Who was Francesco Cavalli?
Francesco Cavalli was an Italian musical composer whose real name was Pier Francesco Caletti-Bruni. He was popular by the name of Cavalli, which he acquired from his patron, Federico Cavalli. In his lifetime, Cavalli gained immense popularity, especially in the field of operas. His reputation and respect grew to the extent that, he was summoned to Paris to present an opera at the grand wedding of Louis XIV. Most of his operas still exist and lay preserved in libraries. Didone (1641), L'Ormindo (1644), Egisto (1646), and L'Erismena (1655) are considered to be his most prominent works and require a special mention. It was Cavalli, who succeeded in making opera an interesting source of entertainment. From being a choir singer in St. Mark at Venice, he rose to great heights in his career and became ‘maestro di cappella’. His works were mostly carved for small string orchestras which were presented in the public opera houses. Scroll further for more information on his profile, works and timeline.
Federico Cavalli, born in Crema, Lombardy in 1602, was an Italian music composer whose real name was Pier Francesco Caletti-Bruni. Born to Giovanni Battista Caletti, Cavalli went from rags to riches and became the maestro di cappella at Crema Cathedral, later in his life. At the age of fourteen, he was taken to Venezia by a wealthy patron, Federico Cavalli. As Pier Francesco became famous as a singer, he acquired the last name of his patron as a means of gratitude and respect. Federico Cavalli was the governor of Crema and had considerable influence which he used for Francesco’s benefit. He helped Francesco join the St. Mark’s choir as a boy soprano in 1616, post which the gifted singer became famous and earned respect for his singing prowess. He also became organist at ‘SS Giovanni e Paolo’, where he remained until 1630. Under the patronage of Federico Cavalli, Francesco was treated with great respect by the people around him. During his teenage, he received the musical guidance of Claudio Monteverdi at St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, where he was a singer. Cavalli’s first published work appeared in 1625, which was a solo motet named ‘Cantate Domino’. Cavalli was greatly influenced by Monteverdi, who was hailed as the best composer of that time. Most of Cavalli’s works behold the influence of Monteverdi and were equally melodious, pleasant and emotionally powerful. After Monteverdi’s death, Cavalli succeeded him in the music arena and became even more famous as a composer.
Cavalli was appointed as second organist at the St. Mark’s, in 1639 and later, in 1665, he became first organist. Three years later, in 1668, he was made the maestro di cappella. Though, he achieved considerable success in theatre, Cavalli also made great contributions to St. Mark’s in his capacity as maestro di cappella. Most of his compositions consist of small number of voices accompanied by organ, turning them into notable pieces which were marked for their subtle word-painting. ‘The Marriage of Thetis and Peleus’ (Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo) was Cavalli’s first opera and also the first ever of his works to be performed at the Teatro S. Cassiano. Some of his other operas, mainly ‘Egisto’ (1643), were staged abroad in Paris and Vienna. He was chiefly known for his operas and earned a reputation of being a grand composer, which led him all the way to Paris in 1660.
The key to Cavalli’s success and popularity was his good dramatic sense which blended seamlessly with his talent of writing memorable arias. In 1660, he was invited for the wedding of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain, where he was asked to perform his opera. Since the organizers had not made the necessary arrangements, the theater wasn’t ready and this caused innumerable delays and political intrigues. Cavalli was distressed because of this and he vowed not to produce any more dramatic works. However, Cavalli broke his promise later and composed several operas that were based on the quasi-historical themes, followed by the late Baroque style. Cavalli’s contribution as a church composer was highly appreciated. His sacred works were mostly published in two major volumes, viz., ‘The Musiche sacre’, published in 1656, and ‘the Vesperi’, published in 1675. These collections widely express the different ranges and styles, incorporated with the compositions at St. Mark’s. During this time, he also released a Requiem, which he insisted on being sung twice a year after his death. By this time, Cavalli had already grown as an influential composer in Venice.
In 1630, Cavalli’s financial situation improved after he married a wealthy widow. Consequently, he left his job as an organist and led himself through the doors of opera. This step brought him fee-paying audience and he was able to escape the necessity of entertaining private patrons. He died on 14 January, 1676. Cavalli left a major part of his estate to S. Lorenzo church, where he was buried.
The most noted among Cavalli’s works was ‘Giasone’, which was composed in 1649. This proved to be a perfect example of the unambiguous division between recitative and aria. Compared to the works of Monteverdi, Cavalli’s works were considered more developed. However, the sacred works of Cavalli and Monteverdi are quite similar and can easily be mistaken as created by the same composer. The conservative nature of Cavalli led to the establishment of a new musical tradition at St. Mark’s, which was previously influenced by Gabrieli and Monteverdi.
- Agnus Dei (from Missa Concertata)
- Confitebor tibi a 8
- Delizie contente, che l’alma beate
- Dell’ antro magico
- Deus tuorum militum
- Exsultet Orbis
- Jesu Corona Virginum
- Missa pro defunctis (Separate movements available)
- Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126)
- Ombra mai fu
- Regina Caeli
- Salve Regina