Agostino Steffani

Last updated
Agostino Steffani;
oil on canvas 89 x 69 cm by Gerhard Kappers (circa 1714) 1714 circa Gerhard Kappers, Agostino Steffani, oil on canvas, 89 x 69 cm.jpg
Agostino Steffani;
oil on canvas 89 x 69 cm by Gerhard Kappers (circa 1714)
An 1816 lithography of Agostino Steffani from an unknown original. Agostino Steffani.jpg
An 1816 lithography of Agostino Steffani from an unknown original.
Beginning from the autograph of the Duetto da camera Pria ch'io faccia by Agostino Steffani. Steffani-Duet.jpg
Beginning from the autograph of the Duetto da camera Pria ch'io faccia by Agostino Steffani.

Agostino Steffani (25 July 1654 [1]  12 February 1728 [2] ) was an Italian ecclesiastic, diplomat and composer.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Italian Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal climate. The country covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares open land borders with France, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Diplomat person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization

A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organizations. The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations. Seasoned diplomats of international repute are used in international organizations as well as multinational companies for their experience in management and negotiating skills. Diplomats are members of foreign services and diplomatic corps of various nations of the world.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.



Steffani was born at Castelfranco Veneto on 25 July 1654. At a very early age he was admitted as a chorister at San Marco, Venice. In 1667, the beauty of his voice attracted the attention of Count Georg Ignaz von Tattenbach, who took Steffani to Munich, where Steffani's education was completed at the expense of Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria, who appointed him Churfürstlicher Kammer- und Hofmusikus and granted him a liberal salary. After receiving instruction from Johann Kaspar Kerll, in whose charge he lived, Steffani was sent in 1673 to study in Rome, where Ercole Bernabei was his master, and among other works he composed six motets, the original manuscripts of which are now in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. [1]

Castelfranco Veneto Comune in Veneto, Italy

Castelfranco Veneto is a town and comune of Veneto, northern Italy, in the province of Treviso, 30 kilometres by rail from the town of Treviso. It is approximately 40 km (25 mi) inland from Venice.

San Marco One of the six sestieri of Venice, historical neighbourhood

San Marco is one of the six sestieri of Venice, lying in the heart of the city as the main place of Venice. San Marco also includes the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Although the district includes Saint Mark's Square, that was never administered as part of the sestiere.

Venice Comune in Veneto, Italy

Venice is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto region. It is situated on a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges. The islands are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave rivers. In 2018, 260,897 people resided in the Comune di Venezia, of whom around 55,000 live in the historical city of Venice. Together with Padua and Treviso, the city is included in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area (PATREVE), which is considered a statistical metropolitan area, with a total population of 2.6 million.

On his return to Munich with Bernabei in 1674, Steffani published his first work, Psalmodia vespertina, a part of which was reprinted in Giovanni Battista Martini's Saggio di contrappunto in 1774. In 1675, Steffani was appointed court organist.

Giovanni Battista Martini Italian composer

Giovanni Battista or Giambattista Martini, O.F.M. Conv., also known as Padre Martini, was an Italian Conventual Franciscan friar, who was a leading musician and composer of the period.

The date when he was ordained priest, with the title of Abbate of Lepsing, is not precisely known. His ecclesiastical status did not prevent him from turning his attention to the stage, for which, at different periods of his life, he composed work which undoubtedly exercised a potent influence upon the dramatic music of the period. Of his first opera, Marco Aurelio, written for the carnival and produced at Munich in 1681, the only copy known to exist is a manuscript score preserved in the royal library at Buckingham Palace. It was followed by Solone in 1685, by Audacia e rispetto, Prerogative d'amore, and Servio Tulio in 1686, by Alarico in 1687, and by Niobe, regina di Tebe in 1688. [1]

Buckingham Palace Official London residence and principal workplace of the British monarch

Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the centre of state occasions and royal hospitality. It has been a focal point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and mourning.

Niobe, regina di Tebe is an opera in three acts by Agostino Steffani, premiered at Salvatortheater, the Munich court theatre on 5 January 1688, during the carnival season. It is a tragedy focusing on the Ancient Greek character of Niobe. The libretto is by Luigi Orlandi, after Ovid's Metamorphoses. The score is in the National Library in Vienna. Excerpts have been published in Riemann Ausgewählte Werke iii. Long neglected, the opera was revived at Alice Tully Hall in New York City by the Clarion Music Society in 1977. More recently the work was mounted in Schwetzingen in 2008, in London in 2010, and in Boston in 2011.

