Pietro Metastasio

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Medal for the death of Pietro Metastasio, 1782;
State Coin Collection Munich

Pietro Antonio Domenico Bonaventura Trapassi (born January 3, 1698 in Rome , † April 12, 1782 in Vienna ) was an Italian poet and librettist , better known under his pseudonym Pietro Metastasio .

Childhood and youth

Metastasio was born in Rome , where his father, Felice Trapassi from Assisi , held a post in the Corsican regiment of the papal troops. The father married Francesca Galasti from Bologna and established himself as a greengrocer on Via dei Cappellari in Rome. His marriage resulted in two sons and two daughters.

As a child, Pietro spontaneously recited poems . In 1709 two men became aware of him on one such occasion: Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina , famous for his legal and literary education and chairman of the " Accademia dell'Arcadia ", and Lorenzini, a major critic. Gravina was enthusiastic about little Pietro's charm and talent and adopted Pietro a few weeks later. The father agreed, as the adoption gave the boy the chance of a good education and social advancement.

Gravina also gave the eleven-year-old boy his stage name “Metastasio” ( Graecization of his family name Trapassi , “crossing over, crossing over”) and planned to train him as a lawyer . Therefore, he taught him Latin and law . At the same time, he promoted his literary talent and introduced his protégé into Roman society. Metastasio soon competed against the most famous impromptu poets (“improvisatori”) in Italy - at these evening competitions, up to 80 stanzas were improvised. But the strenuous study during the day and the competitions in the evenings affected his health.

Gravina had to travel to Calabria for work and took Metastasio with her. He introduced him to the literary circles of Naples and entrusted him to his friend Gregorio Caroprese in Scaléa. Metastasio regained his strength through the fresh air of the rural area and the calm of the sea. Gravina decided that Metastasio should no longer improvise, but use his strength for higher goals: only after completing his training should he again compete against great poets.

Metastasio complied with his mentor's wishes. At the age of twelve he translated the Iliad into punches , two years later he wrote a Seneca- style tragedy on the subject of Gian Giorgio Trissino's Italia liberata dai Goti - Gravina's favorite epic, Giustino . Gravina had it published in 1713, but the piece was lifeless and artistically insignificant. Forty-two years later, Metastasio asked its editor, Calsabigi, to keep it under lock and key. Caroprese, Gravina's friend from Scalea, died in 1714 and made Gravina the sole heir. When Gravina also died in 1718, Metastasio inherited a fortune of 15,000 Scudi . At a meeting of the Accademia dell'Arcadia, he recited an elegy to his mentor and then withdrew to enjoy his wealth.

Life and work in Italy

Opere , 1737
Metastasio, Teresa Castellini, Farinelli, Jacopo Amigoni ; Painting by Jacopo Amigoni around 1750–1752

Metastasio was now twenty years old. For the past four years he wore the clothes of an abbe after receiving the minor ordinations , without which it was impossible to make a career in Rome. His romantic history, charismatic appearance, charming manners and extraordinary talent made him famous. After another two years, he had spent his money. Now he seriously decided to use his skills professionally. In Naples he took a job with a famous lawyer named Castagnola, who dictatorially had Metastasio's time and energy.

In addition to his time-consuming legal labor, Metastasio wrote an Epithalamium (wedding poem ) with almost 100 punchings in 1721 and also one of his first music-dramatic texts, the Serenata Endimione , which was performed at the wedding of his patroness Princess Pinelli di Sangro with the Marquis Belmonte Pignatelli.

In 1722 the Empress's birthday was celebrated in a particularly pompous manner. The master of ceremonies turned to Metastasio and instructed him to write a serenata for the celebration. He accepted the commission and wrote Gli orti esperidi ("The Gardens of the Hesperides"). The music was composed by Nicola Porpora ; Porpora's pupil, the famous castrato Farinelli, sang one of the solo parts . It was a spectacular debut with raging applause. The Roman prima donna Marianna Benti Bulgarelli , named after her place of birth “La Romanina” ( The Roman Woman ), who played Venus in the play, persuaded Metastasio to give up law and promised him to ensure his fame and independence if he should work continue with his musical dramas.

