Saturday, 23 May 2015


“When I die, I’d like to come back as a cello.” - Wayne Newton

Leonardo Leo (5 August 1694 – 31 October 1744), more correctly Lionardo Oronzo Salvatore de Leo, was a Neapolitan Baroque composer. Leo was born in San Vito degli Schiavoni (current San Vito dei Normanni, province of Brindisi), then part of the Kingdom of Naples. He became a student at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini at Naples in 1703, and was a pupil first of Francesco Provenzale and later of Nicola Fago. He was undoubtedly influenced by the compositions of Pitoni and Alessandro Scarlatti.

His earliest known work was a sacred drama, “L’ infedelta abbattuta”, performed by his fellow-students in 1712. In 1714 he produced, at the court theatre, an opera, “Pisistrato”, which was much admired. He held various posts at the royal chapel, and continued to write for the stage, besides teaching at the conservatory. After adding comic scenes to Francesco Gasparini's “Bajazette” in 1722 for performance at Naples, he composed comic operas in Neapolitan such as “La’mpeca scoperta” in 1723, and “L’ Alidoro” in 1740.

His most famous comic opera was “Amor vuol sofferenze” (1739), better known as “La Finta Frascatana”, highly praised by De Brosses. He was equally distinguished as a composer of serious opera, “Demofoonte” (1735), “Farnace” (1737) and “L’ Olimpiade” (1737) being his most famous works in this branch, and is still better known as a composer of sacred music. He died of a stroke while engaged in the composition of new arias for a revival of “La Finta Frascatana”.

Leo was the first of the Neapolitan school to obtain a complete mastery over modern harmonic counterpoint. His sacred music is masterly and dignified, logical rather than passionate, and free from the sentimentality, which is present in the work of Francesco Durante and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. His serious operas suffer from a coldness and severity of style, but in his comic operas he shows a keen sense of humour. His ensemble movements are spirited, but never worked up to a strong climax.

Here are his cello concertos, played by Anner Bylsma:
Concerto for violoncello n.2 in D Major
Concerto for violoncello n.5 in F Major 14:15
Concerto for violoncello n.4 in A Major 27:41
Concerto for violoncello n.3 in D Major 43:13
Concerto for violoncello n.1 in A Major 56:45
Sinfonia Concertata (Concerto n.6) in C Minor 1:09:15

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