Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Italian Composer (Jesi, 1710 – Pozzuoli, 1736)

The composer’s comic operas and intermezzo compositions made him a prominent musical figure and an enduring symbol of the Neapolitan School. Nowadays Stabat Mater and Salve Regina, his sacred vocal pieces, are among his most famous works.

Pergolesi came from a poor background; he had fragile health throughout his life probably having contracted tuberculosis when young. He started his musical studies with Francesco Santi, the Chapel Master of Jesi Cathedral. His talent was recognised by a Jesi nobleman, the Marquis Cardolo Maria Painetti, who offered to send him to study at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples. He quickly impressed both his violin teacher Domenico Di Matteis and his composition teachers Gaetano Greco and Francesco Durante. His career began with a number of setbacks, which deeply affected both his mental and physical wellbeing. The Prince of Stigliano eventually appointed Pergolesi, as a Chapel Master, but by this point the composer’s health was rapidly deteriorating. He exiled himself to the monastery in Pozzuoli, where he died at the age of 26 having finished his work Stabat Mater. His untimely death and tragic story have contributed to his posthumous fame. 

Pergolesi’s compositions are characterised by spontaneous, dramatic and truthful portrayals of emotion. He built upon traditional forms of music, refining and rejuvenating them, whilst remaining firmly linked to his country and time. In addition to operas he wrote orchestral works, chamber music and sacred pieces. It is however difficult to judge the authenticity of some pieces as he became hugely popular shortly after his death, causing lots of copies and variations of his works to be distributed. 

Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

1726 - 1732: Studied at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesu Cristo in Naples
1729: Became leader of a hand-selected group of the best students at the Conservatoire, and performed regularly
1731: Composed his first works
1732: Was appointed as a Chapel Master in Naples
1736: Took refuge in the monastery of Pozzuoli near Naples
1752: His work La Serva Padrona was performed throughout Europe, sparking the famous War of the Comic Actors

Six Key Works by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

1731: Premiere of his first work, the sacred drama San Guglielmo Duca d'Aquitania  

1731: Premiere of his first opera La Salustia, at the San Bartolomeo Theater in Naples   

1732: Lo Frate 'Nnamorato, a highly successful comic opera 

1733: Serva Padrona, a celebrated intermezzo

1735: Premiere of his opera L'Olimpiade, at Tordinona Theater in Rome 

1736: Stabat Mater and Salve Regina