Despite passing away at a
tragically early age, Pergolesi managed to leave behind a significant body of
work and garner to himself a permanent position as one of the notable composers
of the late Baroque period, particularly in the development of opera buffa. Born in Iesi on January 4,
1710, he began his music lessons from a local musician by the name of Francesco
Santini. In the 1720s, he left his hometown to study at the Conservatorio dei
Poveri di Gesu Cristo in Naples. There he performed on the violin and made his
debut as a composer.
By 1731, Pergolesi had left the
conservatory and in that year received his first commission for an opera.
Within the year, he had completed a second opera, yet neither met with any
significant success at their premieres. However, his fortunes were soon to take
a turn for the better. In 1732, Pergolesi entered the service of the Neapolitan
nobleman Prince Ferdinando Colona Stigliano and his third opera, Lo frate 'nnamorato, became his first
successful stage work. His growing stature as a composer led, in 1733, to a
commission to compose an opera for the birthday of the Empress of Austria.
Premiered that same year on September 5, the resulting work Il prigioner superbo, an opera seria, was unsuccessful. However, its
two-act buffa intermezzo, La serva padrona, came to completely
outshine its host piece and became an influential work in the history of opera.
Besides his efforts on the
operatic stage, Pergolesi also composed scared music. After the Kingdom of
Naples was reestablished in 1734 with the aid of Spanish troops, he composed
his Mass in F which was later performed in Rome. His most significant sacred
work is the Stabat Mater composed in
1736, the final year of the composer's life. Suffering from tuberculosis,
Pergolesi penned the Stabat Mater
while residing at a Fransciscan monastery in Pozzuoli. As with works created in
such circumstances, legend has mingled with history and it is believed that he
composed the piece in a frenzy upon his deathbed. Not published until 1749 in
London, it became one of the most popular pieces of the 18th
On March 16, 1736, tuberculosis
finally claimed Pergolesi's life. However, his place in music history was
secure and his influence continued to hold considerable sway. When his
immensely popular La serva padrona was performed in Paris in 1752, its production sparked a
brutal war of words that lasted two years, known as the Querelle des Bouffons
("quarrel of the comic actors"), between the supporters of traditional French
opera led by Lully and Rameau, and the supporters of the new wave of operatic
works from Italy. Attesting to his success, Pergolesi, now dead for sixteen
years, was held up as the model of the Italian style.
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