Domenico Cimarosa | The triumph of the Neapolitan school
The Neapolitan school and the trumph of the classical style
Domenico Cimarosa’s successes are a prove of the fact that the revolutionary charge of Mozart’s operas wasn’t fully understood by his contemporaries.
The secret marriage is regarded as the masterpiece of the comic Neapolitan School and has been almost constantly performed since its composition; yet its characters don’t have a naturalness or a psychological definition comparable to that of Mozart’s.
An unmatched reputation as a composer
Cimarosa was however the best of his time for his ability of setting into fine music ordinary-life stories. He gave voice to real people with their passions and anxieties, reveiling their true heart. Through the refined melodies of his arias, his characters describe their actions and emotions with freshness and effectiveness.
Cimarosa wrote a total of 99 operas filled with delightful pages, graceful melodies and funny and profoundly human characters. In the last years of his life and before Rossini became famous, his reputation as a composer was unmatched.
Cimarosa, a brief biography
Domenico Cimarosa was born in Aversa, nearby Caserta on the 17th December 1749. Just a few days after his birth his family moved to Naples, as his father was hired for the construction of the Royal Palace of Capodimonte.
Not long afterwards Cimarosa’s father died, falling from a scaffold. The family was left in complete poverty and Domenico was sent to live in a monastery, where he received his first music lessons.
Domenico who showed uncommon qualities, was sent in 1761 to the Conservatory in Naples. There he studied for 11 years composition and also singing with the castrato Giuseppe Aprile.
Cimarosa’s first compositions
In his early years he composed motets and masses but his name became popular after the performance of his first opera Le Stravaganze del Conte The Count’s vagaries -1772. The following opera La Finta Parigina The Fake Parisian was so successful that Cimarosa all of a sudden was in competition with the most important Neapolitan opera composers of the time, such as the older Niccolò Piccinni and his contemporary Giovanni Paisiello.
These two operas were the opening to long series of successes in Italy – Rome, Milan, Venice, Genoa, Turin – and Europe – Madrid, Dresden, Vienna and Petersburg – that earn him the position of Royal Choirmaster in Naples.
A the court of Catherine of Russia
In 1787 Cimarosa left Italy to take on the position of choirmaster at the court of Catherine of Russia, a position held before him by Baldassarre Galuppi, Giovanni Paisiello and Tommaso Traetta. When the economic crisis forced the empress to dismiss the majority of Italian musicians employed at her court, Cimarosa moved to Vienna.
A new appointment in Vienna
In Vienna Cimarosa met again the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who in the meantime had become emperor of Austria taking the name of Leopold II. The emperor appointed Cimarosa Kapellmeister, commissioning him a new opera: The Secret Marriage.
The success of Il Matrimonio Segreto was huge and immediate. So much so that the Emperor asked to repeat the whole performance from beginning to end. Within two years the opera was staged countless times throughout Europe.
Back in Naples after 5 years… but at the wrong moment
In 1792, five years after leaving it, Cimarosa returned to Naples, where he was reappointed Choirmaster at the Royal Chapel. In 1799 the Bourbons had to flee from Naples following the proclamation of the Neapolitan Republic by Napoleon. Cimarosa, to celebrate the independence and the new republic, composed a patriotic song.
That hymn nearly cost his life when the Republic fell. He was forced to leave Naples and moved to Venice. Sick and discouraged, Cimarosa died there in 1801.
In 1816 Antonio Canova carved Cimarosa’s bust for the Pantheon, upon commission of the Cardinal Consalvi.
Cimarosa’s distinctive touch
Cimarosa’s music has a classical beauty and a unique melancholic nuance which is its distinctive touch. Cimarosa’s music differenciates from both Piccinni’s sentimentalisms and Paisiello’s sometimes grotesque tone as it can be heard for example in the Marriage lovers’ duets. There’s also a comic force and the ability of rendering situations and attitudes in Cimarosa’s music.
An endless melodic creation
Cimarosa’s sophisticated instrumental accompaniment and his endless melodic invention have no weakness or failure. This was the recognizable special “aura” of his music which made Stendhal write “everything about Cimarosa’s music is divine” and Il Matrimonio Segreto the iconic opera of the enlightenment age.
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