Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/29

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PORPORA.
17
 

of his music at Vienna, but the Emperor Charles VI. disliked his florid style and profuse employment of vocal ornament, and gave him no encouragement to remain. He therefore returned as far as Venice, where he produced his opera 'Siface,' and was appointed master to another of the schools above mentioned, that of the 'In curabili.' For his pupils at this institution he wrote the vocal cantatas, twelve of which he published in London in 1735, and which are among his best compositions.

In 1728 he set out for Dresden, where the Electoral Princess, Marie Antoinette, was eager to receive instruction from the famous maestro. On the way thither he revisited Vienna, hoping for a chance of effacing the unfavourable impression he had formerly made; but the Emperor's prejudice against him was so strong, and carried so much weight, as to make it seem probable that he would once more find nothing to do. He found a friend, however, in the Venetian ambassador, who not only received him under his own roof, but succeeded in obtaining for him an Imperial commission to write an oratorio, accompanied by a hint to be sparing in the use of trills and flourishes. Accordingly, when the Emperor came to hear the work rehearsed, he was charmed at finding it quite simple and unadorned in style. Only at the end a little surprise was reserved for him. The theme of the concluding fugue commenced by four ascending notes, with a trill on each. The trange effect of this series of trills was increased each part entered, and in the final stretto became farcical outright. The Emperor's gravity could not stand it, he laughed convulsively, but forgave the audacious composer and paid him well for his work. The name of this oratorio is lost.

Porpora was warmly received at Dresden, where he was specially patronised by his pupil, the Electoral Princess, to whom he taught not only singing, but composition. So it happened that when Hasse, with his wife Faustina, appeared on the scene in 1730, he found his old master, who had never forgiven his pupil's defection, in possession of the field. A great rivalry ensued, the public being divided between the two maestri, who themselves lost no opportunity of exchanging offices anything but friendly. The erratic Porpora however did not by any means spend his hole time in the Saxon capital. Early in 1729 he had produced 'Semiramide riconosciuta' at Venice, and in April of the same year had obtained leave of absence in order to go to London, there to undertake the direction of the opera-house established by an aristocratic clique in opposition to that presided over by Handel. The speculation was a failure, and both houses suffered serious losses. Porpora never was popular in England as a composer, and even the nee of Senesino among his company failed ensure its success, until, during a sojourn in Dresden, he succeeded in engaging the great Farinelli, who appeared in London in 1734, with Senesino and Signora Cuzzoni, and saved the house. Porpora got his Dresden engagement cancelled in order to remain in London, but that he must have paid several visits to Venice is certain, as 'Annibale' was produced there by him in 1731, and 'Mitridate' was written there in 1733. It seems that he finally quitted England in 1736, at the end of Farinelli's third and last season in that country, and that he established himself again at Venice; for on the title-page of a MS. in the Conservatoire at Paris dated 1744, he is described as director of the 'Ospedaletto' school of music there. About 1745 he once more went to Vienna, this time in the suite of the Venetian ambassador, Correr. During a sojourn there of some years he published a set of twelve sonatas for violin, with figured bass, one of his most esteemed compositions, of which he says in the dedicatory epistle that they are written 'in the diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic styles'; describing himself as now chapelmaster to the King of Poland. At this time he became acquainted with the young Haydn, whom he helped with instruction and advice. [See vol. i. p. 704b.]

He returned to Naples, his native town, between 1755 and 1760. Gazzaniga, his pupil, in a biographical notice, says it was in 1759, and that in 1760 he succeeded Abos in the chapel-mastership of the cathedral of Naples and of the Conservatorio of San Onofrio. In the same year his last opera 'Camilla' was represented, with no success. After that he wrote nothing but one or two pieces for the Church. He had outlived his reputation as a composer. His latest years were passed in extreme indigence, a fact hard to reconcile with that of his holding the double appointment named above, but which is vouched for by contemporary writers, and by Villarosa, and is a disgrace to the memory of his pupils, especially Farinelli and Caffarelli, who owed their fame and their vast wealth in great measure to his instructions. Villarosa says that he died of pleurisy in 1767: Gazzaniga affirms that his death was the result of an injury to his leg in 1766. Both may be true: it is at least certain that a subscription was raised among the musicians of the town to defray the expenses of the poor old maestro's burial.

Thirty-three operas of Porpora's are mentioned by Florimo, but he probably wrote many more. They may have been popular with singers as showing off what was possible in the way of execution, but he was devoid of dramatic genius in composition. Nothing can be more tedious than to read through an opera of his, where one conventional, florid air succeeds another, often with no change of key and with little change of time; here and there a stray chorus of the most meagre description. When not writing for the stage he achieved better things. His cantatas for a single voice, twelve of which were published in London in 1735 have merit, and elevation of style, and the same is asserted of the sonatas published at Vienna, for violin, with bass. The 'six free fugues' for clavichord (first published by Clementi in his 'Practical Harmony,' afterwards by M.