The Operas of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano

The Operas of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano

The Operas of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano

The Operas of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano

Synopsis

The Neapolitan composer Leonardo Vinci represented to posterity by two jovial caricatures and a grisly 19th century portrait, produced a string of successful operas during a brief career of little more than a decade. He died mysteriously amid rumors of poison, and was hailed by connoisseurs of the later 18th century as one of the originators of the modern Classical style According to Charles Burney, Vinci seems to have been the first opera composer who, without degrading his art, rendered it the friend, though not the slave to poetry, by simplifying and polishing melody and calling the audience's attention to the voice part by liberating it from "fugue, complication, and labored contrivance."Further, Burney maintained that Vinci's strong commitment to poetry caused him to forge a new musical style, making him one of the most innovative and influential composers of the 18th century. It was with the ultimate poet of the dramma per musica (in italics), Pietro Metastasio, that Vinci produced his greatest works: Didone abbandonata, Siroe re di Persia, Catone in Utica, Semiramide riconosciuta, Alessandro nell'Indie, and Artaserse.After the composer's death in 1730, his mantel was taken up by his disciple Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, whose music carried the Vinci style to all corners of the world. In this comprehensive and seminal study of one the early geniuses of opera, Kurt Markstrom describes in careful and loving detail, the qualities in Vinci's work that reflected the monumental stylistic changes occurring in the early 1700s in Italy. This important volume should take its place on the shelves of all scholars and amateurs of opera.

Excerpt

The emergence of the “new style” or “galant,” or “pre-classical,” or “rococo,” or my preferred term, “early classical style,” is one of the most important musical developments of the first half of the eighteenth century, the period that is known within the conventional periodization of music history as the late Baroque—the age of Bach and Handel. Although these masters are regarded as the epitome of the late Baroque style, it was the emergence of this “new style” that was such a disruptive factor in their lives, and, in retrospect, has come to be regarded as responsible for the end of the period they are considered to exemplify. I first encountered this phenomenon when writing my Master’s thesis on the operas of Handel and was perplexed by the develpment that transformed my hero from a fashionable composer on the leading edge of the latest developments to an old-fashioned “learned” master within some half-dozen years, contributing to a series of operatic failures that would eventually compel him to abandon opera and forge a new career in oratorio. Of the culprits in this development, Pergolesi was well-known, and Hasse, somewhat less. There was, however, a composer who had supposedly developed this style even before Pergolesi and Hasse, a composer who had to be distinguished from his famous fifteenth-century Florentine namesake.

The mysterious figure of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano, who has been represented to posterity by two jovial caricatures, produced a string of successful operas during a brief career of little more than a decade, died amid rumors of poison, and was hailed by connoisseurs of the later eighteenth century as one of the originators of the modern (i.e. Classical) style. According to Charles Burney:

Vinci seems to have been the first opera composer who…
without degrading his art, rendered it the friend, though not
the slave, to poetry by simplifying and polishing melody and
calling the attention of the audience chiefly to the voice-part,
by disentangling it from fugue, complication, and laboured
contrivance.

Charles Burney, A General History of Music, 1789)

Burney’s emphatic statement was the decisive factor in my choice of the music of Vinci as the subject of my doctoral dissertation. I set out to determine which elements create the simple polished melodies and un-

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