Short biography of a composer known mainly for his instrumental works
Contributor: James Sanderson
Tomaso Albinoni was born on June 14, 1671 in Venice. He was the eldest son of a wealthy paper merchant and landowner. The young Albinoni preferred to pursue a career as a composer rather than carry on the family business. He began his musical education at the age of 9 with violin and singing lessons. Unlike other musicians of the time, he had a comfortable private income, so he did not need to seek work from aristocratic patrons or the Church. Albinoni was particularly proud of his independent status. This enabled him to concentrate on his favourite areas: music for the stage and orchestral and instrumental works. Albinoni was unusual in taking little interest in the work of other composers, and his refusal to expose himself to outside influences gave his music unique character and style.
Much of his music dates from the height of the Baroque period. The art and architecture of that time are noted for their soaring sense of light and space, and much of Albinoni’s music embodies the same celestial spirit. It often sounds as if it is floating serenely and passing from a shadow into a sunlit mood. This period in the arts saw many dramatic changes and developments in music. One of these was the growth of opera into the grandest and most spectacular form of entertainment. There was also the proliferation of instrumental music, especially for stringed instruments, bringing with it such important new forms as the sonata and the concerto.
Italy was the scene of much of this pioneering, and Venetian Tomaso Albinoni was at the heart of it, composing operas and other stage works as well as concertos and sonatas, in prodigious quantities. Today, the work of some of his close Italian contemporaries – notably Corelli and Vivaldi – may be better known, but Albinoni enriched opera with his gift for melody. In the field of instrumental music, he also made an important contribution to establishing the form and style of the concerto.
A prolific and popular composer, Albinoni wrote over fifty operas. Sadly, the majority have long been forgotten and only a dozen or so still survive. Nonetheless, many more of Albinoni’s orchestral and instrumental works have lasted to the present day, including his Oboe Concerto in D minor, Trumpet Concerto in D Major, and Trio Sonata for Violin and Cello with Organ Accompaniment. The full number of the composer’s works may never be known. Some have been lost and others are of doubtful authenticity. Scholars estimate that Albinoni was responsible for almost 300 works, including operas, sonatas, and other instrumental pieces. Albinoni’s better known works include a collection of pioneering oboe concertos. His instrumental works, including trio sonatas and concertos, were greatly admired by J S Bach.
It is ironic that Albinoni’s fame stems from a piece of music to which he actually contributed only a handful of notes. In spite of his prolific production, Albinoni’s name lives today because of one haunting piece, Adagio in G Minor, that was not written but only sketched by him. In the 1940s, the Italian scholar Remo Giazotto found a fragment of music in Albinoni’s writing and based this piece on it. Albinoni had written a bass line, repeating the same notes over and over again; it was his twentieth century editor who added elegiac harmonies and an expressive, elusive tune to produce this beautiful piece.
Tomaso Albinoni died on January 17th, 1751 in Venice