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Who was Antonio Rosetti?


Antonio Rosetti (1750-1792)

Even during his lifetime Antonio (Anton) Rosetti was confused with other persons of a similar name (as in Ernst Ludwig Gerber: Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler, 1792). The information concerning his early biography found in almost all reference sources since the new edition of Gerber’s Lexikon (1813/14) are based on the article Noch etwas von Rosetti which appeared in 1792 in the Musikalischen Korrespondenz published by Heinrich Philipp Bossler. Although these assertions for the most part have not as yet been supported by archival evidence, they are still to be considered trustworthy since Bossler was in close personal contact with Rosetti. According to this source Rosetti was born in 1750 in Leitmeritz (Litoměříce, northern Bohemia) and came “in his seventh year to the Seminary in Prague” probably of the Jesuits, where he was given a comprehensive (also musical) education. “At the age of nineteen” he received “the Tonsure as a secular priest” before he decided to renounce the clerical life. There is likewise no evidence to support the often-cited claim that Rosetti was born Anton Rös(s)ler. In the above cited article it is emphasized that he was never called “Rössler, but from birth Rosetti.”

According to newly discovered sources, he served in the early 1770s as “composer of music for the Russian Orlow regiment,” that is “as musician to Count Orlow.” This probably refers to Count Aleksej Orlov (after 1770 Prince Česmenskij). Probably in September 1773 Rosetti was taken into the service of Count (and since March 1774 Prince) Kraft Ernst of Oettingen-Wallerstein (Ries/Bavaria). In November 1773 his name appears for the first time in the Wallerstein court documents, where he is listed among the servants. In July 1774 he appears in the court receipts as a contrabass player. Soon thereafter his first compositions for the court music as well as foreign customers appeared. In the spring of 1774 he undertook a three-week visit to the Ansbach court. A Requiem that he composed after the death of Kraft Ernst’s first wife, the Princess Maria Theresia (who died 9 March 1776), for the funeral rites on 26 March, subsequently received a wide circulation. On 28 January 1777 Rosetti married Rosina Neher (died 1 April 1813 in Ludwigslust), the daughter of a Wallerstein innkeeper. They had three daughters. Already by the end of the 1770s he had made a name as a composer even beyond the borders of south Germany. Beginning in 1776/77 the publishing house of Breitkopf in Leipzig advertised his music for sale in manuscript copies. The first printed edition of his works were three symphonies that were published in 1779 by Le Menu et Boyer in Paris. As early as 1781 his orchestral works were among the established repertory of the Paris Concert spirituel, for which ensemble he also composed a series of symphonies.

In late October 1781 Prince Kraft Ernst granted him permission to undertake a trip of several months to the French capital. He arrived there about the first of December. There he mingled with individuals influential in the musical life of Paris, among whom were the Prince Rohan-Guémenée and the Prince Bourbon-Conti, Charles Ernest de Bagge, Joseph Boulogne de Saint-Georges, and Joseph Legros. He also studied the concert and opera offerings and forged or renewed contacts with music publishers. In May 1782 Rosetti returned to Wallerstein. Many of his works composed since the beginning of the 1780s were published by well-known music publishers (André, Artaria, Bossler, Hummel, Sieber, etc.). In the spring of 1783 Rosetti again spent several weeks at the court of the Markgraf in Ansbach. In the winter of 1783/84 he undertook a longer journey together with the Wallerstein bassoonist Christoph Hoppius into the Rhein-Main area (Mainz, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, and Speyer). After the de­par­ture of Josef Reicha for the Bonn court of the Elector Maximilian Franz in April 1785, Kraft Ernst delegated to Rosetti the musical direction of the Wallerstein orchestra. His hopes of also being granted the position of Chorregent of the Wallerstein parish church remained unfulfilled. In February 1786 he traveled to Munich and in 1788 and 1789 on several occasions to Augsburg. After 1786 his symphonies appear regularly on the programs of the great London concert series (Salomon’s Concert, Professional Concert, etc.).

In spite of his international esteem, Rosetti continually encountered financial worries. In July 1789 he left Wallerstein, in order to undertake the much more lucrative position of Kapellmeister to the court of Duke Friedrich Franz I von Mecklenburg-Schwerin in Ludwigslust, as the successor to Carl August Westernholtz. Rosetti had his wife and children followed later – probably not until the end of 1790 or 1791. Unlike Wallerstein, the Ludwigslust Kapelle included a very capable vocal ensemble, for which in the last years of his life Rosetti created a series of magnificent works for chorus and orchestra. After the two oratorios Der sterbende Jesus (1785) and Jesus in Gethsemane (1790) had won great approval at the court of the Archbishop of Trier, Elector Clemens Wenzeslaus, he ordered from Rosetti in 1791 several new symphonies for his court orchestra. On 14 December 1791 the early Wallerstein Requiem of 1776 was performed at the Prague memorial ceremony for the dead W. A. Mozart by a large ensemble of musicians, including the soprano Josepha Duschek, who was a friend of Mozart. In February 1792 King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia summoned Rosetti to Berlin, where by the king’s order on 2 March 1792 a performance of the oratorio Jesus in Gethsemane and the Hallelujah cantata (1791) took place in the royal palace, to which the collected protestant ministers of Berlin were invited. In addition to the excellent personnel of the Hofkapelle (including 76 instrumentalists and 32 singers), the best singers of the Berlin Italian Opera took part as soloists. The publisher Bossler, who encountered Rosetti in Berlin, noted that he was seriously ill. The cause of his illness was a “bad cough” (Gerber 1813/14), from which Rosetti had already suffered for a long time. Only a few months later, on 30 June 1792, he died in Ludwigslust “from exhaustion” (documents of the parish church).

Rosetti left behind primarily instrumental music, but also a lot of sacred works and Lieder. Charles Burney considered him among the most important composers of the late eighteenth century and even held him in the same company with Haydn and Mozart. Also Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart dubbed him “one of the most beloved composers” of his time and stressed in particular the melodiousness of his music. He acknowledged in Rosetti’s works “grace and beauty” of an “infinite, delicate Nature.” (Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst. Wien 1806, p. 167 f.). The pithy, fresh melodic style that distinguishes much of his work harkens back unmistakably to its roots in Bohemian folk music. With his extremely elegant treatment of the Waldhorn, Rosetti contributed much to the development of a melodically expressive manner of composition for this instrument. Especially distinguishing his mature compositions are a rich sonorous and harmonic language full of expressivity, which in part looks ahead to the Romantic period, and an overall imaginative orchestration. Only few composers at that time knew how to write such colorful music for wind instruments as Rosetti. Even his contemporaries remarked: “and his writing for wind instruments, which he understands how to employ masterfully in orchestral music, is often heavenly beautiful.” Without question, Haydn represents an especially important influence on his instrumental music. From him, Rosetti may have learned his economical way of handling thematic material and his passion for experimenting with form. Based on Haydn’s model, he also sharpened and refined his sense for musical humor. Ludwig Finscher, who saw in him “one of the most important symphonist of the period,” characterized his symphonies as “for their time not only modern, but distinctly original works, with […] Minuets, which, as with Haydn, are inclined to resemble ‘character pieces’, an extraordinarily flexible blending of contrapuntal and homophonic concertante passages, and, above all, an inclination toward thematic economy almost to the point of monothematicsim, which is linked to a pronounced tendency for thematic development.” (Article “Symphonie” in 2MGG, Sachteil Bd. 9. Kassel 1998, colls. 41 f.)

Günther Grünsteudel (Translation: Sterling E. Murray)

(Source: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2. ed. Personenteil. Vol. 14. Kassel 2005, colls. 417-424)


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