A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Cimarosa, Domenico

CIMAROSA, Domenico, one of the most celebrated Italian dramatic composers, the son of poor working people, born at Aversa, Naples, Dec. 17, 1749. Cimarosa received his musical training at the Conservatorio Santa Maria di Loreto. He attended that celebrated school for eleven years (1761–1772), and acquired a thorough knowledge of the old Italian masters under Sacchini, Fenaroli, and Piccinni. In 1772 hs produced his first opera, 'Le Stravaganze del Conte,' which was so successful as to give him at once a place among composers. From that date till 1780 he lived alternately at Rome and Naples, and composed for the two cities some twenty operas, 'L'ltaliana in Londra' [App. p.591 "1779"] among the number. Between 1780 and 1787 he was busy writing as the acknowledged rival of Paisiello, who, up to that time, had been undisputed chief of Italian operatic composers. His operas were also performed abroad, not only in London, Paris, Vienna, and Dresden, where an Italian opera existed, but elsewhere, through translations. To this period belong 'Il convito di pietra' [App. p.591 "1782"], 'La ballerina amante (Venice, 1783), 'Il pittore Parigino' [App. p.591 "1782"], 'Il Sacrifizio d'Abramo' [App. p.591 "1786"], and 'L'Olimpiade' (1787). In 1787 Cimarosa was invited to St. Petersburg as chamber composer to Catherine II, and there developed an amazing fertility in every species of composition. Among his operas of this time should be mentioned 'Il fanatico burlato' (1788). Some years later, on the invitation of Leopold II, he succeeded Salieri as court chapel-master, and it was there that he composed his most celebrated work 'Il matrimonio segreto' (1792), a masterpiece of its kind, which at the time roused an extraordinary enthusiasm, and is the only work by which Cimarosa is at present known. So great was the effect of its first performance, that at the end the emperor had supper served to all concerned, and then commanded a repetition of the whole. His engagement, at Vienna terminated by the emperor's death (1792). Salieri was again appointed chapel-master, and in 1793 Cimarosa returned to Naples, where he was received with every kind of homage and distinction; the Matrimonio segreto was performed 57 times running, and he was appointed chapel-master to the king and teacher to the princesses. From his inexhaustible pen flowed another splendid series of operas, among which may be specified 'Le astuzie feminile' [App. p.591 "1793"], 'L'Impresario in anguslie' [App. p.591 "1786"], 'Il matrimonio per faggiro' [App. p.591 "1779"], and the serious operas 'Gli Orazii e Curiazii' [App. p.591 "1796"], 'Artaserse' [App. p.591 "1781"], and 'Semiramide' [App. p.591 "1799"]. His last years were troubled by a melancholy change of fortune. The outbreak of revolutionary ideas carried Cimarosa with it, and when the French republican army marched victoriously into Naples (1799) he expressed his enthusiasm in the most open manner. Cimarosa was imprisoned and condemned to death. Ferdinand was indeed prevailed upon to spare his life and restore him to liberty on condition of his leaving Naples, but the imprisonment had broken his spirit. He set out for St. Petersburg, but died at Venice Jan. 11, 1801, leaving half, finished an opera, 'Artemisia,' which he was writing for the approaching carnival. It was universally reported that he had been poisoned, and in consequence the government compelled the physician who had attended him to make a formal attestation of the cause of his death.

Besides his operas (76 in all, according to Fétis) Cimarosa composed several oratorios, cantatas, and masses, etc., which were much admired in their day. His real talent lay in comedy—in his sparkling wit and unfailing good humour. His invention was inexhaustible in the representation of that overflowing and yet naïf liveliness, that merry teasing loquacity which is the distinguishing feature of genuine Italian 'buffo'; his chief strength lies in the vocal parts, but the orchestra is delicately and effectively handled, and his ensembles are masterpieces, with a vein of humour which is undeniably akin to that of Mozart. It is only in the fervour and depth which animate Mozart's melodies, and perhaps in the construction of the musical scene, that Cimarosa shows himself inferior to the great master. This is more the case with his serious operas, which, in spite of their charming melodies, are too conventional in form to rank with his comic operas, since taste has been so elevated by the works of Mozart. Cimarosa was the culminating point of genuine Italian opera. His invention is simple, but always natural; and in spite of his Italian love for melody he is never monotonous; but both in form and harmony is always in keeping with the situation. In this respect Italian opera has manifestly retrograded since his time. A bust of Cimarosa, by Canova, was placed in the Pantheon at Rome. The most complete list of his works is given by Fétis in his 2nd edition.

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