Giovanni Battista Sammartini

The only surviving portrait of Sammartini, painted by Domenico Riccardi.[1]

Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c. 1700 – 15 January 1775) was an Italian composer, oboist, organist, choirmaster and teacher. He counted Gluck among his students, and was highly regarded by younger composers including Johann Christian Bach. It has also been noted that many stylizations in Joseph Haydn's compositions are similar to those of Sammartini, although Haydn denied any such influence.[2] Sammartini is especially associated with the formation of the concert symphony through both the shift from a brief opera-overture style and the introduction of a new seriousness and use of thematic development that prefigure Haydn and Mozart. Some of his works are described as galant, a style associated with Enlightenment ideals, while "the prevailing impression left by Sammartini's work... [is that] he contributed greatly to the development of a Classical style that achieved its moment of greatest clarity precisely when his long, active life was approaching its end".[1]

He is often confused with his brother, Giuseppe, a composer with a similarly prolific output (and the same initials).

Life

Giovanni Battista Sammartini was born to French emigrant and oboist Alexis Saint-Martin and Girolama de Federici in Milan, in what was Hapsburg-ruled Lombardy during most of his lifetime and is Italy today. He was the seventh of eight children. He received musical instruction from his father and wrote his first music in 1725, which was a set of vocal works (now lost). Not long after, he acquired the positions of maestro di cappella at Sant'Ambrogio and to the Congregazione del Santissimo Entierro in 1728. He held the position at Sant'Ambrogio until his death.[3]

Sammartini quickly became famous as a church composer and obtained fame outside of Italy by the 1730s. Over the course of the years, he joined many churches for work (eight or more by his death[4]) and wrote music to be performed at state occasions and in the houses of the nobility. Although he never strayed far from Milan, he came into contact with many notable composers including J.C. Bach, Mozart, Boccherini, and Gluck, the latter of whom became his student from the years 1737 to 1741.

Sammartini's death in 1775 was unexpected. Although he was highly regarded in his time, his music was quickly forgotten, and was not rediscovered until 1913 by researchers Fausto Torrefranca, Georges de Saint-Foix and Gaetano Cesari. However, most of his surviving works have been recovered from editions published outside his hometown of Milan.

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