Giovanni Legrenzi

Last updated
Anonymous 18th century portrait of Giovanni Legrenzi, Civico museo bibliografico musicale, Bologna Legrenzi.jpg
Anonymous 18th century portrait of Giovanni Legrenzi, Civico museo bibliografico musicale, Bologna

Giovanni Legrenzi (baptized August 12, 1626 – May 27, 1690) was an Italian composer of opera, vocal and instrumental music, and organist, of the Baroque era. He was one of the most prominent composers in Venice in the late 17th century, and extremely influential in the development of late Baroque idioms across northern Italy.



Legrenzi was born at Clusone, near Bergamo, then part of the Republic of Venice. His father, Giovanni Maria Legrenzi, was a professional violinist and, to some extent, a composer. We know Legrenzi had two brothers and two sisters, though one of the brothers, Marco, apparently a talented musician who performed with his father and brother in the 1660s, is not mentioned in Legrenzi's will: it is presumed that he died young. His remaining brother and sisters are both mentioned in his will. Legrenzi was probably taught largely at home, and his performance skills developed at the local church, and it can also be assumed there was music-making in the house.

Legrenzi received his first appointment in Bergamo, as Organist at Santa Maria Maggiore, a magnificent church with a celebrated musical history. Following ordination as a priest in 1651, he was appointed as a resident chaplain at the church, though he continued to be actively involved in the music, and was given the title of First Organist in 1653, at about the time Maurizio Cazzati was appointed maestro di cappella. Legrenzi's first publication, music for Mass and Vespers, appeared in 1654. His appointment as organist was not reconfirmed at the end of the year owing to his apparent involvement in a minor gambling scandal, though he was reinstated by mid-February 1655.

Legrenzi resigned from his position at Bergamo towards the end of 1655, and in 1656 became maestro di cappella at the Academy of the Holy Spirit in Ferrara. The Academy was not a learned society, but a fraternity of laymen which presented predominantly liturgical services with music. It had a small but very good musical establishment with an impressive tradition, and effectively addressed the needs of the whole aristocratic community of Ferrara, with whom Legrenzi cemented relationships that, like those he had already established in Bergamo, would serve him well throughout his life. The position at the Academy of the Holy Spirit would have left Legrenzi with ample time for other pursuits. By the early 1660s he had already published eight volumes, and had broken into the elite world of opera, gaining his first performances in Venice in 1664.

We know little of certainty about Legrenzi's activities between approximately 1665 and 1670, a situation considerably exacerbated by the destruction of local records during World War II. He ended his association with the Academy of the Holy Spirit at some point, and does not appear to have had a permanent position of any sort for several years, though it is unlikely that he was in financial difficulty. He had land at Clusone and the proceeds from his publications, several of which had already gone into second editions, as well as performance fees. He also published his largest volume, the huge collection for double choir, during this period.

Legrenzi seems to have been well settled in Venice by 1670. He took a position as a music teacher at Santa Maria dei Derelitti (commonly called the Ospedaletto), remaining until 1676, and was busy with further publications, musical commissions, especially oratorios, occasional performances, and more.

In 1676 he was a finalist for appointment as maestro at San Marco in succession to Francesco Cavalli, losing by a single vote to Natale Monferrato. Later in the year he became maestro di coro of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, where he remained until 1682 when he succeeded Antonio Sartorio as vice-maestro at San Marco. He was by this time (along with Carlo Pallavicino) the leading opera composer of his day, with ten commissions in the five years to 1685.

Legrenzi succeeded Monferrato as maestro di cappella at San Marco in April 1685. He was by this time probably in failing health, and the last few years of his life were clouded by sickness. He took little part in the services at San Marco from the later part of 1687, where performances were increasingly in the hands of his vice-maestro, Gian Domenico Partenio. Legrenzi's death on 27 May 1690 from the "mal di petra" (a colic-related illness, probably kidney stones) was accompanied by excruciating pain.

Legrenzi's legacy lived on for some years after his death. His great-nephew Giovanni Varischino inherited his music and books, and produced four posthumous publications.


Legrenzi was active in most of the genres current in northern Italy in the late 17th century, including sacred vocal music, opera, oratorio, and varieties of instrumental music. Though best known as a composer of instrumental sonatas, he was predominantly a composer of liturgical music with a distinctly dramatic character. The bulk of his instrumental music may also be included in this category, since it would have been used primarily as a substitute for liturgical items at Mass or Vespers.

Legrenzi composed nineteen operas from 1662–1685, of which the most successful were Achille in Sciro (1664), La divisione del mondo , I due cesari (1683), Il Giustino (1683), and Publio Elio Pertinace (1684). [1] His operas were immensely popular (and extravagantly presented) in their day, though, like his oratorios, few have survived. His later dance music was certainly connected with the operatic repertoire, though the function of an early collection (Op. 4, which is musicologically famous for its inclusion of six pieces designated sonate da camera) is less clear.

