Giovanni Battista Pergolesi


Italian composer, renowned for comic intermezzi, but also a composer of opera seria: despite his short life, perhaps the most influential Italian composer of the first half of the 18th century. Pergolesi moved from his native Iesi to Naples in the early 1720s to study at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Greco, where he remained until 1731. The following year, he acquired a position as maestro di cappella with one of the Neapolitan nobility, and also achieved his first operatic success with Lo frate 'nnamorato (Naples, 1732).
He received a commission in 1733 to write an opera for the empress's birthday, for which he wrote Il prigioniero superbo, based on a libretto by Silvani, and the comic intermezzo La serva padrona (both Naples, 1733). In February 1734, Pergolesi was promoted to the position of deputy maestro di cappella to the city of Naples. Three months later, Bourbon troops reclaimed the city from the Austrian viceroy, and Pergolesi left for Rome with his patron, Prince Ferdinando Colonna Stigliano. Pergolesi soon found a new patron, the Duke of Maddaloni, and was back in Naples to write Adriano in Siria, based on a libretto by Metastasio, and the intermezzo Livietta e Tracollo (both Naples, 1734).
Adriano in Siria and Pergolesi's next opera, L'olimpiade (Rome, 1735), did not meet with immediate praise. But L'olimpiade especially, La serva padrona and Pergolesi's last opera, Il Flaminio (Naples, 1735) enjoyed enduring success, and spread Pergolesi's name throughout Europe. Pergolesi died at the age of 26, possibly from tuberculosis. Such was his posthumous fame, enhanced by the romantic sentiment inspired by his premature death, that countless works of other composers were attributed to him. With Vinci, he was recognized as a founder of the modern (i.e. mid-late 18th-century) style.