Born: Oct 1, 1644 in Nepi, Italy
Dead: Feb 25, 1682 in Genoa, Italy
Genre: Chamber Music, Vocal Music
One of the earlier members of that elite caste of composers who lived only into their mid-thirties (one thinks, of course, of Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn), Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Stradella is considered one of the most versatile and influential musical figures of the mid-seventeenth century. Born in Rome in 1644, Stradella first appears in the historical record eleven years later when his name is among the singers listed at St. Marcello del Crocifisso Cathedral. In 1658 he became a singer at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden (stationed in Rome), who, by 1663, was sufficiently impressed with Stradella's musical skills to begin commissioning compositions from him (beginning with the motet Chare Jesu suavissime). Soon other Roman notables followed suit, and Stradella produced an assortment of motets, prologues and intermezzi (to be performed between the acts of other composers' operas) throughout the 1660s.
In 1669 Stradella joined the abbot Antonio Sforza and violinist Ambrogio Lonati in an unsuccessful plot to embezzle funds from the Roman Catholic Church. Stradella managed to escape imprisonment but found it advisable to flee Rome until the entire affair had been buried by the Church. By 1670 he was back in the city writing musical prologues and intermezzi for the Tordinona public theater in Rome. After 1675 (a Holy Year during which all public theater productions were forbidden) Stradella redirected his energies to sacred composition (mostly large religious-dramatic oratorios) and instrumental composition.
By 1677 Stradella had once again earned the disfavor of the Roman Church, and was forced to flee the city. Invited to the city of Venice to provide a musical education for the wealthy Alvise Contarini's mistress, Stradella instead charmed and absconded with the mistress, and a price was put on his head by the very powerful Contarini family. After an attempt on his life in October of 1677 Stradella traveled to Genoa, where a number of his operas and sacred oratorios were subsequently performed. A scandalous love affair with a Genoese noblewoman earned Stradella the wrath of the Lomellini family, and in 1681 the composer was killed by a Lomellini agent.
Stradella seems to have had plenty of money (he certainly never relied on musical commissions to survive), and it is very likely that he was born into the aristocracy. His substantial output includes 27 surviving purely instrumental works - virtually all in sonata da chiesa design, and likely a great influence on the young Arcangelo Corelli, whom we know to have had a familiarity with Stradella's music. Stradella's vocal compositions show a great musical and textual diversity. The opera Il Trespolo tutore, containing as it does an important, humorous bass character, is one of the earliest examples of opera buffa. While his operas all employ a relatively small orchestra (two violins and continuo), Stradella experimented with more sizeable instrumental ensembles in his cantatas and oratorios, many of which feature the kind of concerto grosso string division (i.e. concertino and tutti groups); this would soon become a prominent feature in Italian Baroque composition.
- Blair Johnston (All Music Guide)