History of 18th Century Naples.
The Neapolitian School
The so-called “Neapolitan School” arose to it’s full flourishing in the period between 1720-1750. In these years four conservatories were founded in Naples, and they became the reference point for musical studies at the European level. Those conservatories attracted a large number of students from all over Italy and Europe.
The most outstanding Neapolitan composers , (Durante, Leonardo Vinci, Leonardo Leo) were teachers at those institutions.
The first half oh the 18th century is thereby not only characterized by Neapolitan supremacy in the educational domain, but also in the operatic one as well. Opera had been introduced in Naples in the second half of the 17th century. Initially possessing the same features of the Venetian style. Within a few years, the genre developed it’s own characteristic exemplified by such composers as Legrenzi, Sartorio, Bononcini, Perti and Pasquini. The most outstanding composer in this phase of the evolution of Neapolitan opera was Allesandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) who could carry out a synthesis among the diverse stylistic tendencies, which made opera different in Venice and Naples. Therefore, Scarlatti stood as a reference in the definition of the Neapolitan opera seria.
Although it was opera that was the most distinctive characteristic of Neapolitan musical production of the first half of the 18th century, also significant is the contribution of “Neapolitan School” composers to sacred music.
Historical & Political Background
“Certainly one of the richest landscapes in the world.”-John Evelyn
At the time of Milton it was said:
“There spring is everlasting; a piece of the sky fallen to the earth; blessed Campania
the most beautiful shore not only of Italy but all the globe of Earth.”
In 1503 Naples comes under the rule of Ferdinand II (“The Catholic”) of Aragon. Every few years until 1707 a new Viceroy arrived from Spain to govern the city-when he left, he was sure to be laden with Neapolitan treasures-paintings, sculpture, furniture, etc. This was obviously much to the people’s displeasure, as was made clear in their attempted revolt of 1647.
The year 1656 was particularly disastrous-as a plague in Naples reduced the population from 360,000 to 160,000. Only slowly did the city recuperate, the population. numbering 185,000 in 1688 and 300,000 in 1742.
1659-City devastated by earthquake.
1665-Philip IV of Spain dies, Charles II, the last of the Hapsburgs to rule Spain, ascends the Spanish throne.
1670-Famine-at which time the French attack.
It is of no wonder that the Neapolitan people refused to raise the 300,000ducats that Charles expected in 1675 as a wedding present .
1690’s-brought plague, earthquake, Vesuvius erupted and the French attempted further attack.
1700-Charles II dies, leaving the Spanish throne to the Bourbon King Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV of France.
The Neapolitans, made desperate by two centuries of suffering under the Spanish, looked to the Bourbon’s enemy-the Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI-as their savior. Their efforts to effect a change failed. In 1702, another new Spanish Viceroy arrived in Naples.
Philip V arrived in Naples (Apr. 16-June 2, 1702). He brought some relief-reduced tax on grain and flour, and cancelled the University’s overdue taxes (2 million ducats). Demonstrations in Naples were openly pro-Austrian. Austria invaded, and entered Naples on July 7, 1707 without bloodshed.
The Neapolitan’s first joys quickly turned to bitter disappointment as they realized that their new King (Charles VI) did not plan to give them independence. Libraries were soon sacked and the university was abandoned for some time. Riots broke out in 1723 due to harsh Austrian treatment.
Philip V of Spain marries Isabella Farnese in 1714. Their son, Charles (Don Carlos), crossed the Pyrenees at age 15, arriving with a combined English-Spanish-Tuscan navy in Livorno in 1732. Battles ensued and the fortress of Sant’ Elmo fell-others followed.
May 10th, 1732, -Naples was ready to receive Charles Bourbon-populace of Naples hoped for a better future.
May 15th, 1734-Philip V renounced all his rights to Naples in favor of his son.
July 3rd-Charles officially crowned King of the Two Sicilies-Naples finally became autonomous. Charles makes various reforms, most notably regarding finance, which had been disastrous under the Austrians.
1738- Charles marries Maria Amalia of Saxony. 1740- a daughter is born to them.Charles IV also dies in 1740, War of the Austrian Succession breaks out. Naples tries to stay neutral, but is forced to send troops to help Spain (Battle of Velletri).
1746- Philip V dies-Ferdinand VI succeeds to the Spanish throne.
In the complex game of European struggle for power, Naples clearly played a major role. The hardships caused by famine, poverty, drought, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were sufficient to make life miserable. These conditions were compounded by the humiliation of living under foreign rulers. However, some aspects of life in Naples remained constant-one of them was music. Music was often produced as a direct response to political or natural events. Some of these musical occasions were intended only for the nobility; at others, the nobility and lower classes could have attended together; still other musical occasions were principally for the populace. The musical style developed from the music written and performed in the years 1680-1740 for Neapolitans and their foreign “guests”.