Assinalam-se hoje os trezentos anos do nascimento de Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), o qual, embora usufruísse em vida de uma popularidade apenas moderada, granjeou postumamente fama internacional como figura de destaque no repertório sacro e na ascensão da ópera cómica.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi – Stabat Mater: Alto: René Jacobs, Soprano: Sebastian Henning (child).
1. Duo: Stabat Mater dolorosa – 2. Aria: Cuius animan gementem – 3. Duo: O quam tristis et afflicta
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was perhaps the first musician who reached in a very short time an international success with all kind of public. Certainly he was the first one to interest the musical environment in such a wide way, and above all the first one whose personality had been isolated from his works and idealized by the public, that wanted to create through his music an abstract and symbolic image. The celebrity achieved in five-six years of feverish activity (from 1730 to 1736, when he died at the age of 26 years) was internationally sanctioned by the so-called ‘’Querelle des buffons”, when the Encyclopaedists used his works, and in particular the Serva padrona, as a flag against the Ancien Regime official art. They underlined their spontaneity, clearness, and naturalness, that seemed to represent a demystifying return from conventions and fashion to nature. Modeste Gretry, a musician of the period, sentenced significantly: “Pergolesi was born and the truth was revealed”. After this parenthesis, a forcing interpretation of Pergolesi’s art, the combination of his pathetic intimism with preromantic and romantic attitudes, the myth, stimulated by exquisitely literary suggestions, of the “grand et malhereux” musician, pursued by fate and people because of his excellence in nature and talent, ended in removing Pergolesi from his real aesthetic dimension and transformed him in a pre-romantic symbol. As a consequence of it, aspects of his works, especially the sentimental ones, have been stressed, ignoring other but not least aspects. Considering that his works did not justify that sort of oleographic image created by the audience, an arbitrary attribution of other works related with that same fictitious image seemed natural and caused, with other reasons, the flourishing of hundreds of apocrypha, a curios phenomenon for that times. Works made by infamous musicians, speculators and even forgers, were uttered as Pergolesi’s compositions. Only during the last years musicologists made him justice reconstructing Pergolesi’s authentic corpus and rescuing his biography from the deformation of the myth.
1. Aria: Quae moerebat et dolebat – 2. Duo: Qui est homo, qui non fleter – 3. Aria: Vidit suum dulcem natum
The years in Jesi
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was born in Jesi on January 4th, 1710, third-born in a family from Pergola, a little village belonging to the Church, from where his ancestor Francesco, an humble shoemaker, departed in 1635 to try his fortune. The original family surname, Draghi, survived until the XVI century, when the adjective that used to follow it to indicate the place of origin – “Pergolesi” or “Della Pergola” – replaced it in a branch, to which the composer belonged. Giovanni Battista’s childhood is quite a mystery for the scholars. The title of “Donna” that precedes in the wedding act the name of his mother, Anna Vittoria Giorgi, could prove but with some doubts, her rich or even noble origins. Very probably Pergolesi’s family belonged to the humble and little provincial bourgeoisie: it is known that his father was a Sergeant in Jesi Territorial Army, administrator of Buon Gesù Confraternity properties and geometer for the town council and for the local nobility. All these occupations, however, were not enough for the family maintenance, and when Francesco Andrea died all his properties had been confiscated by creditors. Nevertheless, the opportunity of frequenting local aristocracy could offer precious support and possibilities for the future of his son.
Certainly, Pergolesi’s family was undermined by tuberculosis. Among Francesco Andrea’s four children, Giovanni Battista, that died at the age of 26 years, had been the only one to survive for such a long time: his sister Rosa died when she was two, in 1708; his brother Bartolomeo died few days after his birth, always in 1708, and the other brother, Antonio, died when he was two, in 1726. His parents died both in a very short period: his mother in 1727 and his father in 1732, after that his second wife, Donna Eleonora from Cagli, had died in childbirth, with the son Pietro, in 1730.
Some symptoms of the illness that will burn his existence should have appeared to Pergolesi since his birth, considered that he was confirmed not at six years old, as usual, but when he was one year and half old. Maybe a poliomyelitis caused his left leg ankylosis (this physical imperfection has been cruelly underlined by Pier Leoni Ghezzi in a caricature made few years before Pergolesi’s death); it is true that phthisis inexorably sapped his physical constitution.
