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 3

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.

Read Part 1


Donizetti Pasha and others

In Part 2 of this blog entry, we began to consider the ridiculously unlikely hypothesis of the m.o.b. — mandatory opera business —in an attempt to explain why those composers who generated a regular output of operas tended to remain in Italy, while those who composed in genres other than opera were more likely to live outside of Italy.  This hypothesis was then supported with a few feeble examples.  Here are a few more unconvincing examples to consider.

Opera boss Gaetano Donizetti’s older brother, Giuseppe Donizetti (1788–1856), to Gaetano’s chagrin, repudiated operas.  After, it is assumed, being threatened with having each foot stuck in a tuba and being thrown into the River Po, he was forced to flee Italy with the m.o.b. in continual pursuit.  Eventually he was able to stop running and he taught music at the court of Sultan Mahmud II in Istanbul.  Known as ‘Donizetti Pasha’, he composed the first national anthem of the Ottoman Empire.


Anonymous:  Giuseppe Donizetti Pasha

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


Antonio Lolli (ca. 1725–1802), a violinist and composer, composed no operas and ran away from his home city of Bergamo to Stuttgart.  At various times he was spotted in Vienna, Paris, Germany, the Netherlands, Warsaw, and even St. Petersburg.  He eventually was able to slip back into Italy, hiding out in Naples under the protection of the Spanish Bourbon government there.

Giuseppe Cambini (1746–1825?) wrote symphonies concertantes, symphonies, concertos, and string quintets.  After evading the grip of the m.o.b. in Italy by boarding a ship, he was rumored to have been kidnapped by Barbary pirates, but this incident has obvious signs of organized rhyme activity as well.  Ending up in France, he tried writing some operas, but when he realized that the m.o.b. wasn’t going to allow him back into Italy, decided to write hymns for the revolutionaries during the French Revolution.

On the other hand, Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755–1824), after composing at Versailles, decided to lie low in London during the French Revolution.  But then, when Britain went to war with France, he slipped over to Hamburg, returning only later to London.  Filippo Gragnani (1768–1820), who wrote chamber music and works for guitar, is another Italian composer who ended up in Paris, fleeing from the m.o.b.

Cesare Ciardi (1818–1877) composed no operas, and he was forced to run as far as Saint Petersburg, Russia, masking his identity by being, in turns, Tchaikovsky's flute teacher, a sculptor, and a caricaturist, helping to disguise the identities of other non-opera-composing exiles.The famed violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840) was forced to be on the run all his life, traveling through Vienna, then Germany, Poland, Bohemia,  Strasbourg, Paris, Britain, Marseilles, and finally Nice, where he died.  He was able to elude

Anonymous:  Cesare Ciardi

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}
his potential captors with the deft use of his violin, including defensive maneuvers such as harmonics, left hand pizzicati, and imitations of farm animals.


Sculpture of Niccolò Paganini, Cité de la Musique, Paris


Then, there is one seeming anomaly that is easily explained.  Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) claimed to have written 94 operas (although he probably composed about half that many, the inflated number a presumed hedge against the m.o.b.).  The problem was that his greatest hit, Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons) was getting just a little too popular.  And then there were those other 500 concertos . . . he was just pushing his limits and was ultimately suspected of being a cascittuni (an informant).

So, after meeting the Emperor Charles VI in secret, il Prete Rosso (‘The Red Priest’, Vivaldi’s alias) moved to Vienna hoping to lie low for a while.  Unfortunately, the Emperor mysteriously died right away and soon Vivaldi, with no means of support, himself died in poverty.


The Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, where the Emperor Charles VI lived


As an addendum to this sad story, to add insult to injury, the Hotel Sacher was built on top of Vivaldi’s house.  (The Hotel Sacher is where Holly Martins stayed in The Third Man —was Vivaldi the third man? As the film trailer stated, "the famous musical score by Anton Karas" had the audience "in a dither with his zither" — perhaps the discovery of a Vivaldi zither concerto will one day establish a connection.)  Then, the Technische Universität Wien (Vienna University of Technology) was plopped right on top of Vivaldi’s grave — sort of like that house that landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, only in Vivaldi's case, the victim was a lot nicer.


Plaque near the entrance of the Hotel Sacher, Vienna:  “Here lived in the year 1741 the great composer Antonio Vivaldi;  4 March 1678 in Venice – 28 July 1741 in Vienna”


The Technische Universität Wien was built on top of Antonio Vivaldi’s grave.


Some statistical outliers

Sure, you may say, you’ve just given a list of 22 Italian non-operatic-composers who emigrated.  But, what about Corelli, Torelli, and Tartini, for example?  They composed no operas and yet remained in Italy.

Well, there are actually many more than those that I have enumerated, but, in the interest of spectacle, as Barzini puts it, I didn’t want to bore you (to which I am already teetering dangerously close).  Besides, those 22 who didn’t compose operas and left Italy are counterpoised with a number at least ten times that large who composed operas during the same period and stayed in Italy.

