A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Erba, Don Dionigi

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ERBA, Don Dionigi, a much esteemed composer of Milan at the end of the 17th century. Like Marcello and Astorga he was of noble birth, and appears never to have filled any office. The title of Don given him by Quadrio, and that of 'Rd' mentioned below, show that he was in holy orders. In 1694 he took part with Valtellina in the composition of the opera of Arion, and in 1695 with Besozzi and Battestini in that of Artemio. But Erba's interest to us lies in the fact that he is not improbably the composer of a Magnificat for 3 choirs, from which Handel borrowed more or less closely for several pieces in the second part of Israel in Egypt. A complete copy of this work, entitled 'Magnificat. Del Rd Sgr. Erba,' is in the library of the Sacred Harmonic Society, and a partial one (ending in the middle of a sheet), in Handel's writing, without title or date, in Buckingham Palace. Opinions are divided as to whether it is an original composition of Handel's Italian time (1707–10), or of Erba. In favour of the former are Mr. Schœlcher and Professor Macfarren (Preface to Israel in Egypt for the S. H. S.). It is obvious that but for the existence of the MS. by Handel the question would never have been raised. The whole evidence is examined at great length and pains by Dr. Chrysander (Handel, i. 168–178), whose conclusion is strongly in favour of its being Erba's. He shows that the date of Handel's MS. is probably 1735–40 (Israel was 1738); that it has marks of being a copy and not an original composition; that the paper is not Italian, but the same with that used for his English works; and that the style of the music differs materially from Handel's style whether early or late. In addition it might be urged that it is extremely improbable that in a copy of a work of Handel's his powerful name would be displaced on the title in favour of the insignificant one of Erba.

The pieces in which the Magnificat is employed are, according to Mr. Macfarren, as follows:—

      The Lord is my strength.
      He is my God.
      The Lord is a man of war.
      The depths have covered them.
      Thy right hand, Lord.
      Thou sentest forth thy wrath.
      And with the blast.
      The earth swallowed them.
      Thou in Thy mercy.

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