Legrenzi's music is steadily gaining interest as scores and transcriptions become more widely available. Early music groups are increasingly including the instrumental sonatas and selections of the devotional and liturgical music in concerts. There have been significant revivals of some of the surviving operas. Editions of La divisione del mondo and Il Giustino by the German conductor Thomas Hengelbrock have had performances at the Schwetzingen Festival, the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music and the Echternach Music Festival, and there was a major revival of La divisione del mondo in a co-production between the Opéra national du Rhin and Opéra national de Lorraine in February/March 2019. [2]

Students of Legrenzei include Antonio Lotti, Francesco Gasparini, Giovanni Varischino, Tomaso Albinoni, and Giovanni Sebenico.

Published works

  1. Concerti Musicali per uso di Chiesa. Op. 1 (Venice, Alessandro Vincenti, 1654)
  2. Sonata a due, e tre. Op. 2 (Venice, Francesco Magni, 1655)
  3. Harmonia d'affetti Devoti a due, tre, e quatro, voci. Op. 3 (Venice, Alessandro Vincenti, 1655)
  4. Sonate dà Chiesa, e dà Camera, Correnti, Balletti, Alemane, Sarabande a tre, doi violini, e violone. Libro Secondo. Op. 4 (Venice, Francesco Magni, 1656)
  5. Salmi a cinque, tre voci, e due violini. Op. 5 (Venice, Francesco Magni, 1657)
  6. Sentimenti Devoti Espressi con le musica di due, e tre voci. Libro Secondo. Op. 6 (Venice, Francesco Magni detto Gardano, 1660). A second edition was published in Antwerp in 1665.
  7. Compiete con le Lettanie & Antifone Della B.V. a 5. voci. Op. 7 (Venice, Francesco Magni detto Gardano, 1662)
  8. Sonate a due, tre, cinque, a sei stromenti. Libro 3. Op. 8 (Venice, Francesco Magni, 1663)
  9. Sacri e Festivi Concerti. Messa e Salmi a due chori con stromenti a beneplacito. Op. 9 (Venice, Francesco Magni Gardano, 1667)
  10. Acclamationi Divote a voce sola. Libro Primo. Op. 10 (Bologna, Giacomo Monti, 1670)
  11. La Cetra. Libro Quarto di Sonate a due tre e quattro stromenti. Op. 10 (Venice, Francesco Magni Gardano, 1673, reprinted 1682)
  12. Cantate, e Canzonette a voce sola. Op. 12 (Bologna, Giacomo Monti, 1676)
  13. Idee Armoniche Estese per due e tre voci. Op. 13 (Venice, Francesco Magni detto Gardano, 1678)
  14. Echi di Riverenza di Cantate, e Canzoni. Libro Secondo. Op. 14 (Bologna, Giacomo Monti, 1678)
  15. Sacri Musicali Concerti a due, e tre voci. Libro Terzo. Op. 15 (Venice, Gioseppe Sala, 1689)
  16. Balletti e Correnti a cinque stromenti, con il basso continuo per il cembalo. Libro Quinto Postumo. Op. 16 (Venice, Gioseppe Sala, 1691)
  17. Motetti Sacri a voce sola con tre strumenti. Op. 17 (Venice, Gioseppe Sala, 1692)
  18. Sonate a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 e 7 istrumenti con tromba, o senza, overo flauto Op. 18 (Venice, Gioseppe Sala, 1693) (no copy survives)
  19. Voci geniali, raccolte in duetti e terzetti Op. 19 (Venice, Gioseppe Sala, 1698) (no copy survives)

Note: Two collections were published as opus 10, Acclamationi Divote (1670) and La Cetra (1673). The printing of La Cetra as Opus 10 appears to be an error on the part of the Venetian publisher, who was presumably unaware of the collection published in Bologna in 1670: the correct numbering of the publications resumed with Opus 12.

Unpublished works

A number of works survive in manuscript copies only. Most can be ascribed confidently to Legrenzi, though there are a few of less certain attribution. Among the most important of these works are:

There are in addition a few more liturgical pieces, a number of cantatas and the unusual 'serenata' Notte, madri d'horrori.


  1. Nino, il giusto (1662)
  2. Achille in Sciro (1663)
  3. Zenobia e Radamisto † (1665)
  4. Tiridate (1668)
  5. Eteocle e Polinice † (1674)
  6. La divisione del mondo † (1675)
  7. Adone in Cipro ‡ (1676)
  8. Germanico sul Reno † (1676)
  9. Totila † (1677)
  10. Antioco il grande ‡ (1681)
  11. Creso ‡ (1681)
  12. Pausania (1681)
  13. Lisimaco riamato da Alessandro ‡ (1682)
  14. Ottaviano Cesare Agusto (1682)
  15. I due cesari ‡ (1683)
  16. Il Giustino † (1683)
  17. L'anarchia dell'imperio ‡ (1683)
  18. Publio Elio Pertinace ‡ (1684)
  19. Ifianassa e Melampo (1685)

† Surviving scores.
‡ Arias from these operas survive in one or more sources.


† Surviving scores.
‡ Whether or not La vendita del cuor humano is in fact a Legrenzi work or Pietro Andrea Ziani's Il cuore humano all'incanto remains to be demonstrated.

