Giovanni Bononcini


Born: July 18, 1670 Died: July 9, 1747
Giovanni Battista Bononcini was the most prominent figure from the Bononcini family of composers and musicians, whose other members included his father Giovanni Maria (1642-1678), and his brothers Giovanni Maria II (1678-1753), and Antonio Maria (1677-1726). Giovanni Battista was one of the leading composers of his day, spending much of his career in Vienna and London. In the latter locale he was a rival of Handel for a time, despite religious and political opposition to his works. Bononcini's operas and cantatas were widely performed and highly acclaimed throughout Europe and England during his day.

While Bononcini's first known formal musical education came in Bologna after 1678, he likely had training as a choirboy, as well as taking lessons on cello in his early childhood. Orphaned when he was eight, he was sent to Bologna, where he studied cello and composition with G.P. Colonna, probably from 1680-1685. Near the end of this period of instruction he began writing his first compositions, his Opp. 1 and 2 (1685) being sets of 12 pieces each for two violins and continuo. There followed three sinfonie (1685-1687), as well as oratorios and masses. The masses were written for San Giovanni Cathedral, in Monte, where he had become maestro di cappella in 1687.

In 1692 Bononcini accepted a post with Filippo Colonna in Rome, for whom he composed operas, serenatas, and an oratorio. The young composer had one great success during this Roman period, the opera Il trionfo di Camilla (1696), which was especially well received in Naples. In 1697 Bononcini traveled to Vienna to accept a highly paid post in the Court of Leopold I. He was quite productive throughout his eight years under the emperor, who died in 1705. Bononcini was retained at Court by Leopold's successor, Joseph: indeed, by 1705 he was regarded by many as the leading composer in Europe.

Bononcini composed a dozen dramatic works during Joseph's reign (1705-1711), but seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor with Charles VI, who became Emperor in 1711. Bononcini traveled back to Italy and took a position in 1714 in Rome with Charles VI's ambassador there, Johann Wenzel. The ambassador died five years later, after which Bononcini was taken on at London's Royal Academy of Music in 1720. His first works, especially the opera Muzio Scevola, were extremely successful there.

Because of his Catholic background and associations with politically unpopular figures, however, Bononcini found the situation in England increasingly difficult, and thus departed in 1732 for Paris. He might have left as early as 1724, had there not been an offer from the Duchess of Marlborough, whose substantial stipends gave sufficient incentive to him to stay on and conduct private concerts for her until 1731. Oddly, he had many successes during his years in England, probably as many as Handel for the same period. But several intolerant factions eventually drove him off.

In the early 1730s he performed before the Court at Lisbon, but returned to Vienna in 1736. There he composed two operas, performed the following year with acclaim. The composer's last significant work was a Te Deum, commissioned, probably in 1740, by Empress Maria Theresa. It was premiered in February 1741. Bononcini was apparently not very active in his last years, perhaps because of the death of his daughter in Vienna in 1743. Also, his wife Margherita, may have been separated from him during his last years.

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