Antonio Lotti

1667 1740

Antonio Lotti

Composer

Biography

Antonio Lotti was an Italian Baroque composer and a contemporary (albeit nearly 20 years older) ofJ.S. Bach, strongly influencing him. Lotti was a star of Italian opera during his lifetime, though his greatest successes were in Dresden, Germany. His disregard for traditional conventions has led his music to be considered a bridge between the Italian Baroque style and the early Classical style.

Lotti’s birthdate is presumed to be 5 January 1667, though this is simply an educated guess. It is also not certain that he was born in Italy, but instead it is possible that he was born in Hanover, Germany, where his father, Matteo, served as Kapellmeister and where his brother and sister (1672 and 1673) were born. Unfortunately, it is a mystery as to when the family moved to Hanover.

In any case, by 1682 the Lotti family had returned to Venice and Antonio had begun his musical education (though it is likely that his father had already provided him with a solid musical foundation) with Lodovico Fuga and the prominent composer Giovanni Legrenzi, both of whom held positions at Venice’s most prestigious church, St. Mark’s Basilica. Lotti received his first job at the church, singing as an extra with the new fraternity of Santa Cecilia before being hired as a regular alto (natural alto/countertenor) singer for the fraternity in May 1689.

Lotti remained with the church for the rest of his life, moving his way up from singer to assistant to the second organist in 1690, second organist in 1692, first organist in 1704 and temporary primo maestro di cappella in 1733, before finally being appointed primo maestro di cappella in 1736.

Before securing the position of permanent primo maestro di cappella in 1736, Lotti performed many other tasks to supplement his salary, including the composition of motets, choral works, oratorios and operas and a book of masses (1698) written for St. Mark’s. In addition, he composed for the famous female choir Ospedale degli Incurabili, which he also taught. There were fourospedali (convent orphanage music schools) in Venice and these institutions were very important for composers, as they paid a very decent salary.Antonio Vivaldi taught at Ospedale della Pieta, also one of the four ospedali in Venice. For the choir, Lotti composed many solo motets, choral works and oratorios. In the late 1690s, Lotti also served as maestro di cappella of the Church of Spirito Santo, where he remained for a least ten years.

Antonio Lotti made his debut as an operatic composer in 1692 with the premiere of his first operaIl trionfo dellinnocenza. This was the first of a string of 16 successful operas that would be staged in Vienna between 1706 and 1717.

In 1717, Lotti’s presence was requested in Dresden to compose operas for a series of gala and wedding events. He was granted leave from St. Mark’s and together with his wife, soprano Santa Stella, a well-paid troupe of opera singers and the famous librettist Antonio Maria Luchini, he travelled to Dresden. His first opera there was theGiove in Argo, which was performed in 1717 in the Redoutensaal. Later he composedLe Quattro elementi, a much more lighthearted opera, written for the 1919 celebration of the marriage of Friedrich August, Elector of Saxony, to Maria Gioseffa of Austria and to be performed in the palace garden. While in Dresden, Lotti also composedTeofane (1719) and a revised version ofGiove in Argo, which was used for the opening of the new Hoftheater, in addition to the operaAscanio, ovvero Gli odi delusi dal sangue(1719).

After completing his period in Dresden in 1719, Lotti was presented with a coach and horses in appreciation of his contributions and returned to his job at St. Mark’s in Venice. Despite having a new set of horses and a coach, Lotti did not leave Venice again (with the possible exception of one brief trip).

Lotti’s musical output includes masses, cantatas, madrigals, instrumental and vocal music. His sacred church music is quite traditional, sometimes even described as arch-conservative as he would often resist writing an instrumental accompaniment. These works followed very strict and academic counterpoint, though they are still surprisingly brilliant and interesting.

Lotti’s sacred choral music includes the well-known eight-part Crucifixus, which is especially notable in the famous unprepared dissonances and tritones, leading some to exaggeratedly label it “the first ‘atonal’ piece of music”. His Misere in D(1733) became a tradition at St. Mark’s, being performed every Maundy Thursday through the 18th century, but remaining in the repertoire until the early 19th century. The four-voice a capella Requiem also remained popular for many years.

His operas number approximately 30 and are known for their bold harmonies and intense drama. Lotti’s secular works are also known for their adventurous sonorities, unconventional harmony and shift away from counterpoint. He composed a number of secular solo cantatas with strings and solo cantatas with continuo only, in addition to an unusual collection of short works for two or more singers.

Lotti’s influence was carried on by his students Domenico Alberti, Benedetto Marcello, Baldassare Galuppi, Giuseppe Saratelli and Jan Dismas Zelenka, among others. His work also inspired J.S. Bach, who likely met Lotti in September of 1717 in Dresden. Bach made use of Lotti’s (partially reworked) sacred Latin works during church services in Lepzig. Two works previously attributed to Bach are actually from Antonio Lotti. Lotti’s works have resurfaced in the last century and are frequently recorded.

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