I’m Pergolesi!

I’m Spartacus!

There’s a famous scene towards the end of the film, Spartacus. The Spartan rebels have been rounded up, and told by a Roman General that they are about to die a particularly horrible death. There is a way out though, they just need to hand over the rebel leader, Spartacus. Immediately Spartacus hands himself in: “I’m Spartacus”. Big sigh of relief from the Romans, then…Spartacus’ best friend stands and says firmly “No, I’m Spartacus!” Soon every Spartan is on their feet, each loudly proclaiming that they are the genuine Spartacus.

I was reminded of this scene during a conversation on Twitter about Pergolesi, and the problem of getting hold of a score of his Miserere. It turned out that Pergolesi and Spartacus have rather more in common than you might think.

The Miserere in question was this one. His second Miserere in C minor, sung beautifully here by the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Am I Pergolesi?

This Miserere along with another were included in the, now notorious, complete works of Pergolesi, edited by Francesco Caffarelli (Rome, 1939-42). Probably due to their wartime provenance this is one of our most incomplete complete sets, but you can find many volumes via iDiscover by searching for Pergolesi Caffarelli. Even in more peaceful times there can be problems with sets of complete works – as has been mentioned previously on MusiCB3, even those by composers long deceased – the main ones being that they’re often not as complete or as accurate as you might hope. In the case of the Caffarelli edition, according to Grove, out of 148 works, 69 are misattributed, 49 questionable, and only 30 are genuine – sadly neither Miserere on this recording is listed as genuine. Neither are a further four Misereres listed in Grove. So how did Caffarelli get it so wrong?

Leaving aside the fact that Caffarelli trustingly believed that every work labelled as by Pergolesi, probably was genuine, the issue of Pergolesi provenance stretches right back to his early death and contemporary fame. Born in Italy in 1710, his siblings died in infancy. Pergolesi was also a sickly child, and suffered with tuberculosis for some time, before passing away from the disease just a few months after his 26th birthday. During his short life, which was spent principally in Naples, he become one of the most successful and admired composers of his age making a huge impact on comic opera. Later in life he would turn just as successfully to sacred music, writing the Stabat Mater, which is indubitably Pergolesi, on his deathbed.

I am Pergolesi

One of the issues, not just with music of this period, but right up to the mid-20th century, and even later in some countries, is that music was routinely copied for performance or educational purposes by hand. A copy with multiple crossings out and corrections all in the same hand, you could say with a fair degree of confidence, was most likely a composer’s sketch for a later work, a signature on the sketch MIGHT (though not always) tie it to a particular composer. If a neat version of the work turns up in the same handwriting with the same signature, it’s probably a match, and confirmation that the work was indeed composed by X composer. BUT tidy copies, sometimes with signatures that are not the composer’s routinely turn up for perfectly legitimate reasons.

For example – a composer copies out quartet parts for a performance, an instrumentalist then adds their names to the copy, so if they get lost they will be returned to them – an instrumentalist who is also a composer could have a work misattributed to them in this way. Another example could be that music for a film score is sent to a copyist. The film score is principally by Composer A, but there are a few songs in the film by Composer B. Copyist copies everything, marks all the original music quickly with Composer A’s name, so that it is all returned together, and ties it up in one bundle for return. Composer A doesn’t check the bundle when they receive it (to all intents and purposes that score is now finished with), and suddenly there is a piece of music not by him/her but with his/her name on it. Many years later it turns up in the, now deceased, composer’s archive, and confusion and misattribution escalates.

A further factor, common during Pergolesi’s time, was that music was commonly copied for pedagogic purposes. Hence why a minuet by Christian Petzold was misattributed to Bach, as it had been copied by him for the Anna Magdalena notebook (BWV. Anh. 114). It still commonly appears in piano tutors attributed to the wrong composer.

To return to Pergolesi, during his lifetime he was highly esteemed certainly by other composers, on whom his work was very influential. Following his death there was a surge in popularity, and a longing to listen to more Pergolesi. This fuelled a rise in misattribution, sometimes with malicious or criminal intent, sometimes accidental, and sometimes…well, it’s complicated.

As Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739) says in his satirical pamphlet Il teatro alla moda (M708.c.95.28) “They [i.e. music sellers] will sell to foreigners, who want good operatic arias, any old papers, under the names of the best masters.” It’s not surprising then that gullible young men from across Europe on the Grand Tour were thrilled to pick up “genuine” Pergolesi arias; which actually came either from anonymous sources, or were sometimes by other well-known composers – the Scarlattis and Leonardo Vinci have all had the dubious pleasure of having their works, ascribed to Pergolesi. The process continued into the twentieth century, Diaghilev was equally pleased to pick up some Pergolesi and present it to Stravinsky as a possibility for a ballet score. The result, Pulcinella, is well known, but much of the original music is by Domenico Gallo, not Pergolesi, whose names were swapped, most likely by a London music seller in the 1780s.

I am Domenico Gallo (with assistance from Stravinsky)!

Famous names always sell and a pleasant piece of music by U.N. Known can sit on music shop shelves for months, until it is re-designated as being by Haydn (or indeed Pergolesi). John Marsh in his journals (M501.b.201.4-5) recalled a story told to him by Haydn’s publisher, Francis Broderip. Sitting at a concert in London next to Haydn, Broderip was surprised to hear a Haydn work unfamiliar to him. At the end he turned to Haydn and commented “I’ve never heard that before,” Haydn paused, and then, with a wry smile, said “No, neither have I.” Pergolesi and Gallo would have sympathised.

As Pergolesi’s secular music became ever more popular following his death, with high demand for stagings of his comic operas, his sacred music also grew in popularity. Monastic libraries north of the Alps were especially eager to add Pergolesi’s sacred works to their collections, or, failing that, works that sounded rather like his. Some of these works that they collected were indeed originally by Pergolesi, but were adapted from operatic works. As far as attribution is concerned, this is rather more complicated, as it’s not always clear whether or not this might potentially count as a work by Pergolesi. If the secular work is appropriated and changed to a sacred work with new texts posthumously, it surely cannot be classed as an original Pergolesi work. BUT along with other composers of the period, Pergolesi commonly reworked earlier works himself recycling them for new purposes. Handel famously did the same thing for For unto us a child is born in Messiah re-working an aria from a much earlier secular cantata. As Claudio Bacciagaluppi points out in the surprisingly entertaining “Classifying misattributions in Pergolesi’s sacred music” published in the September 2015 issue of the journal, Eighteenth-Century Music (and available online with a Raven password), the only way to decide whether or not a work is genuine is to look at the provenance of the sources, and any other sources for the work that there might be. In the case of the northern Alps monastic music, there’s no contemporary trace of the “Pergolesi” sacred works south of the Alps, or during the composer’s lifetime, only their original secular versions, suggesting that it’s most likely that the works were adapted posthumously probably as a way of improving the musical quality of a group of monasteries.

Pergolesi’s influence could also lead to quite genuine confusion. If you were a young Neapolitan composer growing up listening to Pergolesi, and impressed by his style, it would not be too surprising that your works might consciously or sub-consciously sound rather like your musical hero. Skip forward a few years, and your work might be mistaken for the Master’s – Gallo may indeed be a victim of this, as although he grew up in Venice, there was a musical Gallo family in Naples, to whom he may have been related.

Greed or accident – Pergolesi seems to be a particularly unfortunate victim of the not uncommon musical problem of misattribution. Despite the problems of Caffarelli’s attempt to bring together the complete works, there is a positive side to it, as was pointed out by Frank Walker in “Two centuries of Pergolesi forgeries and misattributions” (Music and letters. October 1949 – vol. 30, no. 4, and also available online with Raven) Assembling the alleged Pergolesi in print made it both easier for scholars to see all the works together – both fake and genuine, and made it clear how large the misattribution problem was.

As far as the Miserere is concerned, the search for that particular score continues, the Caffarelli is long out of print, and there doesn’t appear to have been a wider commercial printing, though I did manage to trace a copy of the manuscript, which is housed, perhaps unsurprisingly, in a library just north of the Alps in Bavaria at the Catholic University of Eichstatt-Ingolstadt.

Librarians and music sellers are used to valuing music financially. A genuine music manuscript by a big name is going to be worth more than a piece by a lesser known composer or an anonymous work, but whether the music itself is worth more or less to a listener or a performer, well, that’s very much in the ear of the beholder.

Indubitably Pergolesi


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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