From a modest background and destined for the priesthood, Gaspare Spontini instead turned to music. Encouraged by Cimarosa and Piccini, he trained in Naples at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini but his rebellious nature led him to be dismissed. Self-taught from then on and tempted by new aesthetics the Empire had to offer, he moved to Paris in 1803. There, he found great inspiration in Opéra comique and composers such as Grétry, Cherubini and Méhul.
Introduced to musical and intellectual circles, he met Érard (whose daughter he married a few years later), the musical critic François-Joseph Fétis, Madame de Staël and approached Empress Joséphine of whom he was named special composer, creating for the imperial couple works of circumstance.
On December 15, 1807, he performed La Vestale at Opéra de Paris, which was met with a genuine success and heralded as the decade’s best operatic work by Institut de France. In 1820, Gaspare Spontini settled in Berlin and found there a supportive ground for his reformist ideas. At the crossroads of the melodic richness of Neapolitan school, the grandeur of French lyrical tragedy and the nascent German Romanticism, the composer strongly influenced the works of Berlioz, Wagner and Verdi.
Six landmark dates in the life of Gaspare Spontini:
1803: Moved to Paris.
1805: Named Special Composer of the Empress.
1810: Appointed Italian opera conductor at the Odeon in 1810.
1820: Appointed Kapellmeister chief in Berlin
1829: Docteur honoris causa from Halle University
1842: Left Germany for good and settled in Rome.
Six key works by Gaspare Spontini:
1799: The finta filosofa, Opéra bouffe, Naples, Teatro Nuovo
1804: La Petite maison, Opéra comique, Paris, Théâtre Feydeau, Milton
1807: La Vestale, lyrical tragedy in 3 acts, libretto by Étienne de Jouy.
1809: Fernando Cortez or the conquest of Mexico, opera in 3 acts, libretto by Étienne de Jouy and Joseph-Alphonse Esménard, Opéra de Paris
1819: Olympie, opera, Paris Opera
1829: Agnes von Hohenstaufen, opera in 3 acts, libretto by Ernst Raupach, Berlin, Royal Opera House