Musically talking, Italy is maybe finest generally known as the birthplace of opera. And that makes lots of sense – from Monteverdi to, er, Verdi, through Vivaldi, Rossini and lots of others, the nation has contributed vastly to the event of the operatic type over the previous 4 centuries.
However there’s way more to the story of classical music in Italy than a number of main lights of the opera world. We have already talked about Monteverdi, who was a vital bridge between the distinct musical worlds of the Renaissance and the Baroque period. A century later, Vivaldi was one of many main lights of the Baroque, offering us with music of fantastic selection, melody, drama and sparkle.
A typical thread operating via many Italian composers is a dedication to do issues their very own approach. Whether or not it is the harmonic adventurousness of Scarlatti, the complicated combination of operatic drama and mysticism that permeates Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, or the downright weirdness of Gesualdo’s madrigals, Italian music typically has a really distinctive tang of its personal.
So who’re the very best Italian composers? Right here is our decide of the ten best Italian composers to have put pen to paper.
Greatest Italian composers
Composing within the Renaissance period at across the similar time as Thomas Tallis, Palestrina wrote a lot lovely sacred music. Arguably, Renaissance polyphony and counterpoint reached a peak with Palestrina’s dynamic, extremely melodious compositions. He’s now considered as a key determine in what’s termed the Roman Faculty, alongside fellow composers Orlande de Lassus and Tomás Luis de Victoria,
Key work: There are numerous candidates to select from, however we’ll go for the Missa Papae Marcelli, a beautiful instance of Palestrina’s mastery of complicated polyphony.
Key recording: We’ve to go for the Tallis Students beneath Peter Phillips right here, partly as a result of the disc additionally incorporates what would be the finest-ever efficiency of the well-known Miserere by a barely later Italian composer, Gregorio Allegri. This should be one of many finest recordings of Allegri’s Miserere. It is largely right down to this beautiful efficiency, in actual fact, that this disc made our checklist of the 50 best classical music recordings of all time. However the Palestrina can be fantastically sung,
Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613)
Arguably, Carlo Gesualdo’s fame owes extra to his troubled life than to his unusual and infrequently elegant music. An Italian nobleman, Gesualdo famously set a lure to catch his spouse, Maria d’Avalos, and her lover, Fabrizio Carafa, after which (with the help of a number of collaborators) brutally murdered the 2 of them.
Unsurprisingly, the killing brought about an uproar in Gesualdo’s native Naples (despite the fact that, in keeping with the code of Gesualdo’s aristocracy, he was inside his rights!). Particulars of the crime had been circulated in newspapers and lurid rumours abounded.
All of which mustn’t detract (or ought to it?) from Gesualdo’s unusual and charming music. Given such a turbulent and sad life, we shouldn’t be stunned that the composer’s music is usually unsettling, with its discordant harmonies that shock and unsettle.
Key work: Gesualdo is finest identified for his six books of madrigals — non-religious sung works, that includes quick poems set to music for small teams of singers). The harmonies are sudden, and there’s typically an otherworldly, barely darkish magnificence to those works.
Key recording: Attempt the basic recording by Les Arts Florissants, performed by William Christie. It is a nice starter set because it picks among the most arresting madrigals from throughout books three to 6. Some fantastic singing, too.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Composing within the later Renaissance and early Baroque period, Monteverdi made an ideal impression in two musical types of his time – one nascent, the opposite already centuries previous. On the one hand, Monteverdi wrote the primary masterpieces within the still-new type of opera. The brand new type mixing music and speech has originated in Florence in round 1600, however Monteverdi’s Orfeo, first carried out in 1607, was opera’s first true masterpiece.
Monteverdi additionally made appreciable advances within the church music of the time. His 1610 Vespers (see beneath) is only one of a choice of vastly vital sacred and choral works produced by this grasp composer.
Key work: Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers is an excellent synthesis of all that was attainable in church music right now. There are opulent psalm settings, showpieces for solo singers, instrumental music designed for interludes in the course of the service. Opera even options, within the type of music used to set the textual content of the Magnificat.
Key recording: The basic recording by the Taverner Consort & Gamers beneath the path of Andrew Parrott (Virgin 561 6622) advantages from the total liturgical reconstruction, to not point out (says our reviewer Freya Parr) ‘phenomenally good choral and consort tuning’.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
The Venetian violinist Vivaldi left a profound influence, each on late Baroque music and on the rising concerto type. Particularly, Vivaldi finessed the type of what we now know as the standard three-movement classical concerto with its fast-slow-fast sequencing.
Extra like this
Extremely, virtually 500 concerti by Vivaldi survive, written for in a powerful number of devices. Nearly all of these are for a solo instrument with string orchestra and continuo, with violin alone getting round 230 concertos (no shock, as Vivaldi was himself a violinist). Nonetheless, bassoon, cello, viola and flute all have a number of concertos dedicated to them. The remaining works in concerto type function both two soloists, three or extra (making them concerti grossi), or are concerti ripieni (works with no soloist).
