The extremely prolific English composer James Hook was born in Norwich 1746 and died in Boulogne 1827. He was a child prodigy, already performing concertos on the harpsichord at the age of six. His first ballad opera was composed at eight years of age. He spent the greater part of his life as music director of Vauxhall Gardens for which he wrote and performed in overtures, quartets, trios and sonatas as well as numerous ballad operas. Many of his operas were produced in Covent Garden, Sadler’s Wells, Drury Lane, Haymarket and Lyceum theatres between 1766 and 1821.
He wrote more than 2000 songs of which “The Lass of Richmond Hill” is still remembered (Track 1). His cantata The Nightingale (Track 3) was first sung in Vauxhall Gardens by the boy soprano Master Walsh.
Hook was highly esteemed in his day as a composer, performer and teacher and much of his work was published.
Giovanni Paisiello, the renowned Neapolitan composer, was born in Taranto 1740 and died in Naples 1816.
Naples was his preferred city and he wrote the bulk of his 80 or so operas there as well as much instrumental and sacred music. Early in his career he served as Court Composer to the Empress Catherine the Great in St Petersburg from 1776–83 where he wrote a dozen operas including Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the Hermitage Theatre.
He became Court Composer to Ferdinand IV of Naples and retained this appointment when Ferdinand was ousted by Joseph Bonaparte, who was succeeded by King Murat, and ultimately during the return of Ferdinand IV.
In this period he wrote his two most famous operas Nina, ossia La Pazza per Amore and La Molinara, originally entitled L’amor contrastato. The air “Nel cor più non mi sento” from La Molinara became one of the most popular pieces in 18th century opera and Beethoven and Hummel both wrote variations on the air. It was often inserted into other works by the prime donne of the day and the version “Hope Told a Flatt’ring Tale”, an arrangement for two flutes and harp by the harpist Mazzinghi (Track 2), was introduced into the opera Artaxerxes by Madame Mara. The same arrangement, with the words “Ah Will No Change of Time” was often sung by Mrs Billington.
Paisiello enjoyed enormous popularity in Italy, France, Germany, Austria and England, especially during the last two decades of the 18th century.
The English composer William Boyce was born in London 1711, remaining there until his death in 1779. After the success of his oratorio David’s Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan in 1736 he was appointed composer to the Chapel Royal and in 1755 Master of the King’s Musick.
His serenata Solomon (1743) was his first published work (Track 4). He spent many years working on a monumental collection of English Church music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Although not primarily a theatrical composer he was encouraged by the great actor David Garrick to write several pieces for Drury Lane, the first of which The Chaplet was a success. He wrote music for inclusion in Garrick’s Shakespearean performances of Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, a great deal of sacred music and several sonatas for two violins, violoncello and harpsichord. Some of his symphonic music was arranged by Constant Lambert for the Ninette de Valois’ ballet The Prospect Before Us, choreographed in 1940 for Sadler’s Wells.
Boyce is buried under the centre of the dome in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Charles Edward Horn was born London 1786 and died Boston 1849. He began life as a singer having studied with the famous castrato Rauzzini and sang Caspar in the first English performance of Der Freischütz in 1824.
His ballad “The Deep, Deep Sea” was often sung by Maria Malibran and “Cherry Ripe” (Track 5) had an instantaneous success when introduced into Poole’s long-running three act comedy (starring the popular English comedian John Liston) by Eliza Vestris. Madame Vestris was a splendid English contralto who had sung in the first performance in England of Semiramide, La Gazza Ladra and La Donna del Lago. She was a vivid personality who became a great favourite with the British public.
Charles Horn’s 30 or so ballad operas and a few oratorios are all but forgotten today. In the last days of his career he served as conductor of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston.
Thomas Augustine Arne was born London 1710 and died there in 1782. He was the finest of the English composers in the mid 18th century.
His reputation was made with the incidental music to Milton’s Masque of Comus at Drury Lane in 1738 and he spent his life mainly between this theatre and Covent Garden and was also official composer at Vauxhall Gardens for many years. His music for the Masque of Alfred is to be remembered for its final chorus “Rule Britannia”.
He wrote incidental music for many Shakespeare plays including The Tempest with its charming “Where the Bee Sucks”, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.
His Thomas and Sally or The Sailor’s Return, a ballad opera at Covent Garden had great success and his serious opera Artaxerxes was a triumph in 1862 at the same theatre.
The ballad opera Love in a Village (Track 6) was written by Dr Arne but with added music by other composers which was quite the fashion of the day. Mrs Billington created the role of Rosetta who sang the air “Gentle Youth”. The work was popular well into the 19th century.
Arne wrote almost one hundred works for the theatre, was created Doctor of Music by the University of Oxford in 1759 and is buried in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.
