when he died at Naples, aged 60, Aug. 28 [App. p.685 "Aug. 25"], 1774.
Jommelli was of amiable disposition, and had the polished manners of a man of the world. Good looking in his youth, he became corpulent in middle age. Burney, who saw him at Naples in 1770, says he was not unlike Handel, a likeness which cannot be traced in any portraits of him that are extant. The catalogue of his works contains compositions of all kinds, comprising nearly fifty operas and four oratorios, besides masses, cantatas, and a great quantity of church music. As a contrapuntist he was accomplished rather than profound, and his unaccompanied choral music will not bear comparison with the works of some of his predecessors more nearly allied to the Roman school. His Miserere for five voices, in G minor (included in Rochlitz's collection), contains great beauties, the long diminuendo at the close, especially, being a charming effect. But the work is unequal, and the scholarship, though elegant and ingenious, occasionally makes itself too much felt.
His ideas have, for the most part, a tinge of mild gravity, and it is not surprising that he failed in ballets and other works of a light nature. Yet he has left an opera buffa, 'Don Jastullo,' which shows that he was not devoid of a certain sedate humour. This opera is remarkable (as are others of his) for the free employment of accompanied recitative. Jommelli was one of the earliest composers who perceived the great dramatic capabilities of this mode of expression, which has, in recent times, received such wide development. He saw the absurdity, too, of the conventional Da Capo in airs consisting of two strains or movements, by which the sympathy of the hearer, worked up to a pitch during the second (usually Allegro) movement, is speedily cooled by the necessity for recommencing the Andante and going all through it again. He would not comply with this custom except where it happened to suit his purpose, but aimed at sustaining and heightening the interest from the outset of a piece till its close,—anticipating by this innovation one of Gluck's greatest reforms.
His invention seems to have required the stimulus of words, for his purely instrumental compositions, such as overtures, are singularly dry and unsuggestive. Yet he had a more keen appreciation of the orchestra than any contemporary Italian writer, as is evinced in his scores by varied combinations of instruments, by obbligato accompaniments to several airs, and by occasional attempts at such tone-painting as the part written for horns con sordini in the air 'Teneri affetti miei' in 'Attilio Regolo.' In his Stuttgart compositions the orchestra becomes still more prominent, and is dialogued with the vocal parts in a beautiful manner. The Requiem contains much pathetic and exquisite music; but intensity is wanting where words of sublime or terrible import have to be conveyed. In this work and the 'Passion' is to be found a great deal that is closely allied to composition of a similar kind by Mozart, and to the earlier master is due the credit of much which often passes as the sole invention of Mozart, because it is known only through the medium of his works. A comparison between the two is most interesting, showing, as it does, how much of Mozart's musical phraseology was, so to speak, current coin at the time when he lived.—The Miserere which was Jominelli's last production seems in some respects a concession to Italian taste, which possibly accounts for the comparatively great degree of subsequent popularity it enjoyed, and suggests the thought that, had its composer been spared a few more years, his style might once more have been insensibly modified by his surroundings. It possesses, indeed, much of the sympathetic charm that attaches to his other works, but the vocal parts are so florid as to be sometimes unsuitable to the character of the words.
He cannot, however, be said to have courted popularity by writing for the vulgar taste. Among contemporary composers of his own school and country, he is pre-eminent for purity and nobility of thought, and for simple, pathetic expression. His genius was refined and noble, but limited. He expressed himself truthfully while he had anything to express, but where his nature fell short there his art fell short also, and, failing spontaneity, its place had to be supplied by introspection and analysis. His sacred music depicts personal sentiment as much as do his operas, and whereas a mass by Palestrina is a solemn act of public worship, a mass by Jommelli is the expression of the devotion, the repentance or the aspiration of an individual.
The following works of Jommelli's have been republished in modern times, and are now accessible:—
Salmo (Miserere). 4 voices and orchestra (Breitkopf & Härtel).
Victimae paschali. 5 voices, score (Schott).
Lux eterna. 4 voices (Berlin, Schlesinger).
Hosanna filio, and In Monte Olivete. 4 voices (Berlin, Schlesinger).
Requiem, for S.A.T.B. Accompaniment arranged for P.F. by Clasing (Cranz).Many other pieces of his are, however, included, wholly or in part, in miscellaneous collections, such as Latrobe's Sacred Music, the Fitzwilliam Music, Choron's 'Journal de Chant,' Rochlitz's 'Collection de Morceaux de Chant,' and Gevaert's 'Lies Gloires de l'Italie,' etc.
[ F. A. M. ]