In La Romanina's house he got to know the greatest composers of his day: In addition to Porpora, from whom he received music lessons, Johann Adolph Hasse , Giovanni Battista Pergolesi , Alessandro Scarlatti , Leonardo Vinci , Leonardo Leo , Francesco Durante , and Benedetto Marcello . They all later set his pieces to music. Here he learned to appreciate the art of singing and the singing style of a Farinelli. Metastasio's extraordinary musical talent and his poetic instinct made it easy for him to write pieces.

Pietro Metastasio

Metastasio lived in Rome with La Romanina and her husband. Moved by real admiration for his talent, she adopted him, as Gravina had done before. She took the whole Trapassi family - father, mother, brother and sisters - into her house and fulfilled all of his special requests. In 1724 Metastasio's first opera libretto Didone abbandonata was performed in Naples with the music of Domenico Sarro , with his patron sang the title role. After this great success he wrote more texts for Rome and Venice, in quick succession Catone in Utica , Ezio , Alessandro nell'Indie , Semiramide riconosciuta , Siroe and Artaserse were written . These dramas were set to music by the most famous composers of the time and performed in all major cities. Their success was based on the combination of the reform ideas of Apostolo Zenos , the other great Italian librettist of the 18th century, with his own extraordinary poetic and musical instinct, through which he far surpassed Zeno.

In the meantime, La Romanina was getting older and had stopped singing in public. The poet felt more and more indebted to her out of gratitude. He received 300 scudi for each opera. The fee was good, but Metastasio felt the need for a permanent job that would give him some security.

Metastasio at the Viennese court

Monument to Pietro Metastasios by Vincenzo Lucardi in the
Minorite Church in Vienna

In September 1729 Metastasio received the offer to become court poet ( poeta Cesareo ) at the Imperial Court of Charles VI in Vienna . to succeed Apostolo Zeno , which he accepted without hesitation. It included a grant of 3,000 guilders . La Romanina let him go and continued to selflessly care for his family. Metastasio arrived in Vienna in the early summer of 1730. He moved into a large apartment in house Stadt No. 1187, the "Great Michaelerhaus"; In 1732 his friend Nicolò Martines moved in with his family. Joseph Haydn lived in an attic in the same house from 1750 to 1755.

This marked the beginning of a completely new period in Metastasio's work. Between 1730 and 1740 his best dramas were set to music and performed for the Imperial Court Theater, mostly in settings by the conservative court conductor Antonio Caldara : Adriano in Siria , Demetrio , Issipile , Demofoonte , L'olimpiade (1734 by Antonio Vivaldi), La clemenza di Tito , Achille in Sciro , Temistocle and Attilio Regolo (no longer performed in Vienna, as Charles VI had died in the meantime, but in 1750 with Hasse's music in Dresden ). He also devoted himself to spiritual texts again; His Azione sacra La passione di nostro signore Gesù Cristo , composed in 1730 , became one of the most frequently set oratorio texts of the late 18th century. Since it was often about occasional works for a current occasion, the text, composition, transcription and printing of music and rehearsals were created again and again in the shortest possible time. Metastasio's experience in Naples and Rome had developed his technique to mastery, and the enthusiasm of the Viennese accelerated his career.

The restored inner coffin Metastasios, to be seen in Vienna , Michaelerkirche , in the background you can see etchings by Herwig Zens .

Because of his low origin, Metastasio found himself excluded from aristocratic circles in Vienna and therefore entered into an intimate relationship with Baroness Althann , a sister-in-law of his former patroness, Princess Belmonte Pignatelli. She had lost her husband and had been the Emperor's mistress for a while . Metastasio's relationships with her were so intense that it was even believed that they had secretly married.

