1671 — 1750
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Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni was an Italian Baroque composer in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Albinoni was born in Venice in the summer of 1671, the eldest son of a wealthy merchant who manufactured playing cards. From an early age Tomaso took violin lessons, though his teachers are unknown. He became proficient at both singing and violin, though was unable to perform publicly as he was not a member of the performers’ guild. He preferred to remain anadilettante, a man of independent means who entertained others with music.
Undiscouraged by his inability to perform publicly, he turned to composition. His first compositions, in the genre of church music, proved rather unsuccessful. The only surviving work from this venture is his Mass for three unaccompanied male voices. There is also aMagnificat in G minor that is often ascribed to him, but its authenticity has yet to be proven.
His subsequent works were deemed much more successful and include the opera Zenobia regina de’ Palmireni (1694) and his Op. 1 trio sonatas, a set of 12 trio sonatas published by Sala. These two works represent genres in which he was to become very successful, namely vocal composition (operas and cantatas) and instrumental ensembles (sonatas and concertos).
Albinoni dedicated his early Sinfonie e concerti a cinque Op. 2 (1700) to Ferdinando Carlo di Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, but it is doubtful that he ever served the duke. In the following years, he frequently visited other Italian cities to see the various performances of his operas.Rodrigo in Algeri (1702) was staged in Naples whileGriselda (1703) was performed in Florence, where he also directed performances and led the orchestra. His next opera,Aminta (1704) was also staged in Florence.
Albinoni married the operatic soprano star Margherita Raimondi in 1705. As well as raising their six children, she continued to appear on stage.
Up until his father’s death in 1709, Albinoni referred to himself as “Dilettante Veneto”, which at the time had no negative connotation and can be translated as “Dedicated, Venetian Amateur”. His father’s will left him with a share of the family business, though his younger brothers were to fulfill all the duties. From this point on, he began to refer to himself as “musico di violino” to establish his independence as a full-time musician. He also ran a very successful academy of singing.
During the 1720s, Albinoni composed a set of 12 concertos (1722), his most impressive work, dedicated to the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian Il Emanuel. As a result of his success, he was invited to Munich to supervise the performance of several operas, which were to be performed during the wedding celebrations for the Prince Elector and his bride.
From the 1720s on, his operas were often performed internationally. However, after the 1720s, not much is known about Albinoni’s life, apart from the several manuscripts of instrumental works. It is likely that he remained active, though the majority of his works, which were stored in the Dresden State Library, were lost during the bombings in Dresden during World War II. It seems that he retired sometime after 1741.
Albinoni composed approximately 81 operas, though the majority have not survived. More of his instrumental music has, however, survived. This collection includes 99 sonatas, 59 concertos and 9 sinfonias, and includes many “mass-produced” numbers which rely on a compositional formula.
Of Albinoni’s output, the oboe concertos are particularly fascinating. After the oboe’s introduction in Italy, he became the first Italian composer to compose concertos for the instrument, though it is probable that Telemann or Handel had already featured the oboe in concertos. These concertos also marked Albinoni’s first compositions to include wind instruments. He wrote a total of four concertos for solo oboe (Nos. 3, 6, 9 and 12) and another four concertos for two oboes (Nos. 2, 5, 8 and 11). These works are included in his highly successful Op. 7; in fact it was so successful that he composed four of these works for his Op. 9 in 1722. His treatment of the oboe in these works mirrors his use of the violin and also the voice in his vocal compositions, creating beautiful melodic lines for the oboe interspersed with an arpeggiated style.
Albinoni is often associated with the Adagio by musicologist Remo Giazzoto. This is, however, incorrect, though the confusion has brought Albinoni’s name to the public. During Giazzoto’s studies on Albinoni, he travelled to Dresden in 1945 and found a small scrap of paper in the ruins, containing just a bass line and six bars of a melody. With this, he composed the rest of the piece, essentially writing the entire work himself.
After his retirement, it is believed that he moved in with one of his children and withdrew completely from the world, becoming a recluse. He was bedridden for two years before his death on 17 January 1751.During his lifetime, Albinoni’s music was extremely popular and in demand throughout Europe. His name was included among the great composers Corelli, Vivaldi and Mascitti. Amateurs especially enjoyed playing his music. Bach based four of his keyboard fugues on Albinoni’s Op. 1 (BWV946, 950, 951 and 951a) and also used them as teaching material. Walther also appreciated Albinoni’s work and transcribed two of his concertos for organ.
After his death, the popularity of Albinoni’s music waned for a time, but it is now at its height. This goes mostly for his instrumental music, however, as his cantatas and operas are not favoured by modern audiences, despite the fact that they were just as historically important as his instrumental works.