July 31 composer birthday: Benedetto Marcello

July 31 composer birthday: Benedetto Marcello featured image

Venice, around the time Marcello was active

I wish there was more documentation about Benedetto Marcello – I have a feeling he lead a more colourful and interesting life than is already known. Born into a noble family, he was an Italian composer, writer, advocate, magistrate, and teacher. Yet again, another composer destined for a career in law (as far as his father was concerned) and like many folks I’ve written about in my #MusicTaughtMeEverything series, he become a lawyer while maintaining a career in music.

Marcello’s brother, Alessandro, was also a notable composer, who’d later have to deal with sister in-law. Benedetto married his voice student Rosanna Scalfi in a hush-hush ceremony. Why the secrecy? It was illegal for a nobleman to marry a commoner, and after Benedetto died, the marriage was declared null. Rosanna was not impressed and unable to inherit the estate, and sued Alessandro for support. Anyone know the outcome? This is what I want to know!

Back to the music. Marcello was known during his lifetime for his compositions, and is still best known for Estro poetico-armonico, based on the first fifty Psalms, and written in the early 1700’s for voices, figured bass (a continuous musical “bass line” made up of numbers indicating chords), and solo instruments. Many other of the chamber cantatas Marcello composed for his mistress (there was a mistress?) exist in the Brussels Conservatoire Library. His music was imaginative, revealing his technique and mastery of harmony. I wonder if he’d be better known if his dad allowed him to pursue music full-time.

Estro poetico-armonico is a gorgeous work, and the kind of music that makes choir members feel lucky to be singing.

Benedetto Marcello was born July 31 in Venice, Italy, and died July 24, 1739 in Brescia, Italy.


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