Saturday, 23 April 2016


“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” - Leopold Stokowski

Baldassare Galuppi (18 October 1706 – 3 January 1785) was an Italian composer, born on the island of Burano in the Venetian Republic. He belonged to a generation of composers, including Christoph Willibald Gluck, Domenico Scarlatti, and CPE Bach, whose works are emblematic of the prevailing galant style that developed in Europe throughout the 18th century. He achieved international success, spending periods of his career in Vienna, London and Saint Petersburg, but his main base remained Venice, where he held a succession of leading appointments.

In his early career Galuppi made a modest success in opera seria, but from the 1740s, together with the playwright and librettist Carlo Goldoni, he became famous throughout Europe for his comic operas in the new dramma giocoso style. To the succeeding generation of composers he was known as “the father of comic opera”. Some of his mature opere serie, for which his librettists included the poet and dramatist Metastasio, were also widely popular.

Throughout his career Galuppi held official positions with charitable and religious institutions in Venice, the most prestigious of which was maestro di coro at the Doge's chapel, St Mark’s Basilica. In these various capacities he composed a large amount of sacred music. He was also highly regarded as a virtuoso performer on and composer for keyboard instruments. In the latter half of the 19th century, Galuppi’s music was largely forgotten outside of Italy, and Napoleon’s invasion of Venice in 1797 resulted in Galuppi’s manuscripts being scattered around Western Europe, and in many cases, destroyed or lost.

Galuppi’s name persists in the English poet Robert Browning’s 1855 poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”, but this has not helped maintain the composer’s work in the general repertoire. Some of Galuppi's works were occasionally performed in the 200 years after his death, but it was not until the last years of the 20th century that his compositions were extensively revived in live performance and on recordings.

Galuppi was much admired for his keyboard music. Few of his sonatas were published in his lifetime, but many survive in manuscript. Some of them follow the Scarlatti single-movement model; others are in the three-movement form later adopted by Haydn, Beethoven and others. Galuppi’s skill as keyboard player is well documented. Hillers Wöchentliche Nachrichten in 1772 made this mention of Galuppi’s reputation in Saint Petersburg: “Chamber concerts were held every Wednesday in the antechamber of the imperial apartments, in order to enjoy the special style and fiery accuracy of the clavier playing of this great artist; thus did the virtuoso earn the overall approval of the court.”

It is no surprise that a number of Galuppi's keyboard works should make it into print during his lifetime, including two sets of 6 sonatas, published in London as opus 1 (1756) and opus 2 (1759) respectively. Felix Raabe mentions the round number of 125 “sonatas, toccatas, divertimenti and etudes” for keyboard, based on Fausto Torrefranca’s 1909 thematic catalogue of Galuppi’s cembalo works. However, given some of the outrageous assertions on this topic that Torrefranca makes elsewhere (such as the claim that classical sonata form was created by Italian keyboard composers) the accuracy of this figure must be accepted only cautiously.

Galuppi’s 12 experimental Concerti a Quattro are particularly innovative chamber music pieces that foreshadow the development of the classical string quartet. Each of the concerti is a three-movement work for two violins, viola and cello that integrates the counterpoint of the sonata da chiesa with daring chromatic twists and harmonic detours that become more pronounced as the set progresses quartet by quartet. Innovations such as the chromatically raised 5th that Burney singled out in Galuppi’s arias of the 1740s appear, and many harmonic features of the late-classical period are foreshadowed, such as the final deceptive cadence in which an augmented sixth chord is substituted before the ultimate resolution. Among other instrumental compositions by Galuppi, Grove’s Dictionary lists sinfonias, overtures, trios and string quartets, and concerti for solo instruments and strings.

Here are his complete Harpsichord Concerti played by Roberto Loreggian (harpsichord) and the Ensemble ConSerto Musico recorded in 2011.

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