Notwithstanding the favor shown to him by the Elector Maximilian Emanuel, Steffani accepted in 1688 the appointment of Kapellmeister at the court of Hanover, where he speedily improved an acquaintance dating from 1681 with Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (afterwards Elector of Hanover), winning also a pleasant footing with the Elector's daughter Sophia Charlotte (afterwards Electress of Brandenburg and Queen of Prussia), the philosopher Leibniz, the Abbate Ortensio Mauro, and many men of letters and intelligence, and where, in 1710, he showed great kindness to Handel, who was then just entering upon his glorious career. Steffani inaugurated a long series of triumphs in Hanover by composing, for the opening of the new opera house in 1689, an opera called Henrico Leone on Henry the Lion, which was produced with extraordinary splendour and achieved an immense reputation. For the same theatre he composed La Lotta d'Ercole con Achilleo in 1689, La Superbia d'Alessandro in 1690, Orlando generoso in 1691, Le Rivali concordi in 1692, La Liberia contenta in 1693, I trionfi del fato and I Baccanali in 1695, and Briseide (with Pietro Torri [3] ) in 1696. The libretto of Briseide is by Francesco Palmieri. [4] Those of most if not all the others are by the Abbate Mauro. [1]

Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria german noble, Elector of Bavaria (1662-1726)

Maximilian II, also known as Max Emanuel or Maximilian Emanuel, was a Wittelsbach ruler of Bavaria and a Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also the last governor of the Spanish Netherlands and duke of Luxembourg. An able soldier, his ambition led to conflicts that limited his ultimate dynastic achievements.

Kapellmeister is a German word designating a person in charge of music-making. The word is a compound, consisting of the roots Kapelle and Meister ("master"). The word was originally used to refer to somebody in charge of music in a chapel. However, the term has evolved considerably in its meaning in response to changes in the musical profession.

Hanover Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Hanover or Hannover is the capital and largest city of the German state of Lower Saxony. Its 535,061 (2017) inhabitants make it the thirteenth-largest city of Germany, as well as the third-largest city of Northern Germany after Hamburg and Bremen. The city lies at the confluence of the River Leine and its tributary Ihme, in the south of the North German Plain, and is the largest city of the Hannover–Braunschweig–Göttingen–Wolfsburg Metropolitan Region. It is the fifth-largest city in the Low German dialect area after Hamburg, Dortmund, Essen, and Bremen.

The scores are preserved at Buckingham Palace, where, in company with five volumes of songs and three of duets, they form part of the collection brought to England by the Elector of Hanover in 1714, when ascending as King George I of Great Britain. But it was not only as a musician that Steffani distinguished himself in his new home. The elevation of Ernest Augustus to the electorate in 1692 led to difficulties, for the arrangement of which it was necessary that an ambassador should visit the various German courts, armed with a considerable amount of diplomatic power. [1]

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

George I of Great Britain King of Great Britain, Elector of Hanover

George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) in the Holy Roman Empire from 23 January 1698 until his death in 1727.

The accomplished abbate was sent on this delicate mission in 1696, with the title of envoy extraordinary, and he fulfilled his difficult task so well that Pope Innocent XI, in recognition of certain privileges he had secured for the Hanoverian Catholics, consecrated him bishop of Spiga on the Sea of Marmora (modern day Biga in Turkey). [1] Between 1709 and 1723 Steffani served as Vicar Apostolic of Upper and Lower Saxony, a new Roman Catholic diaspora jurisdiction, embracing Upper and Lower Saxon territories.[ citation needed ]

In 1698, he was sent as ambassador to Brussels, and after the death of Ernest Augustus in the same year he entered the service of the Elector Palatine, John William, at Düsseldorf, where he held the offices of privy councillor and protonotary of the Holy See. Invested with these high honours, Steffani could scarcely continue to produce dramatic compositions in public without grievous breach of etiquette. But his genius was too importunate to submit to repression; and in 1709 he ingeniously avoided the difficulty by producing two new operas: Enea at Hanover and Tassilone at Düsseldorf in the name of his secretary and amanuensis Gregorio Piva, whose signature is attached to the scores preserved at Buckingham Palace. Another score, that of Arminio in the same collection, dated Düsseldorf, 1707, and evidently the work of Steffani, bears no composer's name. [2]

Steffani did not accompany the elector George to England; but in 1724 the Academy of Ancient Music in London elected him its honorary president for life; and in return for the compliment he sent the association a magnificent Stabat Mater, for six voices and orchestra, and three fine madrigals. The manuscripts of these are still in existence, and the British Museum possesses a very fine Confitebor, for three voices and orchestra, of about the same period. All these compositions are very much in advance of the age in which they were written; and in his operas Steffani shows an appreciation of the demands of the stage very remarkable indeed at a period at which the musical drama was gradually approaching the character of a merely formal concert, with scenery and dresses. But for the manuscripts at Buckingham Palace these operas would be utterly unknown; but Steffani will never cease to be remembered for his beautiful chamber duets, which, like those of his contemporary Carlo Maria Clari (1669–1745), are chiefly written in the form of cantatas for two voices, accompanied by a figured bass. The British Museum (Add. MSS. 5055 seq.) possesses more than a hundred of these charming compositions, some of which were published at Munich in 1679. Steffani visited Italy for the last time in 1727, in which year Handel, who always gratefully remembered the kindness he had received from him at Hanover, once more met him at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome. This was the last time the two composers were destined to meet. Steffani returned soon afterwards to Hanover, and died on 12 February 1728 while engaged in the transaction of some diplomatic business at Frankfurt. [2]

Steffani stands somewhat apart from contemporary Italian composers (e.g., Alessandro Scarlatti) in his mastery of instrumental forms. His opera overtures, etc., show a remarkable combination of Italian suavity with a logical conciseness of construction attributable to French influence.