But, regarding those composers in question, who, while not composing any operas, seemed to remain in Italy with impunity.  Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), although he hid out in Paris until m.o.b. sympathizer Jean-Baptiste Lully chased him away, and then tried to remain under cover in Germany with the Elector of Bavaria, almost inexplicably ended up in Rome where he composed concerti grossi, trio sonatas, and violin and continuo sonatas to his heart’s content. 


Arcangelo Corelli: Sonata a tre, autograph manuscript

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


Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709), who also tried to hide out in Germany as well as Vienna, just as inexplicably ended up in Bologna where he composed lots of concerti grossi, trio sonatas, and trumpet concertos — writing no operas.  Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770), although there was that incident with Elisabetta that caused the cardinal to chase him out of Padua, still managed to stay in Italy as well.


Three famous Italian Baroque composer-violinists (clockwise, from left):  Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, and Giuseppe Tartini 

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

(photos adapted by Curt Veeneman)


The secret is that each of these composers, as performing violinists, appeared on stage as a sort of “one-man opera” that people came to see in order to be amazed.  Tartini did such amazing things with double trills that everyone was convinced that he had six fingers on his left hand.  These types of diversions allowed them to avoid detection by the m.o.b.  Of course, Tartini was also good at sword fighting, which may have helped too.

Another non-opera composer who stayed in Italy without fear of reprisal was Domenico Alberti (c. 1710–1740).  When he wasn’t hiding out in Spain, he found that he could stay for periods of time in Italy through the strategic use of the mind-numbing Alberti bass — playing the same three notes over and over until involuntary slumber would be induced in his opponents.

These are just a handful of instances in which non-opera composers were able to live in Italy.  Yet, there exist some unusual instances in which Italian composers of opera stayed abroad even when they didn’t have to run from the mandatory opera business.

Jean-Louis Roullet (1645-1699), after Nicolas Mignard (1606–1668): Jean-Baptiste Lully, secretaire du roy et surintendant de sa musique (1633-1687) [Jean-Baptiste Lully, secretary of the king and superintendant of his music], etching and burin, Château de Versailles

  (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}
One case is Jean-Baptiste Lully, whose name was originally Giovanni Battista Lulli (1632–1687).  Even though he was dedicated to m.o.b. ideals, at the age of 14, when he was inopportunely dressed as Harlequin during Mardi Gras, he was kidnapped by the chevalier de Guise and taken to Paris and ordered to give Italian lessons to the chevalier’s niece.  Although Lully is believed thereafter to have suffered from a form of Stockholm Syndrome, he went on to compose at least a dozen operas in France.Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842), on the other hand, proves the Italian adage that ogni regola ha un' eccezione [there is an exception to every rule].  He left Italy voluntarily and spent the rest of his life in
Paris writing some 30 operas. Maybe it’s because he got to hang around with his cool friends, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon.

Of course, he was also good friends with Gioachino Rossini, who liked to prepare tournedos Rossini for him all the time.


Cherubini's tomb at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris



*          *            *


Thus, as you can see, any useful approach to opera requires one to think outside of the loggia (an opera theater box).  Of course, one must be careful not to go too far in one’s interpretation as I most likely have, as the Italians have an expression, fuori come un balcone, [outside like a balcony, or crazy]. However, in spite of this and countless other bold hypotheses, it is perhaps hopeless to attempt to understand the Italian tradition of opera.

Given that the word opera, the plural of Latin opus, means "work" in Italian (opus numbers, on the other hand, are traditionally assigned to musical works, retaining the Latin singular form of the word), the word is apt because opera is hard work to comprehend.

The art historian Kenneth Clark, equally mystified, said, “Opera, next to Gothic architecture, is one of the strangest inventions of Western man.  It could not have been foreseen by any logical process.”

After attending a Wagnerian opera in Bayreuth, Mark Twain mentioned that it “reminds me of the time the orphan asylum burned down.”

The Viennese conductor Franz Schalk opined, "Every theater is an asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for incurables."

In the assessment of the composer Luciano Berio in the London Observer (5 February 1989), “Opera once was an important social instrument — especially in Italy.  With Rossini and Verdi people were listening to opera together and having the same catharsis with the same story, the same moral dilemmas.  They were holding hands in the darkness. That has gone.  Now perhaps they are holding hands watching television.”

Earlier, we had mentioned Rossini’s opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie).  Years ago, in the days before cell phones, I remember standing at a pay phone in Italy trying to make calls back to the states.  While waiting through lengthy intervals for an operator to answer (and paying by the minute), I especially recall the incessant playing of The Thieving Magpie overture, the same measures speeding up and growing ever louder, repeating over and over while I would be on hold.  This reassured me that the Italian telephone system’s sense of humor, as they took my lire, was still intact.




 (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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