A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Mandatory Opera Business Part 2

31 May 2013

Disclaimer:  This blog entry is the result of a wasted attempt to ponder the myriad causalities in the mysterious link between Italian composers and the phenomenon of opera.  The following thoughts transpired during an almost interminable intermission in an Italian opera performance in an outdoor amphitheater — in the midst of a delirium-producing, record-breaking heat wave (see Hot Opera).  Any resemblance to actual events in music history is purely coincidental and can only be considered lucky.


A set is being constructed at Teatro alla Scala (La Scala opera house) in Milan, Italy.  Three operas of Gioachino Rossini, the composer discussed in Part 1 of this blog entry, received their première performances at La Scala.



OPERA, n. A play representing life in another world, whose inhabitants have no speech but song, no motions but gestures and no postures but attitudes.

— Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)


Fuga a 22 voci — Escape in 22 parts


So, in Part 1 of this blog entry, we were talking about, as a prime example, how after Gioachino Rossini had stopped composing operas, he seemed to have been exiled to France.  I had propounded a theory that, given the signal magnitude of opera in Italian society, an organized rhyme syndicate, the m.o.b. — mandatory opera business — may have been conducting its activities behind the scenes.

This hypothesis would explain why those composers who generated a regular output of operas tended to remain in Italy, with great veneration, while those who composed in genres other than opera were more likely to emigrate, living in numerous locations outside of Italy.

Everyone knows Alessandro Scarlatti, who wrote at least 65 operas and was the don of a powerful opera clan.  He was considered a king-pin in the opera underworld when it came to making a racket with operas for the racketeers.  However, his younger brother, Francesco Scarlatti (1666 – c. 1741), was a disgrace to cosa mostra (“the show thing” — an oblique reference to opera).  He refused to compose any opera “hits” and therefore had to keep moving around to evade the hit-men of the mandatory opera business.  First he went to London to hide out with Handel, then he remained in Dublin under the assumed identity of 'Master of Musick'.


Act one, scene one, of Alessandro Scarlatti's final opera Griselda, in the composer's own hand, 1721, British Library, London

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


Via Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples, Italy, features many fashionable boutiques.



Then, the padrino’s own son, Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), brought even greater shame to the family.  After only a few early operas written while in Rome, he broke omertà (the code of honor) by writing almost exclusively instrumental music.  Thereafter he was stranded on the Iberian peninsula, drifting from Lisbon to Seville, and then to Madrid, under the alias of Domingo Escarlatti and writing 555 esercizi (keyboard sonatas) to survive.  After a suspicious, near-fatal clawing incident, he composed La fuga del gatto.

Like Domenico Scarlatti, Giovanni Giorgi (late 17th or early 18th century – 1762), who composed 600 works but no operas, also hid out in Lisbon, while Gaetano Brunetti (1744–1798), who composed almost entirely chamber music and symphonies, made off to Madrid.

Or, take for example Luigi Boccherini, born in Lucca in1743.  He wrote only a token opera (now lost) when he was young and when he refused to write any more operas he suddenly found himself floating around Europe’s capitals, from Vienna to Madrid, subsisting on guitar quintets and pieces with titles like "Fandango" while dancing one step ahead of the m.o.b.  He died peso-less in Spain in 1805.


Anonymous:  Luigi Boccherini playing the cello, c. 1764-1767, oil, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


And then there was Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764).  Stubbornly unwilling to compose any operas for the ‘family’, he mysteriously disappeared.  Only later was it discovered that he was in Amsterdam under a witness protection program.  This city of canals was deemed the least anticipated location for a fashionisto such as Locatelli, with fietsen (bicycles) leaning against his canal house on the Prinsengracht providing excellent cover.


Locatelli’s house in Amsterdam


Two hundred years later, members of his clan stole in and placed on Locatelli’s house a plaque on which the word operosa (“la vita operosa” — the industrious, hard-working life) might give the impression of having something to do with opera, which it does not.  They were only hoping to protect the family name, so who can blame them?