Donna Leon's contemporary thriller novel, The Jewels of Paradise (October 2012), uses Steffani's life and works as a background. [5]

Related Research Articles

House of Wittelsbach German noble family

The House of Wittelsbach is a European royal family and a German dynasty from Bavaria.

Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria German nobleman and elector

Charles Theodore reigned as Prince-elector and Count Palatine from 1742, as Duke of Jülich and Berg from 1742 and also as prince-elector and Duke of Bavaria from 1777 to his death. He was a member of the House of Palatinate-Sulzbach, a branch of the House of Wittelsbach.

Johann Caspar Kerll German composer and organist

Johann Caspar Kerll was a German baroque composer and organist. He is also known as Kerl, Gherl, Giovanni Gasparo Cherll and Gaspard Kerle.

Johann Ernst Galliard German composer

Johann Ernst Galliard was a German composer.

The Choralis Constantinus is a collection of over 375 Gregorian chant-based polyphonic motets for the proper of the mass composed by Heinrich Isaac and his pupil Ludwig Senfl. The genesis of the collection is a commission by the cathedral of Constance for Isaac, at that time the official court composer for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, to compose a set of motets for the special holy days celebrated in the diocese of Constance. Isaac was in Constance at the time with the Imperial court as Maximilian had called a meeting of the German nobility (Reichstag) there. The music was delivered to the Constance cathedral in late 1508 and early 1509.

Franz Xaver Anton Murschhauser was a German composer and theorist.

Thomas Stoltzer, also Stolczer, Scholczer (c.1480–1526) was a German composer of the Renaissance.

Johannes Schenck was a Dutch musician and composer.

Anton Raaff German opera tenor

Anton Raaff was a German tenor from Gelsdorf near Bonn.

Ercole Bernabei Italian composer and organist

Ercole Bernabei was an Italian composer, chapel master and organist.

Hugo Kauder Austrian musician

Hugo Kauder was a mid-20th-century Austrian composer, pedagogue, and music theorist who was born in Tovačov, Moravia. He defied the atonal trend of his generation with his uniquely harmonic, contrapuntal style. His legacy of over 300 works, many yet to be published, is receiving renewed interest today.

Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst is a historical edition of music from Germany, covering the Baroque and Classical periods.

Pietro Torri was an Italian Baroque composer.

Johann Hugo von Wilderer was a German Baroque composer. He was born in Bavaria and died in Mannheim, where in his later years he served as the Kapellmeister of the court orchestra. His compositions include eleven operas, two oratorios, cantatas, and sacred works.

Georg Andreas Kraft was a German Baroque composer and musician. His surname is sometimes given as Krafft or Crafft, and his first name sometimes appears in its Italianized form Giorgio.

Ortensio Mauro Italian poet

(Bartolomeo) Ortensio Mauro was an Italian writer and librettist.

Symphonic Prelude (Bruckner)

The Symphonisches Präludium in C minor is an orchestral composition by Anton Bruckner or his entourage, composed in 1876. The work was discovered shortly after World War II. Heinrich Tschuppik, who found the orchestral score of the work in the estate of Bruckner's pupil Rudolf Krzyzanowski, attributed the authorship to Bruckner. Thirty years later, Mahler scholar Paul Banks, who knew only a four-stave reduction of the work, attributed the work to Mahler and requested its orchestration. While the exact circumstances of the composition of this Prelude have not been determined, it is certain to have been composed within the circle of Bruckner and his students at the Vienna Conservatory of Music. Based on the original orchestral score, it seems likely that the work was at least sketched by Bruckner, possibly as an exercise in orchestration for Krzyzanowski.

Francesco Palmieri was an Italian poet and musician.

Colin Ronald Timms is a musicologist and retired academic. He was Peyton and Barber Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham from 1992 until 2012, when he retired. After graduating from the University of Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts degree, he completed Master of Music and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at King's College London, the latter in 1977 for his thesis on the chamber duets of Agostino Steffani. He was a lecturer at Queen's University Belfast from 1970 to 1972, and the University of Birmingham from 1973. In 2004, the British Academy awarded him the Derek Allen Prize for Musicology.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Chisholm 1911, p. 869.
  2. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911, p. 870.
  3. Briseide : dramma per musica da recitarsi alla Carte Elettorale d'Hannover per il carnevale dell' anno 1696.
  4. Timms, Colin Ronald. The Chamber Duets of Agostino Steffani (1654-1728), with Transcriptions and Catalogue. Dissertation submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Music. University of London King's College, 1976, p. 49.
  5. "The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 24 June 2013.

External sources and further reading