La Romanina had meanwhile grown tired of Metastasio's long absence and asked him to arrange for her to work at the Vienna Court Theater. But he had broken away from her inwardly and asked her in writing to refrain from this plan. This irritating letter made her angry. She was probably already on her way, but she died suddenly during the trip. Metastasio found herself installed as the sole heir of La Romanina, while she had left nothing to her husband. Metastasio was so overwhelmed and remorseful by her sudden death that he renounced his inheritance claim. This decision created a lot of confusion between the Metastasio and Bulgarelli families. La Romanina's widower married a second time, and Leopoldo Trapassi's family, his sister and his father had to provide for their own livelihood again.

The life that Metastasio led in Vienna and the local climate began to damage his health - from around 1745 he wrote very little, especially after the death of the emperor and in view of the economic problems that were exacerbated by the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War , under the successor Maria Theresa no more regular opera performances took place. Nevertheless, the cantatas from this period, including mainly occasional works for the imperial family, as well as the canzonette Ecco quel fiero istante , which he had sent to his friend Farinelli, were among his most popular works. Vernon Lee said that "what drove him was mental and moral boredom".

Baroness Althann died in 1755, and Metastasio began to restrict his social interactions to those who visited his house. For decades he lived very withdrawn and was not very productive. He was good friends with Nicolò Martines. He promoted the upbringing of his daughter Marianna von Martines , who achieved great fame in Vienna as a composer, harpsichordist and singer. After a long and serious illness, Metastasio died in 1782 and bequeathed all of his fortune to the four children of Nicolò Martines. He was buried in a first class funeral in the Michaelerkirche in Vienna , where his embalmed corpse lies to this day. He had outlived all of his Italian relatives.

During his last forty years, in which Metastasio had outlived his own creativity and productivity (in the meantime the opera buffa has established itself as the most important musical theater genre, especially in Vienna), his European fame grew from year to year. In 1768 he was admitted to the Accademia della Crusca in Florence , which had been lexicographically recording the Italian language in its Vocabolario for two centuries . Metastasio had 40 copies of his own works in his library. They had been translated into French, English, German, Spanish and even modern Greek. The most famous composers of the 18th century set his texts to music, which, often heavily edited, were staged on all European stages - with the exception of France - often with the participation of the greatest vocal virtuosos of the time; at the same time he was a member of every noteworthy literary academy and conducted an extensive correspondence with noble patrons as well as scholars, poets and musicians of his time. Famous strangers who came through Vienna paid tribute to him by visiting his apartment on Kohlmarkt, including the English music scholar Charles Burney , who gave a lively account of this encounter in his musical travel diary.

A monument with a life-size statue of Metastasios by the hand of the Udinese sculptor Vincenzo Lucardi is located in the Minoritenkirche , the Italian national church in Vienna. Metastasio's treatise on bequests from the holdings of the Obersthofmarschallamt (OMaA 12/1782) in the House, Court and State Archives in Vienna has been lost. It was fixed on January 3, 1924 for "Judge Jeitner" and was never postponed.

In 1886, the Metastasiogasse in Vienna's Innere Stadt (1st district) was named after the poet.


Metastasio's works were intended for a certain type of music - for the art of extremely virtuoso singers, including castrati. With the opera reform introduced by Gluck , the use of larger orchestras, the composition of more extensive vocal numbers and the increase in ensembles (duets, trios, finales), a different type of libretto was required; The text of La clemenza di Tito had to be heavily edited for the composition by Mozart from 1791, which the Saxon court poet at the time Caterino Mazzolà did . The libretto Il re pastore , written in 1751 , served Mozart as the basis for the composition of an opera seria : Il re pastore (1775). Metastasio's pieces were forgotten in the 19th century or were only received in Italy as pure reading pieces and as a prime example of poetic texts. But Metastasio was still popular with musicians: Franz Schubert set various aria texts Metastasio to music as piano songs, including “Penso che questo instante”, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote the concert scene for soprano and orchestra “Ah perfido” based on a text from Achille in Sciro , the famous vocal studies by Nicola Vaccai also consistently use poems from Metastasio's operas.