The plaque on Locatelli’s house in Amsterdam, which translated, reads, “In this house passed the industrious life and death [of] the great composer and violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli — placed by the city of his birth in the bicentennial of his death — Bergamo 3 September 1695 -  Amsterdam 30 March 1764”


Giuseppe Sammartini (1695–1750) escaped to London with his brother, where he hid out with the Prince of Wales.  And, although Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762) was in Don Alessandro Scarlatti’s clan, he associated with the likes of Arcangelo Corelli, whom the m.o.b. viewed with suspicion.  Soon he, like Sammartini, absconded to London, where the 3rd Earl of Essex helped hide him under the alias of Il Furibondo [the Madman] while he composed concerti grossi.  He developed 2236 basso continuo [“continuing to lie low”] patterns while in hiding.  While in Dublin, a servant, suspected of m.o.b. sympathies, robbed Geminiani of a musical manuscript and soon after, Geminiani mysteriously died.


Anonymous:  Francesco Geminiani

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


There was one Italian composer who actively fought the mandatory opera business to the extent that he manufactured anti-operatic weapons, such as a violent device that uses multiple hammers and a double escapement action known as a pianoforte.  Muzio Clementi (1752–1832), after leaving Italy, devoted his own monetary resources to this enterprise, resulting in the necessity of his living in Cheapside, London, rather than on the more expensive side.  He also trained others in the use of this anti-operatic weapon, including John Field, Ignaz Moscheles, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Carl Czerny, and Johann Nepomuk Hummel.  Ultimately, he formed the Philharmonic Society of London with an unknown individual by the name of “Phil,” who evidently was also uncompromisingly opposed to the m.o.b.


Clementi & Co. Pianos, Cheapside, London; this piano is part of the collection at the Museo degli Strumenti Musicali, Castello Sforzesco, Milan


Domenico Dragonetti (1763–1846), a double bass virtuoso and composer, concealed himself in the orchestra of the Opera Buffa in Venice.  When he was discovered, he attempted to defend himself with the Dragonetti bow, but then ran off to London just as Clementi had done earlier.Antonio Salieri (1750–1825) was born in Legnago, south of Verona.  Although he had written numerous operas, many of these were not in Italian, leading the consiglieri in the mandatory opera business to believe that some sort of Teutonic

Francesco Bartolozzi (1728 - 1815):  Domenico Dragonetti as a young man with his Gasparo da Salo bass, engraving from the Houska collection

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}
offensive was being launched.  Having Gluck as a co-conspirator did not help his image.

It is assumed that Salieri was ultimately threatened with being thrown into the orchestra pit, but he used a pair of secret treble clefs to escape through the back door of the opera house. Hence, while Salieri was at heart pro-m.o.b., he was perceived as a pentito (a turncoat) and could not remain safely in Italy.  As an expatriate in Vienna, he nevertheless persevered in teaching mandatory opera business principles to Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt, while apparently running a pizza business on the side.


Sign of the Salieri Holzofen [wood-oven] Pizzeria-Trattoria, Vienna


Teodorico Pedrini (1671–1746) was a priest as well as a composer.  Due to his not composing any operas, he had to take flight, traveling as far as China.  He traveled through Paris, Saint Malo, Peru, Acapulco (perhaps for a nice vacation), the Mariana Islands, and the Philippines before reaching China.  His escape was spectacular, worthy of an opera itself, although he never would have composed it.  For a cover, Pedrini became a music teacher to the sons of the Qing Dynasty's Kangxi Emperor, using the alias Dé Ligé to avoid detection by the m.o.b.


Anonymous: Teodorico Pedrini

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}



Michelagnolo Galilei (1575–1631), the son of music theorist and lutenist Vincenzo Galilei and younger brother of the renowned astronomer Galileo, although born before opera was technically invented, evidently still had to run from early opera loan sharks, because he ended up in Poland.  While there he composed for the lute, which instrument he also played, using tablature notation to avoid detection by opera enforcers.

Francesco Veracini (1690–1768) was the son of an undertaker who apparently specialized in the kind of long, drawn-out deaths that occur at the ends of operas.  Veracini’s uncle felt sorry for him and taught him violin, but when he started composing he got in trouble with the m.o.b.  because he was not interested in creating operas.  Therefore he fled — first to London, then to Düsseldorf, and finally ending up in Dresden, where, perhaps as a result of a vendetta, he jumped out of an upper-story window and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.  Soon he was back in London and, under pressure from the m.o.b., wrote a few number operas for a numbers racket.  On the basis of these operas, after a fishy shipwreck in the English Channel, he was allowed to return to Italy.


Anonymous:  Francesco Veracini

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}





The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Italy)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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