Stephen Storace, an English composer of Italian descent, was born in London in 1762 and died there at the age of 34 in 1796.
He was a member of a musical family; his father Stefano was a famous double bass player and his sister Nancy Storace was Mozart’s first Susanna. Together with his sister and the Irish tenor Michael Kelly (the first Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro) they formed a friendship in Vienna with Mozart who had considerable influence on Storace.
He studied as a child prodigy in Naples and his first comic operas Gli sposi malcontenti (1785) and Gli Equivoci (1786) were produced at the Burgtheater in Vienna.
In 1786 he returned to England and was engaged at the King’s Theatre where he introduced much music of Mozart. He composed several successful ballad operas, including The Haunted Tower (Drury Lane, 1789), No Song, No Supper (Drury Lane, 1790), The Siege of Belgrade (1791) and The Pirates (1792).
Lodoiska, a musical romance was produced at Drury Lane in 1794 (Track 7). Although it contains music by other composers (Kreuzer and Cherubini), as was frequent at the time, his own music has great freshness and charm. His works held the stage for half a century.
Johann Christian Bach, born Leipzig 1735, died London 1782, was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He began his studies with his father and after his death he continued with his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. He worked in Italy with Padre Martini and wrote much sacred and instrumental music.
In 1761 his first opera Artaserse was produced in Turin. His Catone in Utica was given in Naples with the great tenor Anton Raaff (Mozart’s Idomeneo) who sang four of his operas there. In 1762 he was invited to London where he composed several operas for the great castrati Tenducci and Guardagni. He made London his home and became renowned as the London Bach. His opera Temistocle, again with the tenor Raaff, was performed in Mannheim in 1772. His final opera La Clemenza di Scipione was played at the King’s Theatre in London in 1778.
He composed relatively few operas and his greater output was symphonic, including several cantatas and much religious music.
J.C. Bach is remembered today for his symphonies, some 50 in all, his sinfonie concertante and his concerti. The 1776 Cantata Cefalo e Procri, for three voices (two sopranos and mezzo-soprano) and orchestra, was composed and premiered in London (Track 8).
A German composer of more than 40 stage works, both in German and Italian, Peter von Winter was born in Mannheim in 1754 and died in Munich in 1825. He was a pupil of the Abbé Vogler and then Salieri. He became Court Capellmeister in Munich in 1798 and remained so until the end of his life. His many operas and ballads were played in Munich, Venice, Naples, Milan, Paris and London.
His best remembered works are Das unterbrochene Opferfest (1796) and Il Ratto di Proserpina (1804) (Track 9). The latter opera was chosen by the dancer Armand Vestris for his benefit night at the King’s Theatre, London in 1815, along with his own ballet Le Prince Troubadour. Von Winter wrote his opera for the King’s Theatre with Giuseppina (Josephine) Grassini, rumored to be mistress to both the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon, in the title role. Madame Vestris also had great success in the part.
Von Winter may also be remembered as having written a sequel to Die Zauberflöte on a libretto of Schikaneder Das Labyrinth or Der Kampf mit den Elementen, heard in Vienna in 1798.
The Spanish composer Vicente Martin y Soler was for a time a serious rival of his contemporary Mozart. He was born in Valencia in 1754 and died 1806 in St Petersburg. He had been court composer to the Empress Catherine the Great who herself wrote the libretti for three of his operas.
His operatic career began auspiciously in Naples in 1789 and continued so throughout Italy. In 1785 he went to Vienna at the insistence of Nancy Storace (Mozart’s first Susanna) who had sung one of his operas in Venice and who created the role of Lilla in Una Cosa Rara (Track 10). There he met Lorenzo da Ponte who wrote the splendid libretti for three of his operas, including Una Cosa Rara, an opera buffa in three acts written in 1786 a few months after Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, both operas being equally popular for some time. Mozart introduced a tune from Cosa Rara into the last act finale of Don Givoanni.
Martin y Soler was feted all over Europe where his operas were performed regularly for a number of years and he was especially admired in England. He was one of the more important composers of the late 18th century.
The Portuguese composer Marco Antonio da Fonseca Portugallo was born in Lisbon in 1762 and died 1830 in Rio de Janeiro.
After composing several successful pieces in his native country he went to Naples where he flourished further and thence to Parma, Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence, Trieste and Mantua. He was a favourite composer with the great English soprano Elizabeth Billington for whom he wrote Fernando nel Messico in 1798 and with Angelica Catalani who was heard frequently in his La Morte di Semiramide (1806) and Sofonisba (1802).
