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Francesco Maria Veracini

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Francesco Maria Veracini (1 February 1690 – 31 October 1768) 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" (Bukofzer 1947, 234), while Luigi Torchi maintained that "he rescued the imperiled music of the eighteenth century" (Torchi 1901, 180). 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" (Burney 1789, 4:569). The asteroid 10875 Veracini was named after him.
Francesco Maria Veracini was born at about 8:00 a.m. on 1 February 1690 in the family house on the via Palazzuolo, parish of San Salvatore, Ognissanti, Florence (Hill 1979, 7). The second and only surviving son of Agostino Veracini, a pharmacist and undertaker (and ironically one of the few Veracinis who was not a violinist, even as an amateur) he was taught the violin by his uncle, Antonio Veracini, with whom he later often appeared in concert, as well as by Giovanni Maria Casini and his assistant Francesco Feroci. His grandfather, Francesco (di Niccolò) Veracini, had been one of the first violinists of Florence, and ran a music school in the house until ill health forced him to turn the business over to his eldest son, Antonio, in 1708. In addition, the family managed a painting studio and possessed a large collection of art works, including four Ghirlandaios, a Rubens, a Caracci and a dozen other paintings by the three members of the family from two generations, including Francesco's third son, Benedetto (Hill 1979, 3–4; Hill 1990, 550; Hill 2001). The painter Niccolò Agostino Veracini was Francesco Maria's cousin (Hill 1979, 4). Veracini esteemed Carlo Ambrogio Lonati as a great violinist (Aficionado54 2010).
He is known to have been a soloist in Venice at the Christmas masses at San Marco, on 24 and 25 December 1711 (Hill 2001). On 1 February 1712 he performed a violin concerto of his own composition (the first recorded public performance by Veracini playing one of his own compositions), accompanied by trumpets, oboes, and strings as part of the celebrations in honour of the Austrian ambassador to Venice of the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI. The celebration, held in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari included a vocal Te Deum and Mass, as well as motets and concertos performed under the direction of padre Ferdinando Antonio Lazari. The manuscript scores of all the works performed that day, including Veracini's concerto, were bound together in a handsome presentation volume now found in the National Library of Austria (Hill 1979, 11; Sadie n.d., 48). According to another opinion, this concerto was Veracini's Violin Concerto in D Major, "a otto strumenti, di Francesco Maria Ueracini Suonato dallo stesso al post comunio", 1711), but was performed in Frankfurt rather than Venice, at Charles VI's coronation on 22 December 1711, just two days before Veracini's appearance as a soloist on Christmas Eve in Venice, some 800 kilometers to the south (Kolneder 1959–61; White 1972, 19).
In 1714, Veracini went to London and played instrumental pieces ("symphonies" in contemporary parlance) between the acts of operas at the Queen's Theatre. At the court of Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine and Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici he performed his oratorio Mosè al Mar Rosso. In 1716 he was appointed as the head of a Venetian music school, (Sminthe 2013). There is a legend that, when Giuseppe Tartini heard Veracini playing the violin, he was so impressed by his bowing technique, and so dissatisfied with his own skill, that he retreated the next day to Ancona "in order to study the use of the bow in more tranquility, and with more convenience than at Venice, as he had a place assigned him in the opera orchestra of that city" (Burney 1789, 3:564–65).
Veracini wrote a set of violin/recorder sonatas dedicated to Prince Friedrich August, who came to celebrate carnival. The Prince recruited not only singers, as he was told to do by his father, but also musicians for the court in Dresden. He hired an entire opera company under the direction of the Italian composer Antonio Lotti, the librettist Antonio Maria Lucchini, the castrati Senesino and Matteo Berselli, the brothers Mauro architects, two painters, and two carpenters (Charlton 2000). In 1718 the Prince also secured the services of the eccentric Francesco Maria Veracini—at a very high salary— Johann David Heinichen and Giuseppe Maria Boschi (Greene 1985, 263).
To justify his salary, Veracini had to compose chamber music for the court (Landmann 2013, 5), transferring him to the official payroll as Kapellmeister in August 1717 and not as a violinist (Walter 2000, 5). In 1719 Veracini was sent to recruit more Italian singers for the new Dresden opera, "am Zwinger". Whilst in Venice he secured the services of Margherita Durastanti and Vittorio Tesi and in Bologna added Maria Antonia Laurenti. Veracini also took the opportunity to visit his home town where he married Chiara Tesi.
