Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781)

Composer

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His Times Mysliveček followed the standard 18th-century route into composing, starting in the church and ending in the theatre. This was a time when composers were itinerant and needed aristocratic patronage: Mysliveček got support from Count Vincenz von Waldstein and traveled to Rome in 1763 to learn his operatic craft with his schooling as a church violinist (and his previous life as an apprentice miller) behind him. He rode the crest of the Italian’s hunger for serious operas, winning his first success with ‘Il Bellerofonte’ (1767) in Naples and scoring numerous hits before two failures at the Carnaval of 1780 signaled his decline; welcome to the harsh world of Italian entertainment in the late 1700s.

His Music Mysliveček’s music is Italian in style and design. He wasn’t an innovator, but instead perfected existing operatic traditions – responding with a keen ear to the reforms that called for simpler tunes and accompaniments (even though complexity and brilliance in those areas had been one of his hallmarks). He wrote ear-catching oratorios and simply symphonies. In all his music there are unusually fresh melodies and interesting harmonic touches.

Himself So rich and full of intrigue was Mysliveček’s life that it was itself the subject of an opera in 1912, Stanlisav Suda’s Il divine buemo. Unfortunately Suda had to speculate as to the facts. Mysliveček was a ‘country boy made good’ with no musical experience from his miller father. He struck up a close (but doomed) friendship with Mozart, letters from whom describe Mysliveček as ‘full of fire, spirit and life’ and hint at his sexual promiscuity; he was linked romantically with numerous sopranos including Caterina Gabrielli. Like Mozart, Mysliveček died in poverty in 1781. His funeral was paid for by a mysterious Englishman known only as ‘Barry’.

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