La Donna di Genio Volubile (Track 11), an opera in two acts with libretto by Giovanni Bertati, was first heard in 1796 in both Milan and Venice. The aria “Per amar abbiamo il core” sustained a popularity similar to Rossini’s “Di tanti palpiti” 20 years later. His works were played regulary in London between 1796 and 1812.
Portugallo wrote some 35 Italian operas, 21 Portuguese comic operas and reams of church music. He returned to Portugal in 1800 as Maestro die Cappella at the Teatro San Carlos in Lisbon and he ended his days as Maestro di Cappella in Brazil.
Pietro Generali, an Italian composer of more than 50 operas was born 1773 in Rome and died 1832 in Novara.
In the first decades of the 19th century he was considered highly in Italy especially for his melodic quality, rather Rossinian in style (Track 12). His début as an operatic composer at age 20 was in Rome with Gli Amanti Ridicoli in 1802.
Many of his operas were given at La Scala and the Teatro la Fenice in Venice. Among them the intriguingly titled Pamela Nubile in Venice (1804), Don Chisciotte, Milan (1805), L’Idolo Cinese, Naples (1808), La Vedova Delirante, Rome (1811). La Vedova Stravagante, Milan (1812), Bajazet, Turin (1813), Idomeneo, Lisbon (1819) and Francesca da Rimini, Venice (1828).
Generali numbered Luigi Ricci among his pupils.
Johan Adolf Hasse, born 1699 Hamburg and died Vienna 1783. A composer of Italian operas, he studied with Porpora and Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples. He was especially beloved of the Italians who called him “il caro Sassone”. He attracted fame wherever he went and wrote more than 60 operas, as well as much sacred and instrumental music.
In 1733 he was the rival of Handel in London. 1737–46 saw him in the service of Philip V of Spain. He was Capellmeister in Dresden for 30 years from 1740 and was a favourite of the Emperor Frederick the Great who commanded Hasse’s operas constantly in Berlin and at the Saxon Court.
In 1730 he married the mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni who had created roles in Handel’s Alessandro, Admeto, Riccardo Primo, Siroe, Tolomeo and Radamisto. After her marriage she sang in at least 15 of her husband’s operas. Hasse’s reputation was assured early in his career when he wrote a Serenata for Farinelli for whom he also wrote the opera Artaserse in 1730.
The aria “Pace e amor” (Track 13) is from the cantata for two voices L’amor Prigioniero or Diana ed Amore.
Johann Simon (Simone) Mayr, an Italian composer of German origin was equally well known for theatrical as well as sacred music. He was born in Bavaria in 1763 and died in Bergamo in 1845. He was very famous for a time but was eclipsed by Rossini and is now remembered as the teacher of Donizetti. He is credited with introducing the crescendo in the opera orchestra.
His first opera Salto, written for the Teatro La Fenice with Isabella Colbran Rossini in the title role, was such a success that he was overwhelmed with commissions. Of his 60 operas Medea in Corinto (1813) is still occasionally performed and his Ginevra di Scozia (1801) and La Rosa rossa e la Rosa bianca are not to be forgotten.
The Gran Messa da Requiem (Track 14) is a superb example of his church music.
Mayr is buried in the cathedral in Bergamo along with his famous pupil Donizetti.
Domenico Cimarosa, born Naples 1749, died Venice 1801, must be accounted the first Italian composer of his time and at his best, comparable to Mozart. From his pen came some 60 operas, largely opere buffe, a style which he brought to the highest level (Tracks 15 and 16).
Between 1772 and 1780 he wrote for various theatres in Naples and Rome and his L’Italiana in Londra and L’Impressario in angustie date from this period. He was Court Composer to the Empress Catherine the Great from 1787–91, but was unhappy there partly due to the preference of the St Petersburg audience for Martin y Soler.
He then succeeded Salieri as composer for Leopold II at the Austrian Court where he composed his most famous opera Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792). He returned to Naples in 1792 as Maestro della Cappella Reale and Le Astuzie feminili and his great tragedy Gli Orazi e i Curiazi date from this later period.
Giannina e Bernardone (Track 15), a dramma giocoso in two acts was written for the Teatro San Samuele, Venice in 1781 and was later heard in both Vienna (1784) and London (1787) where it enjoyed great popularity.
Haydn greatly esteemed Cimarosa and conducted 19 of his operas at Esterhazy between 1783 and 1790. The work of Cimarosa was played on all the great stages of Europe well into the 19th century.
Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli, born Naples 1752, died Torre del Greco 1837, now almost forgotten, was a major figure in late 18th and early 19th century music. He is remembered mainly for numbering among his pupils Bellini, Mercadante, Costa and the brothers Ricci.
