Leonardo Vinci


Italian composer, despite a short and turbulent life one of the most important figures of the first half of the 18th century. With Pergolesi he is recognized as the progenitor of a new style: the style variously labelled homophonic, rococo, pre-classical, which reduced the contrapuntal vitality of the Baroque language (represented at that time by A. Scarlatti and Sarro) and replaced it with other kinds of vitality: simpler textures, more direct emotion, greater surface brilliance, driving rhythms represented by the so-called 'drumming bass'.
Above all Vinci was recognized by Dr Burney and Marmontel as the creator of modern melody: a slower harmonic rhythm, and periodic melody, in which melodic lines unfold in clear, symmetrical phrase-structures. If this claim has any foundation (and it probably has), Vinci is as responsible as any other composer for the classical language of Haydn and Mozart. Yet even Haydn was not born when Vinci died; he was considerably senior to Pergolesi, and certainly influenced him; and equally important is his effect on his contemporary Hasse. His work was even known to Handel in London, though the latter, an older man, was less directly affected.
Vinci was trained in Naples and composed his first operas there, starting with opera buffa in 1719. His first serious opera was composed in 1722, after which he wrote some comic intermezzos but mainly concentrated on opera seria. His fame spread quickly, with commissions for Parma and Rome; and he collaborated with a new librettist in many of his last and finest works. This was none other than Metastasio, with whom Vinci made an early setting of Didone abbandonata (1726) and the first settings ever of Siroe, Catone in Utica, Semiramide riconosciuta, Alessandro nell'Indie, and Artaserse (1730).
As if this were not enough, he also set texts by Silvani, Frugoni (of Parma), Zeno and Pariati (Flavio Anicio Olibrio) and others. Most of these operas were produced in Rome or Naples. He also found time to acquire a reputation as a schemer and womaniser; in displacing Sarro in a Venetian production he seems to have helped himself to the older composer's recitatives. Speed rather than laziness was probably the reason. He may have died from burn-out, but there were rumours of poison. 'The moment of glory came when Vinci first traced the circle of periodic song in which the pure and elegant design is presented to the ear...as the complete development of a single thought. So this was when the great mystery of melody was revealed.' (Marmontel, 1777)