Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Francesco Cavalli (1602 – 1676)



His Times: One of the most notable students of the famous Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli found himself pumping out operas in 17th century Venice, responding to the rising popularity of the genre (thanks largely to Monteverdi himself) and the appearance of more and more public opera houses. In Venice, opera had started to become a lot more accessible to the masses; in fact it was the growing demand for commercial opera that Cavalli was very successful in catering to, and usually had a bit of an outrageous sense of humour running throughout his works. This was the start of a transformation that took opera from aristocratic courts to the public sphere, that people of all social standings and backgrounds could enjoy.


His Music: Cavalli’s music was heavily influenced by Monteverdi. He worked to cement the style Monteverdi loved, using a single clear melodic line accompanied by simple chords to effectively convey the text that was being sung, but he also introduced the use of arias – songs with very melodious lines and more extravagant accompaniment – for dramatic effect and to convey material that was more emotional rather than plot-driving. As well as his 41 operas, Cavalli also wrote sacred music, including his own version of the Magnificat, and a Requiem Mass (possibly intended for his own funeral).


Himself: From Lombardy in Italy, his real name was actually Pietro Francesco Caletti, however he was so honoured by his early patron Federico Cavalli that it seems he was inspired to take his name. He spent much of his life in Venice, becoming a soprano at St Mark’s Basilica when he was roughly 14 years old, where he began to be tutored by Monteverdi. Cavalli’s lifelong association with St Mark’s also saw him in the role of second and first organist, but he made his real living as a regular composer of opera for the Teatro San Cassiano, the first ever public opera house.


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