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Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Born at Naples, 3 Jan., 1710; d. 16 March, 1736, at Pozzuoli, near Naples. This young man of delicate and poetic musical gifts might have done great things for music of the Church had he not lived when composers were trying to serve two masters. Of frail constitution, he shortened his career by irregular conduct. At an early age he entered the Conservatory " dei poveri de Gesù Christo" in his native city, studied the violin under Domenico Matteis and afterwards enjoyed the guidance in composition of Gaetano Greco, Francesco Durante, and Francesco Feo. As a student he attracted attention by his sacred drama "San Guglielmo d'Aquitania" but, following the trend of his time, he devoted the next few years to the theatre, producing with more or less success "La Sallustia", "Amor fa l'uomo cieco", and "Recimero". He was not satisfied with these latter achievements, and when Naples was visited by an earthquake, Pergolesi was commissioned to write a mass for the solemn services of thanksgiving in the church of Santa Maria della Stella. Through this work for two five-part choirs and two orchestras, he became known as one of the most resourceful composers of the Neapolitan school. Shortly after he produced another mass for two choirs and later a third and fourth. Then the young master once more yielded to the allurements of the theatre. The intermezzo, "Serva padrona", survived his more pretentious works of this period. Although requiring for performance but two singers and a quartette of stringed instruments, it had instantaneous and lasting success. The last two years of his live Pergolesi devoted almost entirely to the interpretation of liturgical texts (masses, a "Salve Regina", etc.), almost all of them for chorus and orchestra. The work, by which he is most remembered, is the "Stabat mater" for two-part choir and stringed orchestra and organ, which he wrote shortly before his death for the Minorite monastery of San Luigi in Naples. Requiring great flexibility of execution on the part of the vocalists, it especially displays the author's chief characteristic, namely, delicacy and tenderness of feeling and exquisite workmanship. Though of lasting artistic value, Pergolesi's compositions are not available for liturgical purposes because for the most part they partake of the nature and form of contemporaneous operatic productions. They are better suited for performance as sacred concerts. The latest arrangement of Pergolesi's "Stabat mater", for chorus and modern orchestra, is by Alexis Lwow.
Boyer, Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de Giovanni Battista Pergolesi in Mercure de France (Paris, 1772); Blasis, Biografia di Pergolesi (Naples, 1817); Faustini-Fasini, Giovanni Battista di Pergolesi attraverso I suoi biografi (Naples, 1900); Villarosa, Littera biografica (Naples, 1831); Idem, Memorie di compositori di musica del regno di Napoli (Naples, 1840).