Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Felice di Giardini

Italian composer Felice di Giardini (April 12, 1716 - June 8, 1796) was born in Turin. Showing musical talent at an early age, his father sent him to Milan to study voice, harpsichord, and violin. He became renowned as a violin virtuoso and played in opera orchestras in Rome and Naples beginning at age 12.

In an early encounter with a famous composer, di Giardini was the assistant concertmaster in a Teatro San Corlo performance of an opera by Niccolo Jommelli wherein he played his own elaborate ornamentations and variations on the violin part, which earned him a public slap in the face from the composer. He later called this incident "the most instructive lesson I ever received from a great artist."

In the 1750s di Giardini toured Europe as a violinist, eventually settling in England after successes in Paris and Berlin. He became the director of the Italian Opera Company in London and continued to perform as a solo artist in concerts arranged by Johann Christian Bach, who became a close friend. He was also the director of the Three Choirs Festival (which is still in operation today) for six years beginning in 1770.

He composed in many different musical forms, but focused primarily on opera and chamber music. Very little of his music is known today, though some solo songs and string trios are still in print.

However, one of his hymn tunes remains in nearly every hymnal published up to the present. During his time in London he was asked by the Countess of Huntingdon, a well-known evangelical leader, to contribute tunes to a hymnal she was sponsoring. In 1769 this Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes was published, edited by Martin Madan and benefiting London's Lock Hospital. Four of its tunes were written by di Giardini, including this most famous one.

Come, mighty Giver of Life,
Calm thou our discord and strife;
Help us to praise!
Maker, whose love unknown,
All things created own,
Build in our hearts thy throne,
Ancient of Days!

Come, thou incarnate Word,
By heav'n and earth adored,
Our prayer attend!
Come, and thy people bless;
Come, give thy Word success,
'Stablish thy righteousness,
Savior and Friend!

Spirit of truth and love,
Life-giving, holy Dove,
Come down this hour!
Move on the water's face,
Bearing the gifts of grace;
Fly to earth's farthest place,
Spirit of power!

To thee, great One in Three,
Our highest praises be,
Hence, evermore!
Thy sov'reign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore!

Text Composite, 18th & 19th cent.
Felice di Giardini, 1769

There are several small variations in the melody that have crept in over the last two centuries; the one in your hymnal may not match this one completely. ITALIAN HYMN seems like an obvious name, but it is also sometimes known as MOSCOW, which is the city where di Giardini died in 1796, sadly in poverty. His fame turned out not to last even through his lifetime; while he was once known throughout Europe, painted by famous artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) and John Francis Rigaud (below), he went back to Italy for a few years in 1784 and suffered some financial setbacks. Returning to England in 1793 he found that he was no longer in favor with the public and eventually left for Russia, where he was also unsuccessful.

P.S. - This is post #500.

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