A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18

OPERA AND, MUSIC DRAMA IN THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY

ITALY

Although Italian and French serious opera had common roots, they went separate ways until the middle of the eighteenth century, when they began to converge, particularly in the Parisian works of Gluck. Many of the principles that had guided Gluck were already described in Francesco Algarotti's treatise Sag gio sopra l'opera in musica (1755) and put into practice by Nicolò Jommelli (1714-1774) in his operas written for Parma, Stuttgart, and Mannheim in the 1750s. These three centers of French culture were ripe for a blend of tragédie lyrique and opera seria. A similar combination was also fused by Tommaso Traetta (1727-1779) in his operas for Parma and Mannheim in the late 1750s and early 1760s. His Ippolito ed Aricia (1759) for Parma, based on a libretto adapted from Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, borrows some of Rameau's dance music and deploys nine choruses and a number of non-da capo arias; most of the da capo arias shorten the repeat of the main section. Although Jommelli's and Traetta's reforms were not popular in Italy, they provided models within opera seria for a more continuous dramatic flow and gave the orchestra a more important role, particularly through colorful use of woodwinds and horns.

Nicolò Jommelli

Tommaso Traetta

The distinction between opera seria and opera buffa was maintained throughout the eighteenth century, even while signs of change began to appear in serious opera. The founder of nineteenth-century Italian serious opera was Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845). Like Hasse before him, he was a German by birth who lived most of his life in Italy. Mayr's works gained general acceptance for many of the changes introduced by Jommelli and Traetta a generation earlier.

Mayr

-603-

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