July 20, 2015. Pietro Ottoboni. In the late 17th – early 18th centuries Rome there were no Ministries of culture or National Endowments for the Art; nonetheless, the musical scene flourished, together with Venice and Naples, Rome was one of the three world music centers. It was partly a natural development, with the Baroque maturing and a new art of opera gaining popularity. Still, music would probably never have attained such an exceptional level and wide audience were it not for several extraordinary patrons. Queen Christina of Sweden was one, and after her death in 1689, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni became the most important benefactor in Rome. Pietro Ottoboni was born in Venice on July 2nd of 1667 into a noble family. His granduncle, also Pietro Ottoboni, became Pope Alexander VIII in 1689. The Pope made his 22-year-old nephew cardinal and vice-chancellor of the Church. The role of the Chancellor was to collect money for the papal army, so one can imagine that the young cardinal came into a very lucrative position. Cardinal Ottoboni was also a cardinal-bishop of a number of places, and his annual income from different sources was estimated at 50,000 scudi, an enormous sum. A Roman scudo of the time contained approximately 3.3 grams of gold. If we convert it into the current price of gold, the cardinal’s income amounts to about six million dollars. But even that was not enough: Ottoboni was a musical fanatic and spend every penny and them some to satisfy his passion. He was constantly in debt, and when he died in 1740, his estate, with its great collection of paintings and a large music library, had to be liquidated.
Ottoboni resided in the Palazzo della Cancelleria; there he maintained the best singers in town and one of the finest orchestras. In 1689 he reopened the palace theater, which had stayed closed for the previous 15 years. Around 1710 Ottoboni’s court architect, Filippo Juvarra, rebuilt it into the most technically advanced opera theater in Rome, capable of staging lavish productions. This theater saw premiers of operas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara and many other popular composers of the day. Ottoboni spread his patronage far and wide: he was also the major benefactor of Congregazione di S Cecilia (now the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Italy’s premier conservatory), and Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. But even that was not all: the Cardinal was also a very prolific librettist. As a church hierarch he couldn’t publish them under his own name, especially considering that in 1701 Pope Clement XI banned all public opera performances, but many librettos, whether to operas or oratorios and cantatas, are attributed to him. Ottoboni was full of vigor, and if music was the main love of his life, it was definitely not the only one: he’s said to have fathered 60 or 70 children.
Many Italian composers benefited from Ottoboni’s generosity, among them Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Antonio Caldara and Tomaso Albinoni. The first three are very popular, so we’ll present the works of Caldara and Albinoni. Antonio Caldara was born in Venice in 1670. Here’s an aria from his opera Il Martirio di Santa Caterina , which was premiered in Ottoboni’s theater in 1708. Cecilia Bartoli is the mezzo, with Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski conducting. Albinoni, also a Venetian, was one year younger than Caldara. In his time he was also famous as an opera composer, but most of his operas were lost and are practically never performed today. “Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor” became a pop phenomenon, except that it is a fake, written by Remo Giazotto! Here is a real Albinoni: Trio sonata op. 1, no. 1. The cycle of 12 trio sonatas opus 1 was dedicated to Pietro Ottoboni. The performers in this recording are Parnassi Musici.
Copyright 2008-2014 Classical Connect, LLC