Luigi Rossi

The Italian composer Luigi Rossi (ca. 1598-1653) wrote important works in the field of the chamber cantata.

Luigi Rossi was born in Torremaggiore, but records that could document his specific birthdate were destroyed in earthquakes of 1627 and 1638. He studied in Naples with Jean de Macque and was subsequently employed by the Duke of Traetta. Quite early in his career Rossi moved to Rome, and this became his permanent residence. He was first employed in Rome by Marc'Antonio Borghese.

In 1627 Rossi married Costanza de Ponte, a harpist and an outstanding musician in her own right. When the Rossis visited the Florentine court in 1635, Costanza de Ponte was highly acclaimed for her performances.

In 1633 Rossi took on the additional post of organist at the church of S. Luigi dei Francesi. Although he retained this post for the rest of his life, it was secondary to his main interests and activities, for he was essentially a composer of secular music who was suited to court life.

Of Rossi's several aristocratic patrons, the most important was Cardinal Antonio Barberini. The Barberini family was famous for its patronage of the arts, and Cardinal Antonio was the most lavish of all in his support of music. When Rossi entered the service of the cardinal in 1641, he joined a sizable musical establishment of brilliant singers and instrumentalists. Not only chamber music but theatrical music was presented at the Palazzo Barberini. Operas, complete with star singers and splendid productions, had been given there since 1632.

Soon after his appointment to the Barberini establishment, Rossi began work on his first opera, Il palazzo incantato, with a libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi, after Ariosto's Orlando furioso. This was performed several times at the Palazzo Barberini in 1642. Rossi's second and only other opera, Orfeo, with a libretto by Francesco Buti, was performed not in Rome but in Paris in 1647. Rossi went to Paris himself to organize the performances of Orfeo. It was performed six times and had a marked success. Two of the performances were in honor of the Queen of England, a guest of the French court at the time. One of the earliest operas given in France, it was highly influential on the subsequent development of French opera.

Rossi's chamber cantatas also proved to be very popular in French musical circles. Indeed, his success in France was so great that he was called to Paris again in 1648. He died in Rome on Feb. 19, 1653.

Rossi also wrote some Latin motets; probably some Italian oratorios (the authorship of these is uncertain); one harpsichord piece; and about 300 chamber cantatas, with Italian words, which represent his most important contribution. The great majority of the cantatas are composed for solo voice, usually soprano, accompanied by thorough-bass. Many others are written for two voices and thorough-bass. Some are for three or four voices and thorough-bass.

All sizes and varieties of the contemporary cantata appear in Rossi's output: short, simple pieces; long works in sophisticated forms; light airs; sorrowful laments; and pieces containing the most varied musical styles. His cantatas were copied and performed throughout Italy and abroad. They are outstanding examples of the Italian chamber cantata.

Further Reading on Luigi Rossi

Rossi's music is discussed by Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach (1947); and by Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music (1968). A thematic catalog of Rossi's cantatas, with a detailed introduction by Eleanor Caluori, entitled Luigi Rossi, is fascicle 3 of The Wellesley Edition Cantata Index Series (2 vols., 1965). Additional details of Rossi's life appear in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980); and Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (1992).

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