The librettos that Metastasio wrote and the genius that he was are undergoing a thorough rehabilitation in today's Romance literary studies, after negative judgments predominated in earlier writings. The renewed interest of historical musicology in the Italian opera of the 18th century, especially the genre of dramma per musica , is also of importance. Metastasio's libretti are largely influenced by the aesthetics of the Accademia dell'Arcadia in the choice of themes and the design of the characters involved ; In addition, the texts take up political and legal philosophical discourses of their time (clearly for example in La clemenza di Tito and L'olimpiade ). Metastasio's dramatic situations usually deal with five to six characters who get into tragic conflicts of interest (usually between love and duty) and whose deliberate actions are to be regarded as typical representatives of the age of enlightened absolutism . Metastasio's language is characterized by a noble simplicity; the poetic, melodious and clearly structured aria texts offered the composers of the time an ideal basis for musical settings, often with pictorial arrangements of the poetic images and dramatic situations.

Among the Latin writers he valued Ovid most , and among the older Italians he especially admired Tasso and Marino . However, he avoided direct stylistic adoptions from Marino, whose style was considered overloaded in the 18th century. His own style allows the improvising poet to shine through, even if his poems are formally perfectly polished. Many of his dramatic texts are shaped by the French classics, among which he particularly valued Jean Racine and Pierre Corneille and from which he took numerous suggestions for dramatic situations (for example, his Ezio resembles Racine's famous tragedy Britannicus in the basic dramatic conflict - apart from the happy ending while La clemenza di Tito was inspired by Corneille's Cinna ou la Clémence d'Auguste ). What makes him unique in Italian literature, however, is his great ease in formulating feelings and romantic or sentimental situations.

There are innumerable editions of Metastasio's works today. He himself valued Calsabigi's edition (Paris, 1755, 5 vols. 8vo), which had been produced under his supervision. In 1795 a number of the author's unpublished works were printed posthumously in Vienna. The life of Metastasio was written down and published as a book by Aluigi (Assisi, 1783), Charles Burney (London, 1796) and many others.

Charles Burney on Metastasio

“Before I had the honor of being introduced to Signor Metastasio, I received the following message from a completely reliable hand from this great poet, whose writings perhaps contributed more to the refinement of vocal music, and therefore of music in general, than the combined forces of all the great composers in Europe taken together [...] His whole life flows as smoothly as his writings. His domestic order is punctually after the clock and the bell strike, from which he does not deviate. He has not eaten outside the home for the past thirty years; it is very difficult to speak, and is as little for new persons as it is new things. He is only familiar with three or four people, and they come to him every day from eight to ten in the evening without any hassle. He is shy of ink and doesn't use a pen when he doesn't have to; just as one had to bind the Silenus when he was to sing and the Proteus when he was to give an oracle . [...] He is not a lover of lively conversations, which are common among men of talent and erudition, but would rather live with the calm and leisurely pace of an unnoticed man than give power statements with the decisive nature of a man of great weight. In fact there seems to be in his life the gentle serenity which prevails through his writings, in which, even when he grinds passionately, he speaks more with calm reason than with vehemence. And this level, equal decency and correctness, which one notices in all of his poems, lies at the heart of his character. Perhaps he is just as seldom violent and stormy in his writing as in his life, and one can call him the poet from the golden age, in which, as they say, simplicity and modesty reigned more than great and violent passion. The outpourings of patriotism, love and friendship, which flow from his lips with extraordinary grace, are moral, gentle feelings that spring from his heart and carry the colors from his soul. "

- Charles Burney : Diary of his musical journeys.