Without indulging in an abused sentimentalism, it is proved that the illness, the need, the incumbent sense of death, constitute the composer’s adolescence background, and in this context it can be recognized the deep existential roots of his tendency to an affected and thoughtful meditation and to a soft introversion, that constitute aspects of Pergolesi’s Art.
During the eighteenth Century Jesi was an active music centre. Even without a theatre, opera was represented every year in the Town Hall; sacred music, oratories and spiritual cantatas were performed in S. Giovanni Battista and in Confraternita della Morte churches, in the Augustinians and Dominicans’ Fathers’ ones, and in S. Anna and S. Chiara monasteries. Music education (and in particular violin practice) was widely diffused by all social classes, even the popular ones. Pergolesi started his musical studies in Jesi with local teachers: with Francesco Santi, Choirmaster in the Cathedral, he learned composition rudiments, and with Francesco Mondini he studied violin. He made fast progress in both subjects, especially violin, considered that his ability in this instrument emerged even from his lacking biographical information. Thanks to his father’s relationships and to his ability in violin, Giovanni Battista started soon a close and familiar relation with different local nobles: Giovan Battista Franciolini (that was his godfather for the baptism), Gabriele Ripanti, a music amateur that loved hosting the young musician in his palace to play with him, Pier Simone Ghislieri, and Cardolo Maria Pianetti, an enlightened and munificent intellectual. Probably, thanks to him, that was in a good relationship with the Vienna’s Court and the Austrian vice-reign in Naples, Pergolesi had been invited to improve his musical knowledge in one of the four Music Conservatories in Naples: the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo. Pianetti’s help is testified since 1779 by the erudite Giuseppe Santini from the Marche, but there are no documents to prove it. A Pianetti’s epistolary systematic examination attested that the marquis helped Pergolesi’s aunt, Cecilia Giorgi, after his death, with the sharing out of his modest inheritance and with the recovering of a credit from San Bartolomeo Theatre; however his patronage role does not appear from such letters. Here it emerges that he helped – from 1732 – another young from Ancona, Giuseppe Vantaggi, to move to Naples and study at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini, but in the related correspondence there is no mention of Pergolesi. It is possible that Pergolesi had been helped by another member of Pianetti family, Carlo Maria (1640-1725), Bishop of Larino and Governor at Santa Casa of Loreto, but this hypothesis is not supported at the moment. Documents attest that several local families took care of him. For example, Giovanni Battista Franciolini, his godfather, from whom he took the name, followed carefully his education in Jesi and his career in Naples . It had been in his house where, in 1736, the notarial act concerning the musician inheritance was signed. It is also meaningful that Pergolesi, after his parents’ death, in October 1733 entrusted, another eminent local patrician, Piersimone Ghislieri, with the task of cashing his parents’ death dowry and to bring it to him in Naples. In 1734 Marquees Francesca Albicini Ripanti organized in Jesi, at her own expenses, the Pergolesi’s intermezzo Livietta e Tracollo representations to honour his memory. Her husband, Gabriele Ripanti, is supposed to have been one of Pergolesi’s teachers of violin. It is probable that not only the Pianetti, but a group of local families, had been benefactors of the young Giovanni Battista.
1. Aria: Eja, Mater, fons amoris – 2. Duo: Fac, ut ardeat cor neum – 3. Sancta Mater, istud agas
Naples’ Musical Environment
When Pergolesi reached Naples, in 1723, the town was under the Austrian domination since about fifteen years; the Hapsburg domination would last until Borbon’s reconquest of South Italy and Sicily in 1734, when Carlo III arrived at Naples proclaiming himself King of the Two Sicilies. Pergolesi’s Neapolitan time is related with a transitional context, with a moment of deep political, social and cultural transformation of the local society. It was a period characterized by an extraordinary fervour in every fields of art and knowledge: in these years Metastasio made his debut on Neapolitan stages, Pietro Giannone wrote the Istoria civile del regno di Napoli, and Giovan Battista Vico finalized his La scienza nuova. Naples became the main Italian and European centre of music’s production and exportation.
