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Lesser-Known Composer of the Month: Nicola Porpora

Each month the Allen Music Library highlights an oft-forgotten composer (from the slightly off mainstream to the obscure) represented in our collections, along with short profiles of lesser-known performers, musical scholars, or other musicians.

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Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)

Wait, Who?

Porpora was a Neapolitan composer, primarily of vocal music, and singing teacher.  As a composer his career was partly shaped first by the dominance of Alessandro Scarlatti and later by rivalries with Leonardo Vinci, Handel, and Johann Adolph Hasse.

His first commissioned opera was written in 1708, but much of his early career was in service as maestro di cappella first to a German prince in Manuta and then a Portuguese ambassador in Rome.  In 1715 he was appointed as a singing teacher at the Conservatorio di Sant'Onofrio in Naples.

Over the next several decades Porpora traveled extensively, spending time in Rome, Venice (where at various times he held positions at two of the ospedali), Germany, and Austria.  In 1733 he was invited to London by the Opera Company of the Nobility, set up to rival Handel's company.

Porpora spent several years in Dresden, but Hasse's presence there complicated matters and in 1752 he was pensioned off.  He thereafter renewed an old friendship with the librettist Pietro Metastasio in Vienna, with whom he had once fueded, and while there had a young Joseph Haydn as valet, accompanist, and pupil.

As a singing teacher Porpora had numerous notable pupils, including Marianne Martinez and Princess Maria Antonia Walpurgis (both also composers themselves) and the celebrated castrati Farinelli and Caffarelli.

The last years of his retirement were spent in impoverished circumstances.

Brief Bibliography

In the Library

Works in Brief

Porpora wrote over 40 operas, but also made a name for himself with numerous solo catatas for voice and continuo.  He also wrote a considerable body of sacred music as part of his duties in various posts, mostly in Venice.

Instrumental music was a much smaller part of his output, but he did publish three sets of chamber music.  He also wrote a small amount of keyboard music, concertos for flute and cello, and a cello sonata.

Associate Music Cataloger

Keith Knop

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