Baldassare Galuppi (18 October 1706 – 3 January 1785) was an Italian composer, born on the island of Burano in the Venetian Republic. He achieved international success, spending periods of his career in London and Saint Petersburg, but his main base remained Venice, where he held a succession of leading appointments.
Galuppi was born on the island of Burano in the Venetian Lagoon, and was widely known as "Il Buranello." His father was a barber, who also played the violin in theatre orchestras, and is believed to have been his son's first music teacher. At the age of 15 he composed his first opera, Gli amici rivali, which was performed unsuccessfully at Chioggia and equally unsuccessfully in Vicenza under the title La fede nell'incostanza.
Galuppi took lessons in composition and harpsichord from Antonio Lotti, the chief organist at St Mark's Basilica. From 1726 to 1728, he was harpsichordist at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence. On his return to Venice in 1728, he produced a second opera, Gl'odi delusi dal sangue, written in collaboration with another Lotti pupil, Giovanni Battista Pescetti; it was well received when it was presented at the Teatro San Angelo. The collaborators followed it with an opera seria, Dorinda, the next year. This, too, was modestly successful, and Galuppi began to receive commissions for operas and oratorios.
In 1740, Galuppi was appointed director of music at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti in Venice, where his duties ranged from teaching and conducting to composing liturgical music and oratorios. In his first year of service at the Mendicanti, he composed 31 works: 16 motets, 13 settings of the Salve Regina, and two psalm settings. Although he became internationally known as an operatic composer, he maintained a steady output of religious music throughout his career.
After Galuppi's death his music was largely forgotten. Some of Galuppi's pieces were occasionally performed in the 200 years after his death, but it was not until the last years of the 20th century that his works were extensively revived in live performance and on record.
In 1741 Galuppi was invited to work in London. He asked the Mendicanti authorities for leave of absence, to which they reluctantly agreed. He was in England for 18 months, supervising productions for the Italian opera company at the King’s Theatre. Of the 11 operas under his direction, three were his own compositions, Penelope, Scipion in Cartagen and Sirbace; a fourth was presented shortly after he left London to return to Venice. Handel attended one of these productions and was not greatly impressed. Galuppi also attracted attention as a keyboard virtuoso and composer. His contemporary, the English musicologist Charles Burney, wrote that "Galuppi had had more influence on English music than any other Italian composer". However, in Burney's view Galuppi's skills were still immature during his spell in London. Burney wrote, "He now copied the hasty, light and flimsy style which reigned in Italy at this time, and which Handel's solidity and science had taught the English to despise."
On his return to Venice in May 1743, Galuppi returned to his employment with the Mendicanti, and to composing for the opera houses. The operatic fashion in Venice was on the point of changing from generally serious opera to a new style of comic opera, dramma giocoso. Full-length comic operas from Naples and Rome were becoming fashionable; Galuppi adapted three of them for Venetian audiences in 1744, and the following year composed one of his own, La forza d’amore, which was only a mild success. He continued to compose serious operas, sometimes in uneasy partnership with the librettist Metastasio.
In May 1748 Galuppi was appointed vice-maestro of the Doge's chapel, St Mark's. In time this would lead to a large body of religious compositions, but for the present Galuppi was chiefly engaged in operatic work. It is not clear why he accepted the post at St Mark's. The musicologist Denis Arnold writes, "He was already a very successful opera composer and with his duties at the Mendicanti he must have had enough to do. The salary at St Mark's was only 120 ducats. ... At this time it was not a very distinguished cappella. The choir probably numbered about 30; but since their posts continued up to death, a fair proportion of the singers were old."
Galuppi was fortunate that when he turned once more to comic opera in 1749 he collaborated with Carlo Goldoni. Although an established and eminent playwright by the time he worked with Galuppi, Goldoni was happy for his libretti to be subservient to the music. He was as warm in his regard for Galuppi as Metastasio was cold. Their first collaboration was Arcadia in Brenta followed by four more joint works within a year. They were enormously popular at home and abroad, and to meet the demand for new drammi giocosi and opere serie Galuppi had to resign his post at the Mendicanti in 1751. By the middle of the 1750s he was, in the words of his biographer Dale Monson, "the most popular opera composer anywhere".
