Niccolò Jommelli

Italian composer (Aversa near Naples, 1714 – Naples, 1774)

Prolific opera composer, Niccolò Jommelli succeeded at the end of the baroque era to synthesize Italian and Germanic styles while modernizing the genre. His career and his reputation confirm a life's work that influenced the great Viennese classical composers.

Niccolò Jommelli began his musical studies in his natal city with the choir director of the Aversa cathedral, the canon Muzzillo and then followed them in two conservatories of Naples: Sant Onofrio in 1725 and la Pietà dei Turchini in 1728. The composers C. H. Graun and J. A. Hasse influenced him a great deal. In 1737 and 1738 he wrote successively two opéra-comiques for Naples, L’errore amoroso and Odoardo. He left for Bologna in 1741 where he became the student and friend of Padre Martini and got in the Accademia Filarmonica. After that, he iswaspromoted as Kappelmeister at the Ospedale degli Incurabili in Venice from 1741 to 1743 and then master coadjutor at the papal chapel in Rome in 1749. He was appointed Ober-Kapellmeister for the duke of Würtemberg in Stuttgart in 1743 where the court theatre had so many resources, making its orchestra one of the best in Europe. But his relations with the Duke deteriorated. Jommelli then turned to Joseph I of Portugal to whom he sent each year one opera seria, one opéra-comique and sacred pieces. He went back to Aversa where his wife died but kept on composing for Naples and the Portugal even if his style fell out of fashion with time.

Opera composer, Jommelli wrote for the greatest Italian stages but also for Vienna where Metastasio appreciated the expressiveness of his melodies. He set the operia seria free of the limits in which it was imprisoned: while leaving behind the aria da capo, he emphasized on the orchestral accompanying to the detriment of the recitativo secco and chose to multiply the ensembles and the ballets. Doing so, he created modern pieces that were close to Gluck’s work and opened the way for the Mozartian masterpieces. Jommelli also wrote a great deal of sacred choral pieces in which solos, ensembles and choirs combine, announcing the haydnian way.

Six landmark dates in the life of Niccolò Jommelli
1737: first opera
1741: left for Bologna
1749: settled in Vienna
1768: Joseph I of Portugal's first order
1769: returned to Italie
1774: last big success in Lisbon with his last opera Il trionfo di Clelia

Six pieces by Niccolò Jommelli
1737: L’errore amoroso, opéra-comique
1740: Ricimero rè de’Goti, opera seria
1741: Merope, opera
1743: La Betulia liberata, oratorio
1749: Achille in Sciro, opera
1774: Miserere

Radio France Musical Documentation biography, September 2014