Not by chance Charles de Brosse, who visited Naples in 1739, affirmed emphatically that Naples was the real capital of music in the world. San Bartolomeo Theatre was the musical official centre, directly related with the court and seat of the most aristocratic and socially important genre: opera seria. Through the two annual seasons, one during Carnival time and the other at the end of Summer, creations of the most eminent contemporary composers appeared on the stage with sumptusous set and with the best soloists available on the very active (and even at that time too expensive) European market.
Public paid great attention to changes in taste and fashion, both in creative and interpretative sides: as soon as a voice or a score revealed a flaw, or sounded old, were immediately taken out of circulation. “Music taste changes at least every ten years”, attested astonished President De Brosses, and certainly he was not exaggerating, considering that a real feverish need of novelty pervaded Neapolitan musicians.
On San Bartolomeo theatre’s stage, eminent Neapolitan musicians, as Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Mancini, Domenico Sarro, Francesco Feo and Nicolò Porpora, presented their works at the beginning of the XVIII Century; composers with Venetian and Roman education, as Tommaso Albinoni and Francesco Gasparini, and even Handel, had been there hosted too. Their creations however could not bore comparison with the new generation’s ones, the Vinci’, Leo’, Hasse’s operas, that probably inspired directly Pergolesi. A composer who received a contract by San Bartolomeo Theatre represented for the Neapolitan public the best and above all the newest artist Italian musical context could offer: his works would had been interpreted by the best soloists on circulation and would had been represented with the most sumptuous sets. There are proofs that during the 1730/1740 decades it was in a difficult economical situation that neverthless could not reduce Neapolitan society competitiveness in representing the best operas on its stages. Considering that Pergolesi presented here his first melodrama, La Salustia , in 1732, when he was only 22, it is easy to imagine how much attention he attired and how much supports should have received once concluded his studies at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo.
In Naples, besides the San Bartolomeo Theatre (that would have been demolished after Pergolesi’s death to be substituted with the San Carlo Theatre, inaugurated in 1737 as the new sovereign Carlo III of Borboni’s symbol of splendour and magnificence), there were different minor theatres, patronized principally, but not exclusively, by the bourgeoisie and popular classes. In these theatres, since about twenty years, new expressions and stiles were shaped, stimulated by a sensibility no more tied to the official and pompous character of the court. The old Teatro dei Fiorentini – originally created for drama, and where since the beginning of the XVIII Century musical comedy in Neapolitan developed itself – and two others little new theatres, Teatro della Pace (quite modest) and the very beautiful Teatro Nuovo on Montecalvario, built for the new theatrical genre and both inaugurated in 1724, belonged to this category. Musical comedy, generated by a literary reform of libretto that forsook verbal formalisms and baroque music’s solemn setting in favour of a closeness to themes, atmospheres, characters, of everyday life, ennobled itself little by little becoming the real “bourgeois” counterpart to melodrama. Parallely with this formal ennobling, advantaged by a group of genial librettists and musicians, as Alessandro Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, Leonardo Vinci, Giuseppe de Majo, the ability of the soloists and the level and competence of the public were increasing. When Pergolesi appeared on Neapolitan musical scene, aristocracy willingly protected and funded musical comedy, in the same way the court did for the pompous musical drama represented in San Bartolomeo. Aristocracy and bourgeoisie supported also a series of private musical manifestations: musicians from Neapolitan Conservatoires played serenades, cantatas, original works, different instrumental and vocal compositions for academies, salons, parties and concerts. The circulation of music was favoured by a state of mind, diffuse in that time, artistically open to new ideals of naturalness, moderation, and to Arcadia’s graceful sociality, and sensitive, with its intellectual aim and civic relationship, to a new Enlightened spirit, that postulated a new society with a modern and more efficient structure, no more based on privileges and authoritarianism. All Neapolitan Churches resounded with instruments and voices: the Real Chapel, directed by the same court and including the best composers and soloists of the town, had as own mission to prepare decorative and circumstantial sacred music that constituted the obligatory background for every official and solemn event. Close to the Real Chapel, there were the Cathedral Chapel, the Chapel of San Gennaro’s Treasure and several musical institutions related with major religion orders’ (Teatrini, Gesuiti, Oratoriani) parishes and convents: here genres as oratorio and sacred drama for music, characterized by a conjunction of devotional and traditional elements with popular aspects, were supported.