All that mentioned, we should not overlook Vivaldi’s contributions to each sacred music and to the rising opera type.
Vivaldi’s music is notable for its dynamism and lyricism. A typical Vivaldi concerto could have an exhilarating mixture of arresting fast music and plangent slower kinds. He additionally exhibits nice items for drama, melody and instrumental texture.
Key work: The 4 Seasons, a cycle of 4 violin concerti the place every evokes a season of the 12 months, is a high quality place to start out. Certainly, the wealthy strand of classical music about nature begins right here.
Key recording: A dialogue of the finest recording of the 4 Seasons is prone to produce totally different solutions relying on who you ask, as there are such a lot of wonderful renditions. It is laborious, although, to get higher than the well-known 1989 disc that includes Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra. By the way, we nominated the bubbling Kennedy as one in every of our favorite rule-breaking musicians.
A local of Naples, Scarlatti performed an vital function within the growth from Baroque to Classical kinds. Scarlatti was a flexible composer, creating music for quite a lot of devices and ensembles. Nowadays, nevertheless, his fame leans overwhelmingly on his 555 keyboard sonatas. These are notable for his or her modern, typically sudden results, akin to discordant passages and unconventional key modulations. Composers from Chopin to Shostakovich have drawn on these vigorous, shocking works.
Key work: We may title you a favorite Scarlatti sonata – oh, go on then: K141, as seen beneath performed with typical aplomb by Martha Argerich. Nonetheless, with every sonata so quick – sometimes between three and 5 minutes – it is most likely extra useful to suggest you a disc…
Key recording: … and that may be Jean Rondeau’s handpicked choice of 16 sonatas, performed on a harpsichord as they had been initially meant. To be sincere, it is value listening to them on each harpsichord and piano: the 2 devices ship very totally different results.
Sitting slightly extra squarely within the Baroque period than Scarlatti, regardless of being born some 25 years later, Pergolesi composed throughout numerous totally different genres. For instance, he was a famous composer of an rising substrand inside opera: opera buffa, or comedian opera. His best-known work on this type is La serva padrona (The Maid Turned Mistress), a few wily maid and her ageing, credulous grasp.
Nonetheless, Pergolesi additionally wrote operas of a extra severe bent, akin to Il Prigionier Superbo (The Proud Prisoner), for which La serva padrona was initially a mere intermezzo earlier than changing into standard in its personal proper.
The composer might be finest identified, although, for his sacred music.
Key work: Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater attracts on the Thirteenth-century Latin poem that narrates the Virgin Mary’s sufferings on the foot of the Cross. You could find the Stabat Mater lyrics right here. The composer scored the poem for soprano and alto soloists, plus violins, viola and basso continuo (cello and organ). The result’s a dramatic, compelling piece of sacred music, filled with emotional twists and turns.
Key recording: You may learn our information to the finest recordings of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater to get a number of selections right here. We’ll decide one for you right here, and (for its fantastic singing alone) that may be the model from I Barocchisti, with the Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera beneath Diego Fasolis, with soloists Julia Lezhneva and Philippe Jaroussky.
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Rossini is the main Italian composer of the primary half of the nineteenth century – a time when, elsewhere in Europe, the likes of Beethoven and Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann had been at their peak. Not like these composers, who’re finest identified for his or her orchestral, chamber and solo piano output, Rossini continued the Italian strand of being superb at composing for opera.This composer had music in his genes: his father was a horn participant, and his mom an opera singer. For a decade from 1813, Rossini’s operas had been the toast of Italy. he composed in each the opera seria and opera buffa kinds: his extra severe operas akin to William Inform or The Woman of the Lake are effectively revered, nevertheless it’s for comedian fare akin to The Barber of Seville that he’s finest identified.Key work: Undoubtedly begin with The Barber of Seville, which can introduce you to the fantastic sparkle, exoticism and rhythmic punch that characterise Rossini’s music. As our author Freya Parr places it in her piece on 5 finest operas for rookies, the work is a ‘frivolous, fizzy feast of enjoyable, packed filled with wit, pleasure and vocal fireworks’.Key recording: Joyce DiDonato leads a classic solid within the supremely sung manufacturing from the Royal Opera Home Orchestra and Refrain, beneath the baton of Antonio Pappano. And sure, we have gone for a DVD, because it’s opera, and far of the enjoyment – particularly in such a enjoyable work as this – is visible.
When it got here to works for large-scale public efficiency, the Romantic period in Germany, Austria and the remainder of central Europe was all in regards to the symphony and concerto, with composers akin to Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Dvořák all contributing main works to each these giant orchestral kinds.
