Special Collections

Domenico Cimarosa Collection

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Biography


Cimarosa


     Cimarosa (his name is spelled Cimmarosa on his baptismal certificate) was taken by his parents, a few days after his birth, from Aversa to Naples. His father, Gennaro Cimmarosa, was employed as a stonemason in the construction of the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte; in the course of work he was killed in a fall. The family lived close to the church of S Severo de’ Padri Conventuali, and Cimarosa’s mother was able to obtain work as a laundress at the monastery while Domenico was taken into the school. Cimarosa soon attracted the attention of the monastery organist, Father Polcano, who gave him music lessons. He made rapid progress, and was admitted in 1761 to the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto. He remained there for 11 years. His teachers were Manna, Sacchini, Fenaroli and Carcais, the maestro di violino. Cimarosa became an able violinist and keyboard player, and he was also a gifted singer; after he left the conservatory he had singing lessons from the castrato Giuseppe Aprile. It was, however, mainly as a composer that he established himself while still a student, and by 1770 he, Zingarelli and Giuseppe Giordani were senior students in the maestro di cappella class, the class for composers. He may have had further lessons in composition from Piccinni in 1771, when he had left the conservatory.


     Cimarosa presumably returned to Naples in spring 1793, between the production of Amor rende sagace in Vienna at the beginning of April and that of I traci amanti in Naples in mid-June. On 8 November 1796 he was appointed first organist of the royal chapel with a monthly salary of ten ducats. In addition to composing new operas, he reworked L’italiana in Londra and I due baroni, adding sections in Neapolitan dialect. The most important works written during this last phase of his career were Le astuzie femminili (1794) and two serious operas, Penelope (1794) and Gli Orazi ed i Curiazi (1796), the last for La Fenice in Venice. In the 1790s Italy was experiencing reverberations of the French Revolutionary Wars that shook Europe. In 1796 the French captured Venice. Three years later, liberal leaders under the auspices of the French established the ‘Parthenopean Republic’ after the Bourbon king was forced to flee Naples. Cimarosa, in sympathy with their cause, composed a patriotic hymn to a text by Luigi Rossi which was sung on 19 May for the ceremonial burning of the royal flag. At the end of June, however, the Parthenopean Republic fell and the Bourbon troops re-entered the city. Cimarosa found himself in a perilous position in view of his republican sympathies; he endeavoured to make amends by paying homage to the Bourbons, composing (at the suggestion of a priest, Gennaro Tanfano) a cantata in praise of Ferdinand IV, performed on 23 September. He composed other works in his efforts to appease the king, but it seems that they merely angered Ferdinand further, and on 9 December 1799 he was arrested. He spent four months in prison, and was spared the death sentence only because of the intervention of powerful friends (among them Cardinal Consalvi, Cardinal Ruffo and Lady Hamilton). On his release from prison Cimarosa returned to Venice, where he was invited to compose a new opera, Artemisia. He did not live to complete it, as his health rapidly deteriorated and he died on 11 January 1801. Rumours were rife that he had been poisoned at the instigation of Queen Marie Caroline, and pressure of public opinion forced the government to publish a medical report (on 5 April 1801), which certified that he had died from an internal ailment. Cimarosa was twice married: in 1777 to Costanza Suffi, who died the next year; and later to Gaetana Pallante, who died in 1796.



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