1. Aria: Fac ut portem Christi mortem – 2. Duo: Inflammatus et accensus – 3. Duo: Quando corpis moriteur – 4. Duo: Amen.
The Conservatory years
Once arrived at Naples Pergolesi found that plurality in the different levels was a characteristic of the musical Neapolitan culture: aspects of the folkloric Southern traditions introduced by the huge number of emigrants from the country, recent aspects derived from their cultivated translations made by musicians from the town, and so on to more erudite and solemn expressions created by professional musicians in a sacred or secular context, coexisted and intersected without efforts. The same variety can be found also inside the theatrical tradition, especially in comic opera, where a substratum related to popular festivities and to tumbler and comic’s recitation can be still recognized in the intermezzo and musical comedy in Neapolitan dialect. Conservatories were a meeting point for these different cultural layers, and it is representative the fact that pupils were ‘’utilised’’ in a big variety of social contexts: from church services to processions, from patronal festivities to civil celebrations, from street to churches, bourgeois houses, aristocratic salons, theatres. It is not surprising that Pergolesi soon assimilated that variety of languages (in the same way he learned Neapolitan dialect perfectly) and benefited of it in his works.
Pergolesi started studying at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in 1723. It was the only institute (between the four Neapolitan Conservatories) under the ecclesiastic authority. Atmosphere there was extremely rich of stimulus and suggestions, but life should be really hard due to the rigid schedule and to the kind and quality of work students had to do to ensure their instruction and maintenance. Probably Pergolesi paid an admission tax, but not an annual fee, because registers proved his remarkable activity for the institution, at the beginning as cantor and then as violinist. In 1729 Pergolesi was called “capoparanza”, that means director of a group of six, twelve or even more students, that used to sing in different hosting places. He studied violin with Domenico De Matteis, composition until 1728 with the old Gaetano Greco and from 1728 with the erudite and brilliant Francesco Durante. The few months spent with Leonardo Vinci, master in Neapolitan comic opera and very sensitive to the new Metastasian poetry, had been decisive for his future.
Pergolesi spent about seven years at the Conservatory, until 1731. In this year, a sacred drama in three acts, Li prodigi della Divina Grazia nella conversione e morte di S. Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania, was represented in S. Agnello Maggiore Monastery Cloister. It was a traditional opera, a sort of final composition text, to demonstrate students’ acquired technical and stylistic maturity. From its structure, exemple of a genre that found his roots in Baroque tradition, a Neapolitan character emerges: Capitan Cuosemo, who expresses himself in a dense dialect, a lively gesticulation and a very comic repertoire, creating a background for the main serious and devotional action. This is the first Pergolesi’s approach to comic opera. Pergolesi’s style, that the composer will refine with a popular characters’ delineation, appears here in an extremely dense and sanguine dimension, that reflects the picturesque and plebeian reality of Naples’ alleys and squares that has deeply impressed his imagination. Probably it belongs to this period a circumstantial motet, found and titled In hac diem tam decora. A very different style characterizes another sacred composition that tradition erroneously attribute to Pergolesi’s debut: La Fenice sul rogo, ovvero La morte di San Giuseppe oratorio, probably performed in Filippinis’ oratory, a place close to Pergolesi since his Conservatory’s years. Here, in an extremely refined context, enriched by the use of unusual instruments, as traversal flute, “English way” viola, and archlute, used in a concert version, Pergolesi reveals his idea of religion as an extreme humanization of the sacred, as a subtle psychological introspection of religious experience: that sort of behaviour, once refined and transfigured, can be recognized even in his last compositions Salve Regina and Stabat Mater. From a stylistic point of view, these compositions prove Pergolesi’s close adherence to the most progressive Neapolitan music tendencies and his great interest for musical theatre: Pergolesi’s models are Vinci’s, Leo’s, Hasse’s, De Majo’s drama and comic opera scores that were an hit on contemporary stages. All these demanding works marked the birth of a new and great composer.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi – Stabat Mater (Manuscrit des Menus Plaisirs du Roy)
Les Pages & Les Chantres de la Chappele – Le Poème Harmonique.
