Niccolo Jommelli (1714-1774)

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01Jommelli The New Orpheus20130121

Donald Macleod explains why Niccolo Jommelli was dubbed 'the new Orpheus'.

Described as the "New Orpheus", whose music had people literally rising to their feet in rapt attention, Niccolo Jommelli was patronised by the Pope, sought by many Royal Courts as their Director of Music, and was seen by many as the greatest opera composer of his day. It was the composer Hasse who gave Jommelli his first big break, recommending him for a job in Venice, although Jommelli had already composed a number of operas by that time. He soon went on to be employed at the Papal Chapel in Rome, but this caused contempt among a number of his critics, saying he could not compose both sacred music and works for the stage. Jommelli was soon being sought after by Royal Courts in Lisbon, Mannheim and Stuttgart, and it was in Stuttgart that he worked for many years, composing some of his best operas. Overspending and decadence at the Stuttgart Court led to a number of artists leaving, including Jommelli, who returned to Italy where he remained until his death. At the pinnacle of his career, Jommelli was seen as one of the most well paid and influential composers in all Europe, whose orchestral writing in opera went on to influence the Mannheim Symphonists.

Niccolo Jommelli was an Italian composer from the 18th century, who made significant developments in the world of opera. His early musical experiences were as a choir boy, and he continued to compose choral music throughout his life, including his Te Deum in D major. When his parents were able to afford to send him to different charitable conservatoires in Naples, he joined in the conservatoire performances of short operas and other music. This was his introduction to opera, at a time when the composer Hasse was dominating the scene in Naples.

Opera was the main arena in which Jommelli made his mark, with works such as Don Trastullo. Jommelli became particularly famous for his use of the orchestra, freeing it from just being an accompaniment in opera.

02Jommelli Appointed To The Papal Chapel20130122

Donald Macleod focuses on Jommelli's time spent in Rome.

Described as the "New Orpheus", whose music had people literally rising to their feet in rapt attention, Niccolo Jommelli was patronised by the Pope, sought by many Royal Courts as their Director of Music, and was seen by many as the greatest opera composer of his day.

Niccolo Jommelli had now secured an important post in Rome, with an appointment to the Papal Chapel. His duties throughout this period not only included rehearsing and conducting chapel choirs, but also composing sacred music, including his Lamentations for Jeremiah which went on to be regularly performed Rome. Jommelli came up against much criticism during this period, from people who thought that a composer shouldn't work in both worlds of sacred and music for the stage.

Jommelli did however continue composing works for the stage during his time in Rome, which often required him to travel elsewhere. One such stage work was his comic opera L'uccellatrice, which enjoyed performances far afield in Leipzig, Bologna, and Florence. It wasn't just sacred and stage music which Jommelli composed during this period, but also chamber works, including a set of Trio Sonatas which were published in London in 1753.

03Jommelli Moves To Stuttgart20130123

Donald Macleod explores Jommelli's work at the Royal Court in Stuttgart.

Described as the "New Orpheus", whose music had people literally rising to their feet in rapt attention, Niccolo Jommelli was patronised by the Pope, sought by many Royal Courts as their Director of Music, and was seen by many as the greatest opera composer of his day.

Jommelli left Rome for a position at the Royal Court in Stuttgart, where he was involved in composing a number of operas each year for his royal patrons, and given virtual control of musical activities at the court.

Jommelli's contract allowed him to be absent from Germany for a period of time each year, so that he could be involved in composing operas for other cities - like Naples, where his work Temistocle was premiered. But he was also involved in composing sacred music for the Stuttgart Court, including a Requiem which matched Mozart's in popularity, and a Miserere, which became as popular as Pergolesi's Stabat Mater.

04Jommelli And A New Theatre In Stuttgart20130124

Donald Macleod explores Jommelli's work in Stuttgart.

Described as the "New Orpheus", whose music had people literally rising to their feet in rapt attention, Niccolo Jommelli was patronised by the Pope, sought by many Royal Courts as their Director of Music, and was seen by many as the greatest opera composer of his day.

During the 1760s Jommelli was at the height of his career, earning a good wage at the Stuttgart Court, and managing all musical activities largely to his own liking. Next came the completion of a new theatre, which could accommodat more lavish and complex operas, such as Jommelli's Il Vologeso. Jommelli experimented in the world of sacred music too, as his later sacred works, with their great range of expression, often demonstrate.

05 LASTJommelli Falls Behind The Times20130125

Donald Macleod on Jommelli's last years, marked by financial crisis and his wife's illness

Described as the "New Orpheus", whose music had people literally rising to their feet in rapt attention, Niccolo Jommelli was patronised by the Pope, sought by many Royal Courts as their Director of Music, and was seen by many as the greatest opera composer of his day.

By the late 1760s, Jommelli was seeking new employment, wanting to leave the Court at Stuttgart which was now facing financial crisis. Due to his wife's illness, they travelled back to the warmer climate of Naples, where Jommelli was to remain for the rest of his life. He continued writing operas, but tastes had changed, and his music no longer suited his Neapolitan audience.

The Court in Germany refused to honour Jommelli's pension, and he was forced to seek finances elsewhere in his old age. With financial problems, and failing health, he died in 1774, and his funeral was a grand affair in Naples, attended by many dignitaries and musicians. His music remained popular for some time, including the Requiem and many of his operas, but his influence in the development of opera, and orchestral writing, has been largely forgotten in recent years.