Friday, 13 March 2015


“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” - Aldous Huxley

Benedetto Giacomo Marcello (31 July or 1 August 1686 – 24 July 1739) was an Italian composer, writer, advocate, magistrate, and teacher. Born in Venice, Benedetto Marcello was a member of a noble family and his compositions are frequently referred to as being composed by "Patrizio Veneto". Although he was a music student of Antonio Lotti and Francesco Gasparini, his father wanted Benedetto to devote himself to law. Benedetto managed to combine a life in law and public service with one in music.

In 1711 he was appointed a member of the Council of Forty (in Venice’s central government), and in 1730 he went to Pola as Provveditore (district governor). Due to his health having been “impaired by the climate” of Istria, Marcello retired after eight years in the capacity of Camerlengo to Brescia where he died of tuberculosis in 1739.

Benedetto Marcello was the brother of Alessandro Marcello, also a notable composer. On 20 May 1728 Benedetto Marcello married his singing student Rosanna Scalfi in a secret ceremony. However, as a nobleman his marriage to a commoner was unlawful and after Marcello’s death the marriage was declared null by the state. Rosanna was unable to inherit his estate, and filed suit in 1742 against Benedetto’s brother Alessandro Marcello, seeking financial support.

Marcello composed a variety of music including considerable church music, oratorios, hundreds of solo cantatas, duets, sonatas, concertos and sinfonias. Marcello was a younger contemporary of Antonio Vivaldi in Venice and his instrumental music shows a Vivaldian flavor. As a composer, Marcello was best known in his lifetime and is now still best remembered for his “Estro poetico-armonico” (Venice, 1724–27), a musical setting for voices, figured bass (a continuo notation), and occasional solo instruments, of the first fifty Psalms, as paraphrased in Italian by his friend G. Giustiniani. They were much admired by Charles Avison, who with John Garth brought out an edition with English words (London, 1757).

The library of the Brussels Conservatoire possesses some interesting volumes of chamber cantatas composed by Marcello for his mistress. Although Benedetto Marcello wrote an opera called “La Fede Riconosciuta” and produced it in Vicenza in 1702, he had little sympathy with this form of composition, as evidenced in his writings. Benedetto Marcello’s music is “characterised by imagination and a fine technique and includes both counterpoint and progressive, gallant features” (Grove, 1994). With the poet Antonio Conti he wrote a series of experimental long cantatas.

Here are his 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 1, with  Silvano Frontalini conducting the Kaunas Chamber Orchestra. These are gorgeous Baroque concertos that highlight Marcello’s inventiveness, musicality and use of the sonorities of strings to create an atmosphere of elegance, which is nevertheless full of rich emotional content.


  1. Thank you :) Now you are in one of my favourite parts of the world!
    And in one of my favourite eras (late 17th and early 18th centuries)!
    But if Marcello was a younger contemporary of Antonio Vivaldi in Venice, why do you think Vivaldi's music is very well known today and Marcello's much less so?

    1. Hi Hels, good question. Marcello was a nobleman and such a "menial" occupation as composing music was rather an embarrassment to his family, hence his use of a pseudonym when publishing his works. In addition he was rather busy with his affairs of state. HIs output was considerably less than Vivaldi's. Vivaldi was a priest, but had little interest in the ordinary duties of priesthood. His association with the girls' orphanage in Venice allowed him to write huge numbers of works which the young women performed in the regular concerts at the orphanage. Vivaldi also composed a large number of successful operas, which fed the voracious appetite of the audiences of the time. Marcello on the other hand was quite abrasive about opera and rote polemically about this art form.
      Furthermore, both composers were duly forgotten once their music went out of fashion as the classical era dawned. Both were "rediscovered" in the 20th century and we have to thank the modern marketing machine for making Vivaldi's (more accessible) music highly popular. The 'Four Seasons' with their obvious programme music background captured the public imagination and Vivaldi's ongoing popularity was assured...