His first complete opera Montezuma was written for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and thereafter most of his works were written for La Scala Milan. His greatest work written for that theatre was Giulietta e Romeo (1796) which held the stages of Europe for the best part of a century. The part of Romeo was created by the castrato Girolamo Crescentini and Giulietta by the equally famous Josephine (Giuseppina) Grassini. Both were to become favourites of Napoleon who showered them with honours. Zingarelli was the preferred composer of the Emperor.
Crescentini is reputed to have written his own version of the aria “Ombra adorata, aspetta” (Track 17) but it would seem that the version recorded here most probably is that of Zingarelli. Both the soprano Angelica Catalani for whom he wrote his Clitennestra (1800) and the castrato Luigi Marchesi were frequent performers of his operas.
His Distruzione di Gerusalemme was heard constantly at the Teatro Valle for five consecutive years. His last opera Berenice (1811) had a run of over 100 performances in the same theatre.
Crescentini was equally famous for his sacred music comprising hundreds of masses, oratorios and cantatas.
A name more or less forgotten today, Francesco Bianchi, born Cremona 1752, died London 1810, enjoyed great fame in his day. A composer much admired by Haydn he composed over 70 operas, serious and comic, for Naples, Venice, Florence, Paris and London between 1773 and 1807.
His Ines de Castro (1794) (Track 18) was written in Naples expressly for the English soprano Elizabeth Billington and he wrote Castore e Polluce in 1779 for Nancy Storace. Mozart wrote a trio and a quartet for insertion into his opera La Villanella Rapita (1783) for the Viennese performances in 1785.
Bianchi was associated with the King’s Theatre in London for many years. He directed his opera La Vendetta di Nino there in 1795 and returned in 1801 for his Antigona to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. In all, 14 of his operas were given in London where he more or less remained until his death by suicide at Hammersmith. He was the teacher of Henry Bishop.
Girolamo Crescentini, mezzo-soprano castrato, was born in Urbino in 1762 and died in Naples in 1846.
According to history books he was one of the most perfect singers of all time, one of the last famous castrati. In 1783 he created Artaserse by Cherubini.
Zingarelli wrote the part of Romeo for him at La Scala in 1796 and Cimarosa wrote Gli Orazi e Curiazi for him at the Teatro La Fenice in the same year. He was for a time professor of singing to the Court of Vienna where Napoleon heard him and engaged him at a very elevated salary as maestro to the Imperial family. He was the teacher of Rossini’s wife, Isabella Colbran.
He composed and published arias and ariettas (Track 19) and wrote a treatise on singing.
The French composer André Ernest Modeste Grétry was born at Liège in 1741, and died at Montmorency in 1813. He was largely instrumental in forming a truly French style (as opposed to Italian) of opéra-comique in the pre-revolution days. He studied in Rome with Sacchini among others and after a couple of minor successes in Rome and then Geneva went to Paris (on the advice of Voltaire), where his first major success was Le Huron to a libretto by Marmontel.
Between 1768 and 1803 he wrote over 60 operas (mostly comiques) which were characterised by his melodic gift. Some of these are occasionally revived, notably Le Tableau parlant (1769), L’amitié à l’épreuve (1770), Zémire et Azor (1771), Le Magnifique (1773), L’Amant jaloux (1778), La Caravane du Caire (1783) which ran for 506 performances, Richard, Coeur de Lion (1784) and Guillaume Tell (1791).
Les deux Avares (Track 20), an “opéra buffon” in two acts was written for the marriage celebration of the Dauphin and Marie-Antoinette and performed in Fontainebleau in 1770 by the soprano Louise Rosalie Dugazon who was a favourite of Grétry and appeared in many of his operas.
Both Mozart and Beethoven wrote variations on melodies of Grétry. His portrait was painted by both Vigée-Lebrun and Isabey, and Napoleon awarded him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1802.
Nicolas Dalayrac (before the French revolution, d’Alayrac) was born at Languedoc in 1753 and died in Paris 1809.
He became the successor to Grétry in the genre of opéra-comique and although he never left France, his works, some 60 in all, were popular in Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and England.
Beethoven had in his possession two of Dalayrac’s operas, Les deux petits Savoyards and La Soirée orageuse, and he played in the orchestra of the opera Nina when it was part of the Bonn season. Nina, ou la folle par amour, a one-act comedy (Track 21), was first performed in Paris at the Salle Favart in 1786 and long remained his most popular opera. It was composed for Louise-Rosalie Dugazon, the greatest French soprano of the late 18th century who created roles for about 60 operas, many by Grétry, during her brilliant career.
* * * * * 4 stars
For this recording, I would like to express my thanks to Richard Burgess-Ellis for the very diligent work in copying the orchestral parts from old and often illegible scores. Also for his splendid orchestration of the Crescentini aria “Sento mancarmi l’anima” and the air for Storace’s Lodoiska, the originals of which are lost.