Patrizia Bovi (Soprano), Pino de Vittorio (Tenor), Bernard Arrieta (Basse).Dir. Olivier Schneebeli.
1. Sancta Mater – 2. Fac ut portem Christi mortem
1. Inflammatus et accensus – 2. Quando corpus morietur.
The artistic career
Thanks to the success of these first works (in association with a strong protection in official circles), in 1731, the main Neapolitan theatre, the San Bartolomeo, commissioned from Pergolesi a new opera seria. An old Apostolo Zeno’s work, theAlessandro Severo, represented in Venice in 1716, was chosen as libretto and rielaborated with the new title of Salustia. Pergolesi’s debut on stage could not be more laborious: the old evirated Nicola Grimaldi, the star of the cast, died during the rehearsals and Pergolesi had to re-write all the protagonist’s arias for a new interpreter, the Roman castrato Gioacchino Conti. Pergolesi’s haste and anguish emerge from the fact that he had no time to set to music the comic intermezzo, that did not reach our time. The production had been represented only during the second half of January 1732, apparently with a meagre success. But Pergolesi’s fame should be also solid considering that in September he staged at the “Teatro dei Fiorentini” his first opera buffa “Lo frate “nnamorato” based on a libretto by G. B. Federico, who would become his favourite librettist, in September he staged at the Teatro dei Fiorentini his first musical comedy, Lo frate ‘nnamorato, based on a libretto by Gennarantonio Federico. The success of the opera is proved by its revival (in a new version, slightly modified) in 1748, twelve years after the composer’s death. A contemporary document shows that during all these years its arias had been sung throughout all Neapolitan streets.
Pergolesi’s artistic and social ascent is proved by other two facts, both happened in 1748: firstly he was employed by Prince Ferdinando Colonna of Stigliano, that owned a significant position at the vice-royal court; secondly Neapolitan Municipality assigned him a mass and vesper composition in S. Emidio’s honour, under whose protection the town had been set after many disastrous earthquake. In only two years of activity, Pergolesi ventured on the main musical genres: drama, comic opera, and religious music. In November 1732 he entered as extra organist in the Royal Chapel: the note attesting his recommendation (recently found by Francesco Cotticelli and Paologiovanni Maione in Naples State Archive) referred to the Neapolitan musical environment “great expectation” concerning his career, to the “universal applause” that welcomed Lo frate ‘nnamorato, and, above all, to the “Royal Chapel need of people composing according to modern taste”. The great esteem enjoyed by Pergolesi is proved by the commission, for the following season, of a new opera seria: Il prigionier superbo (another revision of Francesco Silvani’s libretto). The opera was staged on August 28th, 1733, and received a gratifying success thanks to its intermezzo La serva padrona, again on Gennarantonio Federico’s libretto. Pergolesi’s appointment, in February 1734, as Vice Chapel Master, made by the “Fedelissima Città di Napoli”, with the right of succeeding the old and famous D. Sarro, represents the Neapolitan society’s maximum approval toward the musician. Meanwhile great changes upset the Reign of Naples: on May 10th, 1734, Carlo of Borbone, after a very quick war, made his entrance in Naples and on May 16th was crowned as a King; Austrians had to retreat to Southern Italy and Sicily. Almost all Neapolitan nobility, especially the one closest to the Asburgo family, retreated to the neutral Rome, waiting the end of the war. Among the most reluctants to accept this new politic situation can be found the Prince of Stigliano, together with other Pergolesi’s benefactors, as Duke Caracciolo of Avellino (who even retired to Vienna) and Duke Marzio IV Maddaloni Carafa, who invited, with his wife Anna Colonna, our composer in Rome in May 1734. On this occasion, the famous caricaturist Pierleone Ghezzi, very curious about the young Neapolitan Master of Chapel, sketched the only authentic Pergolesi’s representation that reached our time: at first he painted from life only his face and then by heart (in a second drawing) he added the whole figure. These portraits show a stocky young man, with strong and vaguely negroid features; the figure shows a stiffed left leg typical of poliomyelitis victims: this is something very far from all the idealized images of Pergolesi accumulated since the XVIII Century.
