born Frattamaggiore 31st March 1684
died Naples 30th September 1755
Francesco Durante was a highly respected composer and teacher during the first half of the 18th century in Naples. He chose to concentrate on sacred music rather than the more-fashionable opera composition favoured by other Neapolitans and his works became examples of ‘good composition’ used for teaching.
Durante was primo maestro at the two major Conservatorii in Naples S Onofrio and S Maria di Loreto and taught composers ranging from Sacchini to Piccini and Paisiello. Not a composer of a large quantity of work, his music exhibits great skill and invention and a dramatic flair well suited to the style of music he chose to write.
Durante was the seventh of the eleven children of Gaetano Durante and Orsola Capasso. His initial musical training was provided by his uncle Don Angelo Durante who was primo maestro at the Neapolitan Conservatorio di S Onofrio a Capuana and the violinist Gaetano Francone.
His first known performed composition was in 1705, a scherzo drammatico called Prodigii della divina misericordia verso i divoti del glorioso S Antonio di Padova (music lost).
Very little is known about his actions between 1705 and 1728 when he was appointed primo maestro of the Conservatorio delle Poveri di Gesu Cristo. Some theories suggest that was in Rome during that time and perhaps studied with Pitoni and Pasquini and that the Missa S Ildefonsi per S Giacomo degli Spagnuoli of 1709 was written for the Spanish church in Rome. However there was, of course, a Spanish church in Naples as well. He was definitely in Naples in 1710 as he was teaching at his uncle’s old institution of the Conservatorio di S Onofrio a Capuana however he left there in January 1711. His name is also entered in the register of the masters and professors at the Congregatione e Accademia di S Cecilia in Rome for 1718. The fact that Durante concentrated on sacred music rather than the opera favoured by other Neapolitan composers may indicate a Roman influence as this was the prevalent mood in Rome at the time.
In 1714 he married for the first time. His wife Orsola di Laurentis, some 12 years older than Durante, was referred to later as a maledetta vecchia who “…made their married life miserable…” * His sacred drama La cerva assetata avero l’anima nelle fiamme was premiered in Naples in February 1719 and he was surely present in the city at the time.
There is no information regarding his whereabouts for the next nine years, however in 1728 he was appointed primo maestro at the Conservatorio delle Poveri di Gesu Cristo with the retirement of Gaetano Greco and this must be seen as the first evidence of the high opinion in which he was held. Also at this time he contributed to the choruses of Duke Annibale Marchesi’s Tragedie cristiane (1729) together with other composers including Mancini, Porpora, Hasse, Vinci, Leo and others. Among his students at the Conservatorio was Pergolesi.
Durante left the Conservatorio in 1739 for unknown reasons and nothing is known of his whereabouts intil 1742 when he was elected primo maestro of the Conservatorio della S Maria di Loreto which had been without a primo maestro since Porpora’s departure for Venice in 1741. During his tenure at S Maria di Loreto such composers as Anfossi, Fenaroli, Guglielmi, Sacchini, Speranza and Traetta received their training under his guidance.
Following the death of Leo in 1744, Durante was appointed primo maestro of the Conservatorio di S Onofrio a Capuana with effect from the start of 1745. At S Onofrio he was responsible for the training of Nicolo Piccini, who came to be regarded by Durante more like a son than a pupil*. He also applied for Leo’s now vacant position of primo maestro of the Royal Chapel. This was put to competition and Durante was unsuccessful in his application despite being praised for the music he submitted.
Also in 1744 he married Anna Furano of Naples, following the death of his first wife in 1741. She died after only a few years in 1747 when he quickly married the 22 year old Angela Anna Carmina Giacobbe.
Referred to as “…a man of simple manners, but profoundly wise in matters concerning his art and a respected arbiter over questions of harmony and counterpoint…”* he was always referred to with admiration by his students. He died in Naples aged 71 and was buried in the church of S Lorenzo.
* The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Hanns Berthold Dietz)