Related Research Articles

Francesco Maria Veracini 18th-century Italian composer

Francesco Maria Veracini was an Italian composer and violinist, perhaps best known for his sets of violin sonatas. As a composer, according to Manfred Bukofzer, "His individual, if not subjective, style has no precedent in baroque music and clearly heralds the end of the entire era", while Luigi Torchi maintained that "he rescued the imperiled music of the eighteenth century", His contemporary, Charles Burney, held that "he had certainly a great share of whim and caprice, but he built his freaks on a good foundation, being an excellent contrapuntist". The asteroid 10875 Veracini was named after him.

Giacomo Antonio Perti Italian composer

Giacomo Antonio Perti was an Italian composer of the Baroque era. He was mainly active at Bologna, where he was Maestro di Cappella for sixty years. He was the teacher of Giuseppe Torelli and Giovanni Battista Martini.

Antonio Caldara Italian composer

Antonio Caldara was an Italian Baroque composer.

This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1733.

This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1732.

Francesco Antonio Bonporti Italian composer

Francesco Antonio Bonporti was an Italian priest and amateur composer.

Tarquinio Merula Italian composer

Tarquinio Merula was an Italian composer, organist, and violinist of the early Baroque era. Although mainly active in Cremona, stylistically he was a member of the Venetian school. He was one of the most progressive Italian composers of the early 17th century, especially in applying newly developed techniques to sacred music.

The year 1681 in music involved some significant events.

Giovanni Maria Bononcini was an Italian violinist and composer, the father of a musical dynasty.


Cetra, a Latin word borrowed from Greek, is an Italian descendant of κιθάρα (cithara). It is a synonym for the cittern but has been used for the citole and cithara and cythara.

The year 1626 in music involved some significant events.

The year 1619 in music involved some significant events.

The year 1614 in music involved some significant musical events.

The year 1617 in music involved some significant events.

Giovanni Battista Vitali was an Italian composer and violone player.

Giovanni Battista Bassani was an Italian composer, violinist, and organist.

Count Pirro Capacelli Albergati was an Italian aristocrat, and amateur composer.

Giovanni Paolo Caprioli was an Italian priest, abbate in Candiana, and composer. Caprioli-Capriolo Giovanni Paolo. Born in Brescia in 1571 ca. and here he died in the convent of St. John the Evangelist during the plague in January 1630. The noble family from Brescia Caprioli is attested in documents citizens since the eleventh century. Gentlemen from the time of Henry III of the lands of Capriolo (BS), moved into town in the early fourteenth century living in different buildings but particularly in the palace Caprioli Via Elia Capriolo. The family was the birthplace of two important musicians: Alfonso Antonio Caprioli and John Paul that in 1587 he entered the convent of Scandiano (PD) belongs to the Congregation of the Rhenish Lateran Canons of SS. Savior of Bologna. In this religious order the severity and austerity of monastic life married with a keen sensitivity to the artistic decoration of the churches and a special interest in a cultural qualification through the study. Figures of great composers and organists will require a bit 'anywhere in the various convents of the Congregation, especially in Bologna, Mantua, Venice and Brescia, where, in the rectory of St. John is the strong influence of traditional instrumental and vocal production environment Brescia Renaissance and Baroque. Among the major players operating in the convent Brescia remember Floriano Channels, Angelo Maria from Peschiera, Leone from Bologna, Dionysius from Fano, Peter Knights, Giovanni Artusi, Pietro Andrea Ziani, Carlo Maffei and not least John Paul Caprioli which we can thank the studies of Oscar Mischiati retrace his monastic pilgrimage:



King's Music (now distributed through The Early Music Company [4] ) produces good quality photocopies of the complete collections Sonate a due, tre, cinque, a sei stromenti (Op. 8, 1663), Idee Armoniche Estese (Op. 13, 1678) and Balletti e Correnti (Op. 16, 1691).


Prima la musica! produce Urtext performing editions of chamber and sacred music from several of Legrenzi's printed collections.

King's Music (see "Facsimiles" above) produces facsimile or Urtext performing editions of a number of individual works.


Major recordings dedicated to Legrenzi include:

Approximately 40 other recordings are available featuring one or more Legrenzi works. By far the most frequently recorded item is Che fiero costume from the opera Eteocle e Polinice (in a 1680 revival, having originally appeared in 1678 in Echi di Riverenza Op. 14), made famous by opera singers including bass Ezio Pinza and tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Sonatas from all of the four volumes in this form are generously represented, with a complete recording of Op. 2 (1655) and most sonatas from the other volumes also available. The sonata for 4 violins from La Cetra, Op. 11/13, and the two unusual sonatas for 4 viola gamba, Op. 11/17 and Op. 11/18, appear on a number of recordings in various transpositions. Most other genres remain under-represented, notably including the surviving operas.


  1. William Smyth Rockstro (1886). A general history of music from the infancy of the Greek drama to the present period. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. p. 117.
  2. "Les Talens Lyriques Season Brochure 2019–2020"
  3. Robert Kendrick, Singing Jeremiah: Music and Meaning in Holy Week, Indiana University Press, 2014, pp.135, 282
  4. Andrew Green, "King's Music bankrupted in fraud case" in Early Music Today, October/November 2009, p.4