Metastasio's opinion of singers

Metastasio lamented the whims and extravagances of Italian singers at the time (here after Handel's first biographer John Mainwaring ):

“The fondness for Italian Singers, he (= Metastasio) thinks unaccountable: the expence and trouble they occasion, exorbitant and ridiculous. He calls them costly Canary-birds; and ... laments as follows, 'What a pity it is, that these froward Misses and Masters of Music, had not been engaged to entertain the court of some King of Morocco, that could have known a good Opera from a bad one! With how much ease would such a Director have brought them to better order? '”

“He (Metastasio) considers the enthusiasm for Italian singers to be irresponsible, the costs and the annoyance they cause are exaggerated and insane. He called them “expensive canaries” and… went on lamenting “what a shame that these stubborn women and bandmasters were not employed by some king of Morocco who couldn't tell a good opera from a bad one, because such an African boss would have understood to call them to a better order "."



  • Constantin von Wurzbach : Metastasio, Pietro Bonaventura . In: Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich . 18th part. Imperial-Royal Court and State Printing Office, Vienna 1868, pp. 1–21 ( digitized version ).
  • Elena Sala di Felice: Metastasio. Ideology, drammaturgia, spettacolo. Milano, Franco Angeli, 1983.
  • Costantino Maeder: Metastasio, the "Olimpiade" and the opera del Settecento. Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993.
  • Elisabeth Hilscher, Andrea Sommer-Mathis (ed.): Pietro Metastasio - uomo universale (1698–1782). Festival of the Austrian Academy of Sciences on the 300th birthday of Pietro Metastasio . Verl. Of the Österr. Akad. Der Wiss., Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-7001-2886-X .
  • Laurenz Lütteken, Gerhard Splitt (ed.): Metastasio in the Germany of the Enlightenment. Report on the symposium Potsdam 1999 . Niemeyer, Tübingen 2002, ISBN 3-484-17528-1 (= Wolfenbüttel Studies for Enlightenment . Vol. 28. = Series of publications by the Franz Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee Foundation . No. 61).
  • Herbert Schneider, Reinhard Wiesend (Ed.): The opera in the 18th century. Laaber, Laaber, 2006, ISBN 978-3-89007-657-7 .
  • Thorsten Philipp: Politics in the game: media staging of social norms and goals in Pietro Metastasio's Olimpiade. In: Maria Imhof, Anke Grutschus (ed.): Of devils, dancers and castrati: The opera as a transmedia spectacle. Bielefeld, transcript, 2015, ISBN 978-3-8376-3001-5 , pp. 83-104.
  • Franz Reitinger: The Metastasians , Taste Elites in the 19th Century, Verlag Anton Pustet , Salzburg, 2016, ISBN 978-3-7025-0791-6

Web links

Commons : Pietro Metastasio  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Pietro Metastasio  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Women as instrumentalists in the 18th century. Master's thesis by Cecilia Sipos, Anton Bruckner Private University , Vienna, October 2016. Pages 41–42.
  2. ^ Membership list of the Crusca
  3. Silke Leopold: Il re pastore . In: Silke Leopold et al., Mozart manual . Bärenreiter, Kassel 2005, ISBN 3-7618-2021-6 .
  4. Thorsten Philipp: Politics in the game: Medial staging of social norms and goals in Pietro Metastasio's Olimpiade. In: Maria Imhof, Anke Grutschus (ed.): Of devils, dancers and castrati: The opera as a transmedia spectacle. Bielefeld 2015, ISBN 978-3-8376-3001-5 , pp. 83-104.
  5. Dieter Borchmeyer: Rulership versus State Reason. Politics and Sensitivity in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. In: Michael Th. Greven, Herfried Münkler, Rainer Schmalz-Bruns (eds.): Citizenship and criticism. Baden-Baden 1998, ISBN 978-3-7890-5205-7 , pp. 345-366.
  6. ^ Charles Burney : Carl Burney's der Musik Doctors Diary of his musical journeys, Zweyter Band, translated from English by Christoph Daniel Ebeling, Verlag Bode, Hamburg 1773, p. 165ff ( online at Google Books ).
  7. Note d. Author
  8. Quoted from John Mainwaring: Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel: To which is Added a Catalog of his Works and Observations upon them . Dodsley, London 1760, pp. 109-110 . See also Mattheson's German translation .