Baldassarre Galuppi

called 'Il Buranello' (the man from Burano), an Italian composer (Burano, Venice 18.10.1706 – 3.1.1785)

began his first studies under the direction of his father who played the violin in the local theatre. He composed his first opera when he was very young ‘La fede nell’incostanza ossia gli amici rivali’, staged in both Chioggia and Vicenza and, persuaded by the lack of success of that opera, decided to dedicate his time to serious studies, and so became the favourite pupil of Lotti where he studied composition and harpsichord. He went to Florence in 1726 as the harpsichord player in the Pergola theatre and, on his return to Venice, enjoyed success with ‘Gli odi delusi dal sangue’, written in 1728 in collaboration with G.B. Pescetti In 1740 he was nominated Choir Master of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, and in 1741 travelled to London to stage several operas in the Haymarket theatre as a ‘serious composer of Italian opera’. He returned to Venice and in 1748 became deputy-choirmaster and, in 1762, Choirmaster of St. Mark’s Cathedral and Choirmaster of the Ospedale degli Incurabili. In 1765 Catherine of Russia obtained permission from the Venetian authorities for his transfer to St. Petersburg where he remained until 1768 as Court Choirmaster and Composer of the Italian …………….. Covered with honours and loaded with gifts, he came back to Venice to take up again the posts he had left on his departure and he spent his time mainly composing oratories for the Incurabili and sacred music Among the composers active around the middle of the ‘700s. Galuppi was perhaps the most successful, certainly the most significant in northern Italy. Thanks to the variety of the genres dealt with, his abundant production demonstrates all the most important aspects of the musical activity of those times and clearly documents the stylistic tendencies. Initially, he was active as a harpsichord player and choirmaster and his duties would have involved the re-elaboration of works by others; Galuppi then went on to compose pastoral fables and, above all, serious operas, the type, that is, which made him famous and which he composed continuously until he retired in 1773. Only much later did he become famous as the author of comic opera, while his sacred compositions were much appreciated in the last years of his life.

With his serious operas Galuppi enjoyed the most notable successes in the ‘50s when they were performed in almost all the most important theatres. He undertook numerous journeys to oversee their staging personally, and it is to be noted that – as far as we know – he avoided going to Naples, even though he composed some operas expressly for the San Carlo theatre which were very well received. Thanks to his exceptionally swift rhythm of production, he could often present several operas in one season. The situation of the 1749 Carnival could be considered typical, when he hurriedly left Vienna where he had been for five or six months, just before the opening night of his ‘Artaserse’ to stage ‘Semiramide riconosciuta’ in Milan where he received special recompense for “the swiftness used in the composition of the music” On the other hand, it cannot be denied that having to compose many operas in a short time occasionally caused him to write less meditated and more conventional pieces. Some librettos, for example Adriano in Siria, Alessandro nell’Indie or Artaserse, were set to music several times by Galuppi; at times, four different elaborations exist of some arias but up to now it has not been possible to differentiate these multiple versions clearly in detail.

The history of music owes particular significance to Galuppi for the comic opera genre. He began to dedicate his time to comic opera after his return from London, at the latest. He re-elaborated playful dramas for the San Cassiano theatre written by G. Latilla and R. da Capua which had been represented a few years before in Rome. In 1745 he composed a comic opera of his own for the first time, La forza d’amore, on a text by Padre Panicelli (the music has been lost). In 1749 with L’Arcadia in Brenta he began his collaboration with C. Goldoni so extraordinarily rich and fertile both in artistic results and in success with the public. It gave Galuppi not only universal fame as an original composer of comic opera but favoured a real explosion of the comic genre which, up until then, had not consolidated itself in the musical field. In six years, Galuppi and Goldini created a dozen comic operas together, staged all over Europe, with the only exception of southern Italy. In Rome they were usually presented as intermezzi, thus very much reduced when compared to the original. Among the most famous comic operas is ‘Il filosofo di campagna’ (1754) a masterpiece to be placed between La serva padrona by Pergolesi and La buone figliuola by Piccinni. Up to 1780 more than 70 performances can be documented either in the original form or in re-elaborations. Later, Galuppi also put to music other comic operas by other librettists, especially P. Chiari, G. Pertati and his own son, Antonio.

