Birthplace: Monfestino, Italy
Location of death: Genoa, Italy
Cause of death: Murder
Remains: Buried, Chiesa de Santa Maria delle Vigne, Genoa, Italy
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: S. Giovanni Battista
Italian composer, one of the most accomplished musicians of the 17th century. The hitherto generally accepted story of his life was first circumstantially narrated in Bonnet-Bourdelot's Histoire de la musique et de ses effets (Paris, 1715). According to this account, Stradella not only produced some successful operas at Venice, but also attained so great a reputation by the beauty of his voice that a Venetian nobleman engaged him to instruct his mistress, Ortensia, in singing. Stradella, the narrative goes on to say, shamefully betrayed his trust, and eloped with Ortensia to Rome, to where the outraged Venetian sent two paid bravi to put him to death. On their arrival in Rome the assassins learned that Stradella had just completed a new oratorio, over the performance of which he was to preside on the following day at S. Giovanni in Laterano. Taking advantage of this circumstance, they determined to kill him as he left the church; but the beauty of the music affected them so deeply that their hearts failed them at the critical moment, and, confessing their treachery, they entreated the composer to ensure his safety by quitting Rome immediately. Thereupon Stradella fled with Ortensia to Turin, where, notwithstanding the favor shown to him by the regent of Savoy, he was attacked one night by another band of assassins, who, headed by Ortensia's father, left him on the ramparts for dead. Through the connivance of the French ambassador the ruffians succeeded in making their escape; and in the meantime Stradella, recovering from his wounds, married Ortensia, by consent of the regent, and removed with her to Genoa. Here he believed himself safe; but a year later he and Ortensia were murdered in their house by a third party of assassins in the pay of the implacable Venetian.
Later research has shown that Stradella was the son of a Cavaliere Marc'antonio Stradella of Piacenza, who in 1642-43 was vice-marchese and governor of Vignola for Prince Boncompagni, who did not wish to live in the dominions from which he took the title of marchese di Vignola. He was deprived of his office in 1643 for having surrendered the castle to the papal troops, although it might have sustained a siege of several days and the help of the duke of Modena was expected. An elder brother of Alessandro, Francesco by name, became a member of the Augustinian order, and seems to have enjoyed the protection of the house of Este. Alessandro is supposed to have been born about 1645 or earlier, probably at Vignola, or Monfestino, a town on the road from Modena to Pistoja, to which his father retired after his dismissal; but no records of his birth have come to light in either of these places. The first certain date in his life is 1672, in which year he composed a prologue for the performance of Cesti's opera La Dori at Rome; and we may conclude that he spent a considerable time at Rome about this period, since his cantatas and other compositions contain frequent allusions to Rome and noble Roman families. There is, however, no proof that he ever performed the oratorio S. Giovanni Battista in the Lateran. Documents in the archives at Turin relate that in 1677 he arrived there with the mistress of Alvise Contarini, with whom he had eloped from Venice. Contarini demanded that both should be given up to him, or failing that, that Stradella should not be allowed to exercise his profession until the lady had been either placed in a convent or made his legitimate wife. Stradella was protected by the regent of Savoy, the duchess Giovanni Battista de Nemours, and the Contarini family, indignant at his audacity, sent two hired assassins to Turin, by whom Stradella was wounded but not murdered. We hear of Stradella last at Genoa. An opera by him, La Forza dell' amor paterno, was given there in 1678, and his last composition, Il Barcheggio (a "Water-Music"), was performed on the 16th of June 1681 in honor of the marriage of Carlo Spinola and Paola Brignole, which was solemnized on the 6th of July of the same year. Documents in the archives at Modena inform us that in February 1682 Stradella was murdered at Genoa by three brothers of the name of Lomellini, whose sister he had seduced.
It is extremely improbable that Stradella had any great reputation as a singer, since the great Italian singers of the 17th century were almost exclusively castrati; but he may well have been a teacher of singing, and he appears to have instructed his lady pupils in Genoa on the harpsichord. He is principally important as a composer of operas and chamber-cantatas, although compared with his contemporaries his output was small. In spite of his dissolute life his command of the technique of composition was remarkable, and his gift of melodic invention almost equal to that of Alessandro Scarlatti, who in his early years was much influenced by Stradella. His best operas are Il Floridoro, also known as Il Moro per amore, and Il Trespolo tutore, a comic opera in three acts which worthily carried on the best traditions of Florentine and Roman comic opera in the 17th century. His church music, on which his reputation has generally been based, is of less importance, though the well-known oratorio S. Giovanni Battista displays the same skill in construction and orchestration (so far as the limited means at his disposal permitted) as the operas. A serenata for voices and two orchestras, Qual prodigo ch'io, miri, was used by Handel as the basis of several numbers in Israel in Egypt, and was printed by Chrysander (Leipzig, 1888); the manuscript, however, formerly in the possession of Victor Schoelcher, from which Chrysander made his copy, has entirely disappeared. The well-known aria Pietŕ, signore, also sung to the words Se i miei sospiri, cannot possibly be a work of Stradella, and there is every reason to suppose that it was composed by Fétis, Niedermeyer or Rossini.
The finest collection of Stradella's works extant is that at the Biblioteca Estense at Modena, which contains 148 manuscripts, including four operas, six oratorios and several other compositions of a semidramatic character. A collection of cantate a voce sola was bequeathed by the Contarini family to the library of St. Mark at Venice; and some manuscripts are also preserved at Naples and in Paris. Eight madrigals, three duets, and a sonata for two violins and bass will be found among the Additional MSS. at the British Museum, five pieces among the Harleian MSS., and eight cantatas and a motet among those in the library at Christ Church, Oxford. The Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge possesses a large number of his chamber-cantatas and duets.
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