 maestro di cappella, thus directing the musical establishment which he had served since his boyhood. He devoted much of his final period to composing church music, contributing some excellent motets to an anthology assembled by a Bolognese publisher, and then putting together a substantial volume of Vespers music in 1675. In these later years, he seems also to have had some of his opera scores recopied so that they would survive in approved versions; and these volumes form the basis of our knowledge of his work today. Shortly before his death he wrote a Requiem Mass in the solemn old style, especially to be used at his funeral. He died in Venice on the 17th January, 1676. His will shows him to have been comfortably off, and although his wife had died childless many years earlier, he seems to have had many friends and pupils.

Pietro Francesco Cavalli's music was known for some time after his death, and historians have always been well aware of his importance in the development of opera, although revivals of his music have become common only in the last twenty years. They show that although Pietro Francesco Cavalli lacked the sheer genius of his master Monteverdi, he was possessed of charm and fluency; and in his capacity to write motets and opera arias of great emotional strength, he was one of the finest miniaturists of his age.

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