For the next ten years, Galuppi remained in Venice, with occasional sorties elsewhere for commissions and premieres, producing a series of secular and religious works. His operas, serious or comic, were in demand across Europe. Of the British premiere of Il filosofo di campagna in 1761 Burney wrote, "This burletta surpassed in musical merit all the comic operas that were performed in England, till the Buona Figliuola."
In April 1762 Galuppi was appointed to the leading musical post in Venice, maestro di capella of St Mark's, and in July of the same year he was also appointed maestro di coro at the Ospedale degli Incurabili, at whose school he had been educated. At St Mark's, he set about reforming the choir. He persuaded the Basilica authorities, the Procurators, to be more flexible in payments to singers, allowing him to attract performers with first-rate voices such as Gaetano Guadagni and Gasparo Pacchiarotti.
Early in 1764 Catherine the Great of Russia made it known through diplomatic channels that she wished Galuppi to come to Saint Petersburg as her court composer and conductor. There were prolonged negotiations between Russia and the Venetian authorities before the Senate of Venice agreed to release Galuppi for a three-year engagement at the Russian court. The contract required him to "compose and produce operas, ballets and cantatas for ceremonial banquets", at a salary of 4,000 roubles and the provision of accommodation and a carriage. Galuppi was reluctant, but Venetian officials assured him that his post and salary as maestro di cappella at St. Mark's were secure until 1768 as long as he supplied a Gloria and a Credo for the Basilica's Christmas mass each year.
In June 1764 the senate granted Galuppi formal leave to go. He resigned his post at the Incurabili, made provision for his wife and daughters (who were to remain in Venice, while his son travelled with him), and set off for Russia. He made detours on his journey, visiting C.P.E. Bach and Giacomo Casanova, before arriving in Saint Petersburg on 22 September 1765.
For the empress's court, Galuppi composed new works, both operatic and liturgical, and revived and revised many others. He wrote two operas there, Il re pastore (1766) and Ifigenia in Tauride (1768), and two cantatas, La virtù liberata (1765) and La pace tra la virtù e la belezza, the latter to words by Metastasio. In addition to the work for which he had been contracted, Galuppi gave weekly recitals at the harpsichord, and sometimes conducted orchestral concerts. To improve standards he was a hard taskmaster to the court orchestra, but was from the outset enormously impressed by the court choir. He is reported to have exclaimed, "I'd never heard such a magnificent choir in Italy". Galuppi took pride in his prestigious appointments; the title page of his 1766 Christmas mass for St Mark's describes him as: "First Master and Director of all the Music for Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of all the Russias, etc. etc. and First Master of the Ducal Chapel of St. Mark's in Venice." In 1768, as had been agreed, he returned to Venice, detouring again on his journey, this time to visit Johann Adolph Hasse in Vienna.
On his return to Venice, Galuppi resumed his duties at St Mark's and successfully applied for reappointment at the Incurabili, holding the post until 1776, when financial constraints obliged all the ospedali to cut back their musical activities. In his later years he wrote more sacred than secular music. His output continued to be considerable in both quantity and quality. Burney, who visited him in Venice, wrote in 1771:
The last opera by Galuppi was La serva per amore, premiered in October 1773. In May 1782 he conducted concerts to mark a papal visit to Venice by Pope Pius VI. Thereafter he continued to compose, despite declining health. His last completed work was the 1784 Christmas mass for St Mark's.
After a two-month illness, Galuppi died on 3 January 1785. He was buried in the church of S Vitale, and, much mourned, was commemorated by a requiem mass "solemnized in the church of S Stefano, paid for by professional musicians, at which the actors of the Teatro S Benedetto sang".