Pergolesi conducted in S. Lorenzo Church of Lucina (the seat of the Cappella Nazionale Boema) his Mass in F major (a rielaboration of the previous mass for S. Emidio) in a splendid performance for orchestra during S. Johann Nepomuk’s (Boemis’a protector) celebrations: a declaration of faithfulness from the Maddaloni family towards the Austrian Empire. Although this successful Roman performance determined Pergolesi’s first artistic affirmation outside Neapolitan borders, it also represented a fatal rift for his relationship with the new Bourbon government. His benefactors, the Duke of Maddaloni (who employed him) and the Prince of Stigliano, were both soon elected Chamber Lord by Carlo III, while Prince Caracciolo, after announcing from Vienna that he was “excited at the idea of coming back”, arrived on January 4th 1735, on time to welcome in Avellino “in a very royal way” Carlo III moving to conquer Sicily. It was easy for these great nobles to get out of this difficult situation, but Pergolesi’s performance in honour of the Habsburg was not excused and considered as a subversive action. Very probably the confused and obscure mentions dating back to the late XVIII and XIX Century about persecution against Pergolesi are to be considered as a disproportionate amplification of this event. On October 25th, 1734, a Pergolesi’sopera seria, Adriano in Siria, based on a Metastasian libretto, with Livietta e Tracollo as intermezzo, was represented for the first time at the “official” Theatre of Naples, the San Bartolomeo. The opera did not receive a great success in spite of the presence in the cast of a such eminent soloist as Gaetano Caffarelli; a suggestion of the court, for the following season, preferred a Spanish young composer, Davide Perez, rather than Pergolesi. New recent documents attest how much Pergolesi’s relationship with philo-Austrian nobility had a negative influence on his career: San Bartolomeo Theatre’s impresario, Angelo Casarale, refused to pay to Pergolesi the reward for Adriano in Siria’s composition, saying as excuse that his benefactors, the Duke of Maddaloni and the Duke Caracciolo of Avellino, did not pay him the box rent during all their absence for the war; a real pretext that seems to hide a clear political motivation.
Therefore Pergolesi came back to Rome: at the beginning of January, 1735, theOlimpiade, his last opera seria, based again on a libretto by Metastasio, was staged at the Tordinova Theatre. Few contemporary reports attest an unfavourable reception of the opera, penalized by a poor setting and by the temporary closure of the theatres, as a consequence of Princess Maria Clementina Sobieski Stuart’s death.
Returned to Naples, Pergolesi’s health suffered a sudden worsening and probably already in summer 1735 the Duke of Maddaloni invited him to Pozzuoli to find relief from the tuberculosis that was mining his body. Nonetheless he continued composing and in fall 1735 the Flaminio, a new music comedy, again with a libretto by Gennarantonio Federico, was staged at the Teatro dei Fiorentini. The opera had a great success considering its several representations, even out of Naples. In those months Pergolesi started the composition of a serenade commissioned by the young Prince Raimondo of S. Severo for his wedding with Carlotta Gaetani Dell’Aquila D’Aragona, planned on December 1st 1735, in Torremaggiore, next to Foggia. From its libretto (music has been lost) it appears clear that Pergolesi, because of his illness, could set to music only the first part. The last months of Pergolesi’s life are quite a mystery: he spent his time perhaps in Pozzuoli, at the Cappuccini Convent, a religious institution under Maddaloni’s protection, where he probably composed his four chamber cantatas – edited immediately after his death, the Salve Regina in C minor and the Stabat Mater. This last work had been probably commissioned by the archi-confraternity of the Vergine dei Dolori, the seat of which was the Church of S. Luigi in the Palace of Padre Minimi, as substitution of Alessandro Scarlatti’s analogous piece. He probably finished Stabat’s composition in his lasts days of life and entrusted the manuscript to the friend Francesco Feo.
