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Giovanni Antonio Rigatti

Giovanni Antonio Rigatti is a name that until recent times was virtually unknown to music history. Living in Venice in the first half of the 17th-century, he has been overshadowed by his famous contemporaries, the chapel masters and vice chapel masters of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice: Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Grandi, Giovanni Rovetta and Francesco Cavalli. Thanks to the research and publications of an international coterie of scholars, Jerome Roche (England), Linda Maria Koldau (Germany), Metoda Kokole (Slovenia) and Gianluca Viglizzo (Italy), both the biography and music of this fascinating composer of the mid-17th century are at long last coming to light. I am especially grateful to Gianluca Viglizzo for sharing with me his as-yet-unpublished article on Rigatti containing new biographical data. Much of the information below is derived from this article and an earlier one by the late Jerome Roche.

Baptized on October 15, 1613 in the Church of San Severo in Venice, Rigatti became a boy singer in the chapel of St. Mark’s under Monteverdi’s direction on September 25, 1621. As with many such boy choristers, his early training led to a musical career as a singer, organist and composer. It is unknown how long he remained at St. Mark’s, but he must have been composing from at least his late teenage years, for his first book of motets for 2, 3 and 4 voices and ripieno choir was published in 1634, and the dedication of his first published collection of madrigals for 2, 3 and 4 voices, issued in 1636, refers to pieces composed “in the spring of my youth.” Also in his teenage years he entered the Patriarchal Seminary in Venice, finally attaining the rank of deacon in 1637. Even before becoming a deacon, Rigatti served for eighteen months (1635-1637) as chapel master at the cathedral in Udine in the Friuli region north of Venice, being cited at his installation as “one of the best musicians of Venice,” certainly a distinction for someone barely 22 years old!

In March of 1637 Rigatti left his post in Udine to return to Venice, where in August of 1639 he was appointed organist, master of the choir and music teacher to the girls at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti (beggar’s refuge), one of the Venetian orphanages for girls where music was such an important factor in their education (in the 18th century Vivaldi was for many years director of music at the Ospedale della Pietà, which attracted many Venetian and foreign visitors because of the quality of its concerts). Rigatti, however, was released from his post at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti in the late summer of 1642 because of moonlighting at other Venetian Ospedali. While retaining a relationship with the Ospedale degli Incurabili (refuge of the incurables), he went to work before the year was out for Monsignor Gian Francesco Morosini, a member of one of the most distinguished patrician families of Venice, who became the Patriarch of Venice in 1644 and a Procurator (one of three ruling officers) of St. Mark’s in 1645.

As Patriarch, Morosini was in charge of the church of San Pietro in Castello, the cathedral of Venice (St. Mark’s was the ducal basilica, and of much greater importance than the official cathedral). San Pietro did not have its own professional choir, but rather a group of canons who sang under the direction of the organist. Once Morosini became a Procurator of St. Mark’s, Rigatti was named “Sottocanonico” of the basilica in 1646, a position he assumed in July 1647. This was an administrative post, so that Rigatti’s musical activity was mostly limited to his ongoing association with the Ospedale degli Incurabili. At the height of his career, and having survived the terrible Venetian plague of 1630-31, Rigatti suddenly took sick with a fever on October 18, 1648 and died six days later at the young age of 35.

During his short career, Rigatti was very active as a composer. In addition to the motet and madrigal prints of 1634 and 1636 mentioned above, a truly monumental collection was published in 1640, comprising a mass and many psalms for different combinations of voices, two violins and other instruments, dedicated to the Hapsburg emperor Ferdinand III in Vienna. This is the primary source, in a modern edition by Linda Maria Koldau, of the music of Magnificat’s December concerts. In the next few years Rigatti published even further music: in 1641 a set of secular monodies; in 1643 a collection of psalms and a mass for three solo voices and ripieno choir as well as a separate collection of motets for solo voice; in 1646 psalms and other pieces for the Office of Compline; in 1647 motets for solo voice and a mass and motets for two and three voices; and in 1648, the year of his death, another collection of psalms and a mass for three voices, two violins and ripieno choir.

Rigatti’s music, published by the most prominent publishing houses in Venice, circulated widely. Copies can still be found not only in Italy, but also in England, Poland, Germany and France. His 1647 motets are even found in the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, though obviously not acquired at the time of their publication! But the research of Metoda Kokole in the archives of the cathedral in Capo d’Istria (Koper in Slovenian), down the Istrian peninsula from Trieste, has turned up not only copies of some of Rigatti’s publications, but also a number of compositions in manuscript that are not found in his published works. Rigatti’s music was obviously much prized in Koper, for his repertoire constitutes a major part of the cathedral’s musical archive, far more than any other Venetian composer, and may have arrived there through personal connections with Rigatti’s publishers and other Venetian acquaintances.

Today, only a small number of Rigatti’s compositions have been recorded on CD. Indeed, Magnificat’s December concerts may well represent the largest assemblage of Rigatti’s music performed at one time since the 17th century. The style of his music, especially the concertato psalms to be heard in these concerts, is akin to Monteverdi’s concertato psalms, performed on many occasions by Magnificat, but with a particular emphasis on passages for small numbers of voices, often in parallel thirds; a prominent role for the violins and other strings, who sometimes take the lead in introducing new motives and frequently play in counterpoint to the voices; a simpler harmonic language; longer passages of rapid text declamation; more repetitive patterning of melodies through such means as sequences and four-square rhythms in ornamental passages, as well as more emphasis on triple meter with graceful melodies; and systematic construction of overall form by such devices as ostinato basses, “walking” basses and other repetitive bass patterns. At times Rigatti’s music reveals weaknesses in contrapuntal technique, but its attractiveness overcomes any such faults.

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