Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/49

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JOMMELLI.
37
 

church music, the chief object he is said at that time to have had in view. However this may have been, his first works were ballets, in which no indication of genius was discernible. He next tried his hand on cantatas, a style of composition far better suited to his especial gifts, and with so much success that Leo, on hearing one of these pieces performed by a lady, a pupil of Jommelli's, exclaimed in rapture, 'A short time, madam, and this young man will be the wonder and the admiration of Europe!' The young composer himself had less faith in his own powers. According to the notice of his life by Piccinni, he so much dreaded the verdict of the public that his first opera, 'L'Errore Amoroso,' was represented (at Naples, in 1737) under the name of an obscure musician called Valentino; the work, however, met with so encouraging a reception that he ventured to give the next, 'Odoardo,' under his own name.

In 1740 he was summoned to Rome, where he was protected by the Cardinal Duke of York, and where his two operas 'Il Ricimero' and 'L'Astianatte' were produced. Thence he proceeded to Bologna, where he wrote 'Ezio.' During his sojourn there he visited that celebrity of musical learning, the Padre Martini, presenting himself as a pupil desirous of instruction. To test his acquirements, a fugue subject was presented to him, and on his proceeding to treat it with the greatest facility, 'Who are you, then?' asked the Padre; 'are you making game of me? It is I, methinks, who should learn of you.' 'My name is Jommelli,' returned the composer, 'and I am the maestro who is to write the next opera for the theatre of this town.' In later years Jommelli was wont to affirm that he had profited not a little by his subsequent intercourse with Martini.

After superintending the production of some important works at Bologna and Rome, Jommelli returned to Naples, where his opera 'Eumene' was given at the San Carlo with immense success. A like triumph awaited him at Venice, where his 'Merope' aroused such enthusiasm that the Council of Ten appointed him director of the Scuola degl' Incurabili, a circumstance which led to his beginning at last to write that sacred music which had been the object of his early ambition, and was to become one chief source of his fame. Among his compositions of the kind at this time was a 'Laudate' for double choir of eight voices, which, though once celebrated, appears never to have been printed. In 1745 we find him at Vienna, where he wrote successively 'Achille in Sciro' and 'Didone.' Here he formed with the poet Metastasio an intimate acquaintance. Metastasio entertained the highest opinion of his genius, and was also able to give him much useful advice on matters of dramatic expression and effect. Sometimes the accomplished friends amused themselves by exchanging róles; Jommelli, who wrote his native language with fluency and elegance, becoming the poet, and his verses being set to music by Metastasio.

From Vienna, in 1748, he went again to Rome, where he produced 'Artaserse.' He found an influential admirer and patron in Cardinal Albani, thanks to whose good offices he was, in 1749, appointed coadjutor of Bencini, chapel-master of St. Peter's. He quitted this post in 1754 to become chapel-master to the Duke of Wurtemberg at Stuttgart, where he remained in the enjoyment of uninterrupted prosperity for more than fifteen years. Through the munificence of his duke he lived in easy circumstances, with all the surroundings most congenial to his cultivated and refined taste, and with every facility for hearing his music performed. Here he produced a number of operas, an oratorio of the Passion, and a requiem for the Duchess of Wurtemberg. In these works German influence becomes apparent in a distinct modification of his style. The harmony is more fully developed, the use of modulation freer and more frequent, while the orchestral part assumes a greater importance, and the instrumentation is weightier and more varied than in his former works. There is no doubt that this union of styles gave strength to his music, which, though never lacking sweetness and refinement, was characterised by dignity rather than force. It added to the estimation in which he was held among the Germans, but was not equally acceptable to Italians when, his fame and fortune being consolidated, he returned to pass his remaining years among his own countrymen. The fickle Neapolitans had forgotten their former favourite, nor did the specimens of his later style reconquer their suffrages. 'The opera here is by Jommelli,' wrote Mozart from Naples in 1770. 'It is beautiful, but the style is too elevated, as well as too antique, for the theatre.' The rapid spread of the taste for light opera had accustomed the public to seek for gratification in mere melody and vocal display, while richness of harmony or orchestral colouring were looked on rather as a blemish by hearers impatient of the slightest thing calculated to divert theit attention from the 'tune.' 'Armida,' written for the San Carlo Theatre in 1771 [App. p.685 "1770"], and one of Jommelli's best operas, was condemned as heavy, ineffective, and deficient in melody. 'Il Demofoonte' (1772) and 'L'Ifigenia in Aulide' (1773) were ill executed, and were failures.

The composer had retired, with his family, to Aversa, where he lived in an opulent semi-retirement, seldom quitting his home except to go in spring to l'Infrascata di Napoli, or in autumn to Pietra bianca, pleasant country resorts near Naples. He received at this time a commission from the King of Portugal to compose two operas and a cantata. But his old susceptibility to public opinion asserted itself now, and the failure of his later works so plunged him in melancholy as to bring on an attack of apoplexy. On his recovery he wrote a cantata to celebrate the birth of an heir to the crown of Naples, and shortly after, the Miserere for two voices (to the Italian version by Mattel) which is, perhaps, his most famous work. This was his 'swan's song'; it was hardly concluded