1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cimarosa, Domenico
CIMAROSA, DOMENICO (1749–1801), Italian musical composer, was born at Aversa, in the kingdom of Naples, on the 17th of December 1749. His parents were poor, but anxious to give their son a good education; and after removing to Naples they sent him to a free school connected with one of the monasteries of that city. The organist of the monastery, Padre Polcano, was struck with the boy’s intellect, and voluntarily instructed him in the elements of music, as also in the ancient and modern literature of his country. To his influence Cimarosa owed a free scholarship at the musical institute of Santa Maria di Loreto, where he remained for eleven years, studying chiefly the great masters of the old Italian school. Piccini, Sacchini and other musicians of repute are mentioned amongst his teachers. At the age of twenty-three Cimarosa began his career as a composer with a comic opera called Le Stravaganze del Conte, first performed at the Teatro dei Fiorentini at Naples in 1772. The work met with approval, and was followed in the same year by Le Pazzie di Stellidanza e di Zoroastro, a farce full of humour and eccentricity. This work also was successful, and the fame of the young composer began to spread all over Italy. In 1774 he was invited to Rome to write an opera for the stagione of that year; and he there produced another comic opera called L’Italiana in Londra.
The next thirteen years of Cimarosa’s life are not marked by any event worth mentioning. He wrote a number of operas for the various theatres of Italy, living temporarily in Rome, in Naples, or wherever else his vocation as a conductor of his works happened to call him. From 1784–1787 he lived at Florence, writing exclusively for the theatre of that city. The productions of this period of his life are very numerous, consisting of operas, both comic and serious, cantatas, and various sacred compositions. The following works may be mentioned amongst many others:—Caio Mario; the three biblical operas, Assalone, La Giuditta and Il Sacrificio d’ Abramo; also Il Convito di Pietra; and La Ballerina amante, a pretty comic opera first performed at Venice with enormous success.
About the year 1788 Cimarosa went to St Petersburg by invitation of the empress Catherine II. At her court he remained four years and wrote an enormous number of compositions, mostly of the nature of piecès d’occasion. Of most of these not even the names are on record. In 1792 Cimarosa left St Petersburg, and went to Vienna at the invitation of the emperor Leopold II. Here he produced his masterpiece, Il Matrimonio segreto, which ranks amongst the highest achievements of light operatic music. In 1793 Cimarosa returned to Naples, where Il Matrimonio segreto and other works were received with great applause. Amongst the works belonging to his last stay in Naples may be mentioned the charming opera Le Astuzie feminili. This period of his life is said to have been embittered by the intrigues of envious and hostile persons, amongst whom figured his old rival Paisiello. During the occupation of Naples by the troops of the French Republic, Cimarosa joined the liberal party, and on the return of the Bourbons, was, like many of his political friends, condemned to death. By the intercession of influential admirers his sentence was commuted into banishment, and he left Naples with the intention of returning to St Petersburg. But his health was broken, and after much suffering he died at Venice on the 11th of January 1801, of inflammation of the intestines. The nature of his disease led to the rumour of his having been poisoned by his enemies, which, however, a formal inquest proved to be unfounded. He worked till the last moment of his life, and one of his operas, Artemizia, remained unfinished at his death.