Italy, nevertheless, continued its love affair with opera proper via the Romantic period. On the forefront right here was Giuseppe Verdi, one of many century’s most vital composers in any type. Born the identical 12 months as one other large of Romantic opera, Richard Wagner, Verdi made his first steps in opera at a time when a significant Italian operatic custom, the bel canto type popularised by Rossini, Bellini and others, was simply beginning to decline.
Greatest Italian opera composers
Italy has a really high quality and proud opera custom: it invented the shape again in 1600, and has led the best way ever since. On this function, we’ve pulled out among the easiest Italian opera composers: Monteverdi, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini.
However there are different names you’ll wish to get to know in your journey via Italian opera. These embrace:
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35). This Sicilian-born composer was identified for his long-flowing musical traces, and was certainly generally known as ‘the swan of Catania’. Greatest-known works embrace Norma, I Puritani and La Sonnambula.
Gaetano Donizetti (1794-1848), who composed round 70 operas. Of those, the most well-liked are L’elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, La fille du régiment and Don Pasquale, which all nonetheless get common performances around the globe to this present day. Donizetti took on the bel canto type popularised by Bellini, however added a broader emotional palette and dynamic vary.
Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945), finest identified for his 1890 work Cavalleria rusticana, which had a profound impact on the opera panorama, ushering within the type generally known as verismo (realism). Usually talking, this type centered not on gods, monarchs or legendary figures, however on atypical women and men and their troubles.
Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919). Somewhat like Mascagni above, Leoncavallo’s repute rests mainly on one vastly profitable opera – on this case, 1892’s Pagliacci. In reality, the latter is usually staged with Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, in a double invoice affectionately generally known as ‘Cav and Pag’.
Leoncavallo’s work centres on an actor and chief of a theatre firm, who murders his spouse and her lover on stage throughout a efficiency.
Verdi launched an opera type that was way more harmonically adventurous – and which frequently tackled bigger, extra severe or extra unique themes, such because the Historical Egypt of Aida or the Shakespearean worlds of the 2 late, nice operas Otello and Falstaff.
Key work: Like different Romantic composers akin to Brahms and Dvořák, Verdi additionally wrote an attractive and stirring Requiem. Theatrical and at instances terrifying, Verdi’s is without doubt one of the most dramatic and (unsurprisingly?) actually probably the most operatic mass for the useless ever composed.
Key recording: Fellow Italian Claudio Abbado performed and recorded a beautiful model throughout his tenure on the Berlin Philharmonic, whom we nominated one of many world’s finest orchestras.
If opera reached a brand new degree of lushness and harmonic adventurousness with Verdi, this development arguably reached its peak together with his follower, Giacomo Puccini. The Tuscan-born composer was, in spite of everything, impressed to jot down music after watching a efficiency of Verdi’s Aida.
Lovely melodies, opulent orchestration and a beautiful sense of the right way to convey drama via music: these are all hallmarks of Puccini’s type. His operas could be unashamedly emotional – consider the unrivaled tenderness of the well-known aria O Mio Babbino Caro from his opera Gianni Schicchi, memorably sung by Rowan Atkinson within the movie Mr Bean’s Vacation.
Puccini’s true masterpieces, nevertheless, are Madam Butterfly and La bohème, two of the most-performed operas on the earth.
Key work: La bohème is a very heart-wrenching work, telling a story of affection and dying in bohemian 1840s Paris. In addition to being one in every of Puccini’s finest operas, we listed La bohème one in every of of the best operas ever and Puccini himself as one of many finest opera composers of all time.
Key recording: Relating to a finest recording of La bohème, there are lots of choices. If we needed to decide one, although, it is likely to be the 1987 Decca recording from the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan. As our reviewer Christopher Cook dinner states, ‘Karajan knew that the internal drama of the opera is performed out within the orchestra in Puccini’s deft manipulation of his themes and the masterly orchestration’. That includes some scintillating soloists together with Pavarotti, that is as deserving as every other of the title of La bohème finest recording.
Ludovico Einaudi (1955-)
Composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi has dominated the classical music charts for the previous 15 years. His music has featured in promoting, movies and TV programmes. As BBC Music’s Michael Beek explains, Einaudi ‘has cornered the market in post-classical ambient music, and whereas he could also be finest identified for his solo piano musings, a few of his hottest works lately have been for small ensemble, and infrequently function electronics.
‘It’s a really particular soundworld which Einaudi has crafted, one which is without delay immersive, speedy and melodic.’
Key work / recording: Have a learn of our piece Ludovico Einaudi’s Prime 5 Albums, and see what grabs you. However if you’d like a failsafe place to start out, we might suggest the vastly profitable 1996 album Le Onde (The Waves).