Albinoni, Tomaso

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Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1751): Italian Composer

Tomaso Albinoni was an Italian Baroque composer who attained fame for his operas, of which he wrote some fifty during his career. Albinoni was, along with Vivaldi, Antonio and Corelli, one of the most popular composers of his day. His work fits neatly into the Baroque style, capturing a soaring celestial spirit as it moves from earthbound serenity to grandiose heights. Further, Albinoni’s career output both coincides with and drives the rise of opera, the sonata and the concerto as important cultural forms of the 18th-Century. Today he is remembered mainly for his instrumentals, versions of which are still recorded.

Albinoni was born in Venice on 8 June 1671, the eldest son of a wealthy paper merchant. His family’s wealth freed him from dependence on the customary 18th-century systems of musical patronage: the Church and the courts of nobility. He referred to himself as “Dilettante Veneto,” or “dedicated amateur,” one who composes for pleasure rather than profit. Initially trained as a singer and a violinist, he refused to join the performers’ guild, and this meant he was not allowed to sing or play publicly. So early on, he channeled his efforts towards composing. His first opera, Zenobia, regina de Palmireni, was performed in Venice in 1694, and that same year saw the publication of his first collection of instrumental music, Opus 1, 12 Sonate a tre. In the coming years, his operas, sonatas, and concertos would be in great demand.

After the death of his wife in 1721, Albinoni suffered waning popularity and rising physical problems. His subsequent withdrawal from public life was so complete that in 1740, eleven years before his death, a “posthumous” collection of his violin concertos was published in France. He died in obscurity on 17 January 1751.

Though some musical historians number Albinoni’s compositions at around 300 total works, the vast majority of that output is lost. The largest collection of the composer’s work was destroyed in the burning of the Saxon State Library at Dresden during the Allied fire bombings of that city in World War II.

By far, the most popular and recognized work attributed to Albinoni is the Adagio in G Minor, which has been heard in more than a dozen films, including Rollerball (1975), Gallipoli, Dragonslayer, Phantom of the Opera (1989) and The Doors; and on numerous television shows, such as Space 1999, The Sopranos and Malcolm in the Middle. It has also been interpreted by countless musicians throughout the world, among them The Doors, Yngwie Malmsteen, Sarah Brightman and others.

Ironically, “Albinoni’s Adagio,” as it is often called, was in fact composed by the Italian Remo Gaziotto and published in 1958. At first, he claimed to have discovered, among the ruins of post-war Dresden, a fragment of the Sonata in G Minor by Albinoni and to have based his “arrangement” of the Adagio on that piece. It was later proven, however, that the composition was written entirely by Giazotto himself.

Further reading:

Michael Talbot, Tomaso Albinoni: The Venitian composer and his world, 1990.

Ian Fenlon; Tim Carter, Con che soavità : studies in Italian opera, song, and dance, 1580-1740, 1995.

Glenn Jellenik

University of South Carolina