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Giambattista Varesco

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Idomeneo by Varesco and Mozart, first printing of the libretto (first version) from 1781

Giambattista Varesco, sometimes Gianbattista Varesco, Giovanni Battista V aresco and Girolamo Giovanni Battista Varesco (born 26 November 1735 in Trento; † 25 August 1805 in Salzburg) was an Italian priest. He became known as the librettist of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Idomeneo, a libretto ultimately based on the libretto to the Tragédie lyrique Idoménée (Antoine Danchet after Prosper Jolyot Crébillon, set to music by André Campra).

Life and work

Varesco was born the son of Giuseppe Lorenzo Varesco, who is said to have been a cathedral musician in Trento. Nothing is known about his education, but it is likely that he went to school at a Jesuit college and then embarked on a priestly career. His title Abate (Italian) or Abbé (French) identifies him as a member of the lower clergy. In 1766 he was employed by Prince Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach as court chaplain in Salzburg. His priestly duties were limited to the benefice of S. Nicolai at Salzburg Cathedral, which dates back to Pilgrim’s chaplaincy foundation of 1393.[1] This position was intended for musically gifted beneficiates, which fits in with the fact that Varesco also introduced himself as a musician in his letter of application. Details of his musical activities are not known at present, but two violins, a viola and a viola d’amore are recorded in Varesco’s estate.

Mozart received the commission for Idomeneo from Charles Theodore of Bavaria in 1780. Leopold Mozart served as an intermediary for his son and negotiated with Varesco over the composer’s requests for changes. The correspondence between the parties underscores the composer’s dissatisfaction with the original. Varesco accepted a reduced version of the text for the setting, but it was printed in Varesco’s version. In older Mozart literature, weaknesses in the libretto were unanimously blamed on Varesco, but Daniel Heartz, as editor of Idomeneo in the New Mozart Edition (1971), was able to prove that many of the aspects criticized were specifications of the Munich court as patron.[2] Varesco also had to take into account many of Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s requests for changes and abridgements, which he carried out faithfully – albeit with grumbling – until the end of the collaboration. Where Varesco deviated from the French original in the libretto, he supplemented the sober material with motifs from ancient literature from Homer to Sophocles, thus demonstrating his profound humanistic education. Ulrich Konrad, in the encyclopaedia Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Music in History and the Present), finds that Varesco “handled his thankless task quite respectably and with skill”.[3]

Mozart’s first collaboration with Varesco had possibly taken place as early as 1775, as Varesco had probably revised Pietro Metastasio’s libretto Il re pastore for Mozart’s opera of the same name (K 208).[4] At Mozart ‘s request, Varesco also provided the libretto for the opera buffa L’oca del Cairo (The Goose of Cairo) K. 422, which Mozart began in 1783 but did not complete.[5] He also wrote the libretto for the opera Andromeda e Perseo (1787) by Michael Haydn and for a cantata for the enthronement of Ferdinand III as German Elector in 1804, which was set to music by three Salzburg musicians.

Varesco lived in modest, if not poor, circumstances, and at his death left considerable debts amounting to 640 florins. Leopold Mozart’s judgment of him, “the fellow, together with his good income, is full of debts”[6] was probably spoken in ignorance of Varesco’s actual income situation.

Literature

  • Attila Csampai, Dietmar Holland (eds.): W. A. Mozart. Idomeneo. Texts, Materials, Commentaries. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1988, ISBN 3-499-18405-2.
  • Norbert Dubowy: Varesco, Giovanni Battista. In: Ludwig Finscher (ed.): Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Second edition, supplement for both parts. Bärenreiter/Metzler, Kassel et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-7618-1139-9 (online edition, subscription required for full access)
  • Daniel Heartz: Mozart’s Idomeneo. Origins and first performances. In: NMZ II/5/11, Kassel 1971.
  • Kurt Kramer: Giovanni Battista Varesco, Versuch einer Biographie. In: Acta Mozartiana 27 (1980), issue 1, ISSN 0001-6233, pp. 2-15.
  • Kurt Kramer: Antike und christliches Mittelalter in Varesco’s “Idomeneo”, dem Libretto zu Mozarts gleichnamiger Oper. In: Mitteilungen der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum 28 (1980), Heft 1-2, ISSN 0541-2331, pp. 6-20.
  • Kurt Kramer: The Libretto to Mozart’s “Idomeneo”. Sources and Transformation of the Fable. In: Robert Münster (ed.): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Idomeneo. 1781-1981. essays, research reports, catalogue. (= Exhibition catalogue of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek; 24). Piper, Munich/Zurich 1981, ISBN 3-492-02648-6, pp. 7-43.
  • John A. Rice:Varesco, Giovanni Battista. In: Grove Music Online (English; subscription required).

Web links

Individual references

  1. Gernot Gruber, Joachim Brügge (eds.): Das Mozart-Lexikon. Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2005, ISBN 3-89007-466-9, p. 843 f.
  2. Idomeneo: score and critical report in the New Mozart Edition
  3. Ulrich Konrad:Mozart, (Joannes Chrysostomus) Wolfgang. In: Ludwig Finscher (ed.): Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Second edition, personal part, volume 12 (Mercadante – Paix). Bärenreiter/Metzler, Kassel et al. 2004, ISBN 3-7618-1122-5, sp. 591-758, here sp. 622 (online edition, subscription required for full access)
  4. Il re pastore: score and critical report in the New Mozart Edition
  5. L’oca del Cairo: score and critical report in the New Mozart Edition
  6. Letter of 22 January 1781 to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart(online)