1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leo, Leonardo
LEO, LEONARDO (1694–1744), more correctly Lionardo Oronzo Salvatore de Leo, Italian musical composer, was born on the 5th of August 1694 at S. Vito dei Normanni, near Brindisi. He became a student at the Conservatorio della Piètà dei Turchini at Naples in 1703, and was a pupil first of Provenzale and later of Nicola Fago. It has been supposed that he was a pupil of Pitoni and Alessandro Scarlatti, but he could not possibly have studied with either of these composers, although he was undoubtedly influenced by their compositions. His earliest known work was a sacred drama, L’Infedeltà abbattuta, performed by his fellow-students in 1712. In 1714 he produced, at the court theatre, an opera, Pisistrato, which was much admired. He held various posts at the royal chapel, and continued to write for the stage, besides teaching at the conservatorio. After adding comic scenes to Gasparini’s Bajazette in 1722 for performance at Naples, he composed a comic opera, La Mpeca scoperta, in Neapolitan dialect, in 1723. His most famous comic opera was Amor vuol sofferenze (1739), better known as La Finta Frascatana, highly praised by Des Brosses. He was equally distinguished as a composer of serious opera, Demofoonte (1735), Farnace (1737) and L’Olimpiade (1737) being his most famous works in this branch, and is still better known as a composer of sacred music. He died of apoplexy on the 31st of October 1744 while engaged in the composition of new airs for a revival of La Finta Frascatana.
Leo was the first of the Neapolitan school to obtain a complete mastery over modern harmonic counterpoint. His sacred music is masterly and dignified, logical rather than passionate, and free from the sentimentality which disfigures the work of F. Durante and G. B. Pergolesi. His serious operas suffer from a coldness and severity of style, but in his comic operas he shows a keen sense of humour. His ensemble movements are spirited, but never worked up to a strong climax.
A fine and characteristic example of his sacred music is the Dixit Dominus in C, edited by C. V. Stanford and published by Novello. A number of songs from operas are accessible in modern editions. (E. J. D.)