If Galuppi’s universal fame can be traced to his singular success as an author of melodrama, it must be just as clear that he worked with extraordinary fecundity and success in other musical genres. In the field of instrumental music, as well as pieces for orchestra and concerts, he composed a great number of harpsichord sonatas. The famous collection ‘Passatempo al cembalo’ was offered by him to the heir to the Russian throne Paul, on the occasion of his journey to Venice. Especially the early harpsichord sonatas by Galuppi occupy an important position in the history of this genre, even if, overall, they do not have the significance attributed to them by Torrefranca. From 1740 Galuppi held one or more official public posts in the Venetian musical life: he was choirmaster in one of the charitable institutions for young girls, the ‘Ospedali’ and (from 1748) he was active at the same time in St. Marks choir. The Ospedali engaged the best musicians as teachers and for a long time they were the place for highly qualified musical performances; Galuppi had to compose special oratories on Latin and Italian texts, but in later years he preferred to use libretti by P. Chiari. It is easy to understand how much the executions of the oratories were appreciated from the information supplied by Caffi that the ‘Tres pueri hebraei in captivitate Babylonis’ reached 100 performances. The nomination to Choirmaster in St. Mark’s cathedral in 1762 where he had been active as deputy choirmaster for some time marked the apex of Galuppi’s career. On the other hand, taking on this post, the most prestigious in the official Italian musical life, together with the contemporary nomination as musical director of the Ospedale degli Incurabili marks the beginning of the last great period of the artistic biography of Il Buranello. He dedicated ever more time to sacred music and once again received unanimous appreciation in a period when his theatrical works began to attract less attention than in previous years. Reassured by the decrees of the Procurators, Galuppi quickly began a radical re-organisation of the choir and orchestra of St. Mark’s cathedral to raise the quality. The importance he attributed to the precision of the performance, not to be taken for granted in those times, can be deduced not only from the ever more detailed prescriptions for the execution and also from the indications in the scores regarding articulation, but also and perhaps even better, from the unusually meticulous summaries of a work in rehearsal. In St. Petersburg as ‘maestro and director of all the music’, he reformed the musical life at the Zar’s court. The Venetian authorities were so well satisfied by Galuppi’s services that they increased his recompense from the usual 400 to 600 ducats annually, ’not for the post, but specifically to the person’. In the composition of sacred music, as in the oratories, Galuppi occasionally refers to ancient techniques, for example, pieces for several choirs or with hints of classical vocal polyphony. Other pieces, on the other hand, undoubtedly reveal his experience as a composer of operas, without at any time reducing the dignity of sacred music.

The first thorough study of Il Buranello was carried out by Caffi (already published in 1834). Even if the enthusiastic tone of the narration must be treated cautiously, it does, however, supply an enormous amount of otherwise unavailable information gathered by the author from Galuppi’s friends and collaborators. Whilst in the XIXc Galuppi’s music was only occasionally collected and copied, nowadays accurate attempts to revitalise his works can be placed next to the early research of musicologists. In 1907 at the Music Conservatory in Venice, E. Wolf-Ferrari conducted performances of ‘Filosofo di campagna’; sporadic executions of other comic operas take place in our times, for example ‘Le nozze’ at Viterbo, 1977, and the ‘Settimane Musicali Senesi’ of 1948 were dedicated to Galuppi. In 1980 a Galuppi Festival was held but it was only in 1997 with the formation of the Galuppi Festival Association that a rediscovery and a systematic re-proposal of the composer’s works was begun with a manifestation entitled ‘I Luoghi di Baldassare’ (The Places of Baldassare) Galuppi Music Festival, an annual event in September and October in Venice and the islands of the Venetian estuary.