Luigi Rossi


Born: 1597 Died: February 20, 1653
Luigi Rossi was one of the most important Italian composers of the early Baroque. His appreciation for the emotions of texts led him to devise new means of expression in vocal music, which was the major part of his output. He was one of the first composers whose primary field was secular vocal music.

There is an absence of hard evidence about his origins and early life. He may have been a pupil of Giovanni de Macque and perhaps spent early years at the Neapolitan court. The first firm documentation shows that by 1620 he lived in Rome and, in August of that year, joined the household staff of the Prince of Sulmona, Marc'Antonio Borghese, as a musician. He gained a reputation as one of the finest of keyboard players of his time. The Prince's wife, Camilla Orsini, had her own musical staff, which included a harpist from Rome named Costanza de Ponte. She and Rossi were married on July 3, 1627. Costanza was one of the best harp players of the age; together they made a musical duo that was by all accounts formidable. Camilla Orsini bragged about them and was apparently pleased to allow them to visit some of the leading courts of Italy, such as the Medicis in Florence, where they stayed through half of 1635.

Rossi became the organist at S Luigi dei Francesi, which was the French national church in Rome. He held that position for the rest of his life, but had generous terms that allowed him absences to maintain touring. When he was gone, his brother, Giovan Carlo Rossi, deputed for him. At some point during the 1630s -- certainly not later than 1641 -- he left the employ of the Borghese family and joined the service of the noted Francophile, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, a music-lover and nephew of Pope Urban VIII.

Rossi composed the first opera sponsored by Barberini, Il palazzo incantato (1642). He was invited to Paris in June 1646, staying the summer with the Royal Court in Fontainebleau. He remained in Paris in the autumn, composing a new opera, Orfeo, at the request of prime minister Jules Mazarin. (Rossi's wife died in Rome in November 1646). The opera premiered on March 2, 1647. Mazarin was under attack for extravagance, and the expensive production became a point of contention. Despite political disputes, Rossi's music was universally praised. One other trip to France (1648 - 1651) was unsuccessful due to a revolt against Mazarin. Rossi returned to Rome for good in 1651. There he continued at the height of his fame and respect as one of the greatest composers until his death two years later.

Historical assessment of the evolution of Rossi's style is made difficult by the fact that there are no firm dates for most of his nearly 300 vocal works (over 200 of them in the form of canzonettas). Only if a work is definitely tied to a historical event (such as a lament for a Swedish king who died in battle in 1632) can some approximate date be established for the music.

Rossi's music ranged widely in style. He wrote laments and other music in the older style of dramatic recitative, wordy melodic vocal works we might call patter songs, and songs with rhyming verse lyrics. He could invest his music with remarkable emotional power, such as in his highly popular Gelosia che a poco a poco, a canzonetta portraying a person going mad from jealousy.

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