Pergolesi died on March 17th, 1736, of “tabe ettica”, that is tuberculosis, and was buried in Pozzuoli’s Cathedral common grave. The poor musician’s possession were sold to pay the burial, funeral masses and other debts. His maternal aunt, Cecilia Giorgi, who had moved from Jesi to Naples few years before to nurse the young musician, inherited the rest of his goods, not without a dispute with another relative, the priest Giuseppe Maria Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista’s fatherly uncle. The contest ended – as explained – thanks to the good offices of Cardolo Maria Pianetti, a noble from Jesi.
Although Pergolesi, contrarily to what was affirmed by almost his biographers, received abundant acknowledgment of his genius from his contemporaries, his fame was basically restricted to Rome and Naples. After his death, the whole of Europe began to interest with increasing curiosity and enthusiasm in his compositions. In 1736 four Pergolesi’s cantatas were edited in Naples (among these one was commissioned by Maria Barbara of Braganza, Domenico Scarlatti’s patron); in 1738 a new edition was made, a singular thing considered that it was the only cantatas edition to be realized in Naples at the beginning of the XVIII Century. Lo frate ’nnamorato, Olimpiade and Flaminio had been represented many times, but but above all his intermezzos “La Serva Padrona” and “Livietta e Tracollo” obtained the greatest success with hundreds of representations in all secluded corners of Europe. Among his religious music the Salve Regina in C minor and the Stabat Mater imposed themselves to the general attention, thanks also to a conspicuous number of performances in all greatest European musical centres, both in the original edition and in adaptation to other texts ant to other kind of revisions. At the beginning of the decade 1740-50 Johann Sebastian Bach already edited a transcription of Stabat Mater suited for a German paraphrase of the Miserere. Also the rest of his religious music, the two masses and the psalms, were religiously copied in dozens of manuscripts, both to be performed and collected as precious specimens. At the half of the XVIII Century, Pergolesi was already considered a myth that would soon became a legend, also because the new emphasis given to his genial and creative personality, the passionate interest to his human vicissitudes, ran into an almost absolute lack of documents and direct testimonies. Pergolesi’s life burned in five-six years of feverish activity, in a social context that looked at him with interest and respect, but that nonetheless considered him as related to a craft field. In this context an extraordinary creative activity was giving birth to great artistic personalities, that, beginning from Pergolesi’s epoch, spread Italian music in all greatest European centres. Only a fragmentary remembrance of Pergolesi’s life remained in all who could attend the meteor of his existence and his extraordinary artistic career; with such memories, often misunderstood and deformed by writers beyond the Alps, his first biographies had been distorted and romanticized during the XIX century. His works, principally committed to a manuscript tradition, lacked in definition, as lots of his compositions had been forgotten (only Stabat Mater and La serva padronaconstantly remained in repertoire) and a big amount of apocrypha had been uttered. Only recently an impressive international research restored the real Pergolesi’s importance and his authentic image appears deeper and more fascinating than the one-dimensional and fossilized traditional one. His music does not testify only an extremely refined and complex creative personality, but restores a whole epoch and society observed and interpreted, as it were, from all points of view: the plebeian gestural expressiveness and the tumbler’s grimace as well as the tender bourgeois sentimentality of the musical comedy; the magnificent and aristocratic melancholy of late baroque and Metastasian music drama, entrusted to famous evirates’ brilliant technical ability and unbridled imagination; the intermezzo characters’ wild vitality and subtle psychological skirmish; the sacred compositions’ solemnity and impressiveness; the chamber sacred music’s pathetic intimism where the sacred is regarded as source of emotional experience and the divinity reveals itself through the tension and fullness of feelings; the instrumental music’s sharply rhythmic dynamism and the chamber cantatas’ stylistic devices.
Pergolesi is all these things and even more: the investigation of his music still reveals the magic kaleidoscope of an extraordinary imagination and analysis and synthesis’s ability.
As for his life, his human and psychological dimension, Pergolesi, elusive, still hides, behind his creations, as the mocking and melancholy Pulcinella in the genial ballet that Igor Stravinskij dedicated to the musician.
by Francesco Degrada