1902 Encyclopedia > Domenico Cimarosa

Domenico Cimarosa
Italian musical composer

DOMENICO CIMAROSA, (1749-1801), an Italian musical composer, was born at Aversa, in the kingdom of Naples. His parents were poor but anxious to give their son a good education ; and after removing to Naples they sent him to a free school connected with one of the monasteries of that city. The organist of the monastery, Padre Folcano, was struck with the boy's intellect, and voluntarily instructed him in the elements of music, as also in the ancient and modern literature of his country. To the influence of the same worthy monk Cimarosa owed a free scholarship at the musical institute of Santa Maria di Loreto, where he remained for eleven years, studying chiefly the great masters of the old Italian school. Piccini, Sacchini, and ether musicians of repute are mentioned amongst his teachers. At the age of twenty-three Cimarosa entered the lists as a composer with a comic opera called Le Stravaganze del Conte, first performed at the theatre dei Fiorentini at Naples in 1772. The work met with approval, and was followed in the same year by Le Pazzie di Stellìdanza e di Zoroastro, a farce full of humour and eccentricity. This work also was successful, and the fame of the young composer began to spread all over Italy. In 1774 he was invited to Rome to write an opera for the stagione of that year ; and he there produced another comic opera called L'Italiana in Londra.

The next thirteen years of Cimarosa's life are not marked by any event worth mentioning. He wrote a number of operas for the various theatres of Italy, residing temporarily in Rome, in Naples, or wherever else his vocation as a con-ductor of his works happened to call him. From 1784-1787 he lived at Florence, writing exclusively for the theatre of that city. The productions of this period of his life are very numerous, consisting of operas, both comic and serious, cantatas, and various sacred compositions. The following works may be mentioned amongst many others :—Caio Mario; the three Biblical operas, A ssalone, La Giuditta, and Il Sacrificio d'Abramo ; also II Convito di Pietra ; and La Ballerina Amante, a pretty comic opera first performed at Venice with enormous success. None of these works have survived, and their individual merits hardly give us cause to regret their loss. Excessive productiveness of this kind cannot but become mechanical. But this is no fault of Cimarosa's. The enormous demand of the Italian stage has become fatal to the genius of some of the most gifted composers of that country both in the last and in the present century. Looking at Cimarosa's works collectively, it may be said that they represent a style of considerable individuality and a perfect mastership of dramatic effect, so far at least as the vocal part is concerned. Cimarosa's orchestra, like that of most Italian composers, is somewhat meagre, but here also the comparatively primitive stage of orchestration at the time he wrote ought to be taken into account. Cimarosa seldom succeeds in the highest walks of his art. His comic operas are infinitely superior to those in which a tragic subject compelled him to attempt dramatic pathos. As far as grace and melodious charm are concerned, Cimarosa was surpassed by none of his con-temporaries, not even by Paesiello, with whom he shared for a long time the leadership of the Italian school.

In 1787 Cimarosa went to St Petersburg by invitation of the Empress Catherine II. At her court he remained four years and wrote an enormous number of compositions, mostly of the nature of pieces d'occasion. Of most of these not even the names are on record. In 1792 Cimarosa left St Petersburg, the northern climate of Russia proving hurtful to the native of Italy. By in-vitation of the Emperor Leopold II. he went to Vienna, and it was there that he produced the masterpiece on which his claim to immortality must mainly rest. 11 Matrimonio Segreto ranks amongst the highest achievements of light operatic music. In Italy it is surpassed by Rossini's Barbieri alone. After the lapse of more than eighty years it evinces its vitality at theatres and concert halls wherever the whole opera or detached pieces are heard. Its humour is founded on human nature itself, and is therefore independent of local and temporal conditions. 1793 Cimarosa returned to Naples where The Secret Marriage and other works were received with great applause. Amongst the works belonging to his last stay in Naples, the charming opera Le Astuzie Feminili may be mentioned. This period of his life is said to have been embittered by the intrigues of envious and hostile persons, amongst whom one is sorry to meet with Paesiello his old rival. During the occupation of Naples by the troops of the French Republic, Cimarosa joined the liberal party, and on the return of the Bourbons, was like many of his political friends condemned to death. By the intercession of influential admirers his sentence was commuted into banish- ment, and the composer left Naples with the intention of returning to St Petersburg. But his health was broken, and after much suffering he died at Venice in 1801 of inflammation of the intestines. The nature of his disease led to the rumour of his having been poisoned by his enemies, which, however, a formal inquest proved to be unfounded. He worked till the last moment of his life, and one of his operas, Artemizia, remained unfinished at his death. (F. H.)

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