Saturday, 5 August 2017


“Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it.” - LouRawls 

Domenico Zipoli (17 October 1688 – 2 January 1726) was an Italian Baroque composer who worked and died in Córdoba (Argentina). He became a Jesuit in order to work in the Reductions of Paraguay where he taught music among the Guaraní people. He is remembered as the most accomplished musician among Jesuit missionaries.

Zipoli was born in Prato, Italy, where he received his elementary musical training. However, there are no records of him having entered the cathedral choir. In 1707, and with the patronage of Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, he was a pupil of the organist Giovani Maria Casini in Florence. In 1708 he briefly studied under Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples, then Bologna and finally in Rome under Bernardo Pasquini. Two of his oratorios date to this early period: “San Antonio di Padova” (1712) and “Santa Caterina, Virgine e Martire”(1714). Around 1715 he was made the organist of the Church of the Gesù (a Jesuit parish, the mother church for The Society of Jesus), in Rome, a prestigious post. At the very beginning of the following year, he finished his best known work, a collection of keyboard pieces titled “Sonate d’intavolatura per organo e cimbalo”. 

For reasons that are not clear, Zipoli travelled to Seville, Spain, in 1716, where, on 1 July, he joined the Society of Jesus with the desire to be sent to the Reductions of Paraguay in Spanish Colonial America. Still a novice, he left Spain with a group of 53 missionaries who reached Buenos Aires on 13 July 1717. He completed his formation and sacerdotal studies in Córdoba (in contemporary Argentina, during 1717–1724) though, for the lack of an available bishop, he could not be ordained priest.

All through these few years he served as music director for the local Jesuit church. Soon his works came to be known in Lima, Peru. Struck by an unknown infectious disease, Zipoli died in the Jesuit house of Córdoba, on 2 January 1726. A previous theory placing his death in the ancient Jesuit church of Santa Catalina, in the hills of the Province of Córdoba, has now been discredited. His burial place has never been found.

Zipoli continues to be well known today for his keyboard music; many of them are well within the abilities of beginning to intermediate players, and appear in most standard anthologies. His Italian compositions have always been known but recently some of his South American church music was discovered in Chiquitos, Bolivia: Two Masses, two psalm settings, three Office hymns, a “Te Deum Laudamus” and other pieces. A Mass copied in Potosí, Bolivia in 1784, and preserved in Sucre, Bolivia, seems a local compilation based on the other two Masses. His dramatic music, including two complete oratorios and portions of a third one, is mostly gone. Three sections of the Mission opera “San Ignacio de Loyola” – compiled by Martin Schmid in Chiquitos many years after Zipoli’s death, and preserved almost complete in local sources – have been attributed to Zipoli.

It seems that the Guarani, the Chiquitos and the other people in the Jesuit areas of South America quite simply fell in love with the music that the missionaries brought with them. One priest wrote: “Give me an orchestra and I will convert all of South America”, and the fact that Zipoli and other mission composers wrote not just church music, but secular works too gives us some idea of how music was a major part of life on the reductions.

More on Baroque music in South America can be read in Jane Shuttleworth’s article: “Araujo to Zipoli: Baroque music in South America”.

You may also see the excellent film “The Mission” that looks (amongst other things…) at the love of the native South American people for European music.

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