A Venetian composer, born in 1671 and a contemporary and friend of Vivaldi. Highly prolific in his time, Abinoni wrote nearly 50 operas, most of which were performed during his lifetime, but his real ability lay in producing instrumental pieces. Much of his work is hardly ever performed or listened to today, but his concertos for oboe are still very much listened to. Perhaps his most famous piece is his Adagio in G Minor which was almost completely lost until a small fragment surfaced in the early 20th Century, from which the rest of the work was resurrected.

Albinoni's Adagio in G minor is always responsible for arousing strange mixed feelings in me. I think the fact that what we, as modern day listeners experience is not Albinoni’s own work, makes me feel betrayed, much as I did when I realised that my favourite movement of Mozart’s Requiem was not entirely his own work, but Süssmayer’s. But who was this man, whose posterity has been ensured by a work he merely penned the bass line and six bars of?

Tomaso Albinoni was born in June 1671 to wealthy paper merchant Giovanni Antonio and Lucrezia Albinoni. As he was their oldest child he was expected to take on the responsibilities of the family business, that of card and stationery making. However the Albinoni’s relative prosperity meant that Albinoni received a thorough artistic education, learning the violin, second voice and later composition and counterpoint. Giovanni probably realised that Albinoni’s passion lay in notes and not notepaper, and thus disinherited him from the business, leaving him to dedicate himself to music. However, Albinoni never joined the musician’s guild which would have ensured monetary recompense for his composing. The most valid reason for this, I feel, was Albinoni’s attitude towards music and composing – he was a self styled dilettante, a persona he could adapt as a consequence of his privileged background.

After dabbling in church music with little success, Albinoni first gained recognition for his opera Zenobia, regina de Palmireni, in 1694. Unlike most impecunious composers, Albinoni could indulge his taste for secular music, since he did not depend on the Church for patronage, and produced operas, cantatas, serenades as well as instrumental works such as sonatas, concertos. His vocal music was not known outside Italy, as it was circulated largely in manuscript, though his work was acclaimed in Venice where he lived for all his life. However, his instrumental works were published in Amsterdam and London, their dissemination contributing to his popularity in Northern Europe. He was highly prolific, though most of his works have not survived.

Key works:

Sources:

  • http://www.humanitiesweb.org (brilliant resource for everything!)
  • http://www.islandnet.com/~arton/bqxalb.html
  • http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/albinoni.html

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