In 1721 Veracini wrote another set of violin sonatas dedicated to the Prince (published in Dresden as his Opus 1). Unfortunately, there was animosity among all these gifted musicians at the court in Dresden. In 1722, the arrogant Veracini was involved in a quarrel, staged according to one source (Cramer 1784) by the composer and violinist Pisendel, which resulted in Veracini leaping out of an upper-story window and breaking his foot in two places and (also) his hip. There are two conflicting accounts of this incident on August 13, one involving humiliation of Veracini at the hands of the last-desk violinist in the orchestra, who was asked to play the same concerto, replacing Veracini. Pisendel had been rehearsing his composition intensively with this violinist. The braggart Veracini fell into such a rage over this that he did not come out of his room for several days, and out of shame and despair finally publicly threw himself out of a window onto the street in Dresden. According to Veracini the jealous German musicians allegedly plotted to murder him (so he claimed in his writings). He fled Dresden by jumping out a window and apparently broke a leg in the fall (Shulman 2013, 89). After the incident Veracini walked with a limp for the rest of his life (Shulman 2013, 89). It is a myth Senesino was involved in the quarrel as he was either dismissed by Heinichen or by the court which ran out of money (Anon. n.d.). G.F. Handel offered the singer a contract for London two years before the alleged incident with Veracini.
It seems the Dresden musicians, fearing for their position, felt relieved Veracini had left the city. Back in his native Florence in 1723, Veracini played music in a church. During this time he suffered from his bad reputation and was said by Charles Burney to have been "usually qualified with the title of Capo pazzo" ["head lunatic"] (Burney 1789, 3:568). He composed a Te Deum for the inauguration of Pope Clement XII in 1730.
His uncle Antonio died in 1733, leaving the bulk of his estate to Francesco Maria. Amongst other things, this included no fewer than eight violins made by Jacob Stainer and three Amatis (Hill 1990, 550, 562n34&43).
Back in London in 1733, Veracini appeared in many concerts (Hill 1979, 22). In 1735 he composed an opera for the Opera of the Nobility, Adriano in Siria. Francesca Cuzzoni, Antonio Montagnana, Farinelli and Senesino had a role (Burden 2007, 31). George Frederic Handel was present at the premiere in Haymarket Theatre. Charles Jennens liked the opera and ordered a score; Lord Hervey, not known for his musical perception, and Henry Liddell, 1st Baron Ravensworth were bored (Dean 2006, 278–79; Van Til 2007, 121). However, the work enjoyed a run of twenty performances over six months (Helyard 2000). Many of the arias were published separately by John Walsh. Veracini composed the fifth version, based on Pietro Metastasio’s libretto, written for the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI. The score, which survived in the Newman Flower Collection (or the Henry Watson Music Library?) of the Manchester Central Library was developed by German musicologist Holger Schmitt-Hallenberg along with Fabio Biondi, who composed the recitatives that have not been preserved. It was performed in Kraków December 2013 and in Vienna and Madrid in January 2014 (Skowrońska 2013; Anon. 2013a; Anon. 2013c; Anon. 2013d).
In 1737, he wrote La Clemenza di Tito, on a libretto by Angelo Maria Cori based on Metastasio. In 1738 Veracini wrote his third opera, Partenio, and returned to Florence where he stayed till 1741. Back in London he composed his last opera, Roselinda, based on Shakespeare's play As You Like It, a most unusual choice of material at that time. In that opera Veracini included the well-known Scots ballad tune The Lass of Paties Mill. It was staged in London in 1744, the same year his oratorio (described as an opera in Burney 1789, 4:451) L'errore di Salomone was staged. Burney (1789, 4:451), scorned the music of Roselinda as "wild, awkward, and unpleasant; manifestly produced by a man unaccustomed to write for the voice, and one possessed of a capo pazzo", and ridiculed the inclusion of the ballad tune as an attempt "to flatter the English" that failed because "few of the North Britons, or admirers of this national and natural Music, frequent the opera, or mean to give half a guinea to hear a Scots tune, which perhaps their cook-maid Peggy can sing better than any foreigner", but confessed that "This opera, to my great astonishment when I examined the Music, ran twelve nights", whereas L'errore di Salomone was given only twice. Veracini left London a little more than a year later.
In 1745 or shortly after, he survived a shipwreck in which he lost two of his Stainer violins (the ones he called St. Peter and St. Paul), "thought to have been the best in the world", and all of his effects (Burney 1789, 4:569). He returned to Florence, where he was appointed maestro di capella of the churches of San Pancrazio and San Gaetano, the latter one at which his uncle had worked, focusing on church music. Though he mostly conducted in his later years, he still sometimes appeared as a violinist. Veracini died in Florence.
In addition to violin sonatas, edited by Ferdinand David, operas and oratorios, Veracini also wrote violin concertos, sonatas for recorder and basso continuo, and orchestral suites, called Overtures. The six Overtures were performed for Prince Friedrich August in Venice in 1716, as part of Veracini's ultimately successful attempt to secure a position at the Dresden court. They are all either in F major or B-flat major, except for one in G minor. The last one of these, in B-flat major, is remarkable for concluding with a unison minuet. Veracini also wrote a "lively, highly original theory treatise" (Newman 1972, 184), Il trionfo della pratica musicale, and edited other composers' works, adding "improvements" of his own, such as he did in his Dissertazioni with the Opus 5 Violin Sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli.