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Diogenio Bigaglia and His Dixit Dominus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2022

Michael Talbot*
Department of Music, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK


In his own time Diogenio Bigaglia (1678–1745) was viewed as the equal of Venice's three great amateur musicians active during the first half of the eighteenth century (Tomaso Albinoni, Alessandro Marcello and Benedetto Marcello), but he is largely forgotten today. Part of the reason is the secluded, uneventful life he led as a Benedictine monk at the abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore. This article analyses an impressive early work: a twelve-movement Dixit Dominus probably composed between 1700 and 1710. This work occupies the borderland between late seventeenth-century musical practice and the more progressive musical forms, styles and techniques introduced in the early eighteenth century. It survives in a late eighteenth-century copy by the Venetian copisteria of Giuseppe Baldan that probably passed via Domenico Dragonetti to Vincent Novello, who donated it to the British Museum in 1843. The music contains many attractive features, including an imaginative use of the instruments and dextrous counterpoint, pointing the way forward to the choral masterpieces of Bigaglia's maturity.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 The island of San Giorgio Maggiore faces the Piazzetta across the Bacino di San Marco. Its church, built for the abbey in the late sixteenth century to a design by Andrea Palladio, still functions as such, but the abbey's buildings and gardens are today the seat of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, which houses several institutes, among them the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi. The Cassinese branch of the Benedictine order, taking its name from the mother house at Monte Cassino, was founded in the fifteenth century, and by Bigaglia's time had become the dominant Benedictine congregation in Italy. Bigaglia's entry into the community as a novice is recorded in Bossi, Angelo, Matricula monachorum congregationis casinensis ordinis S. Benedictij, 1: 1409–1699, ed. Novelli, Leandro and Spinelli, Giovanni (Cesena: Badia di Santa Maria del Monte, 1983), 205Google Scholar.

2 The present article draws heavily on biographical information concerning Bigaglia, much of it new, first presented in a musicological context in Talbot, Michael, ‘Vivaldi, Bigaglia, Tartini and the Curious Case of the “Introdutione” RV Anh. 70’, Studi vivaldiani 20 (2020), especially 5256Google Scholar.

3 Especially noteworthy is a single-volume edition by Marco Di Chio of Bigaglia's collected cantatas for solo alto and continuo (Osaka: Da Vinci Editions, 2018).

4 For the composer's musica sacra, the ice has been broken by an excellent performance of a Mass in F major and a Miserere in C minor by the Knabenchor Hannover and La festa musicale, directed by Jörg Breiding, on the CD Rondeau ROP7023 (2018).

5 Venice, Archivio della Parrocchia di S. Pietro martire di Murano, Parrocchia di S. Stefano, Registri dei battesimi, Reg. 9, 380. The estimated year of birth, 1676, found in most modern reference works was perfectly reasonable on the assumption that Bigaglia's ordination, on 22 August 1700, occurred on the first available occasion after he reached the canonical age of twenty-four. It is also compatible with the age of seventy recorded for the date 28 November 1745 in the parish register of deaths (Venice, Archivio Storico Patriarcale, Sant'Eufemia, Registro dei morti, Reg. 6). However, there is no record of any family births between Giovanni in 1674 and Antonio in 1678, and it is reasonable to suppose that a community as independent of diocesan oversight as that of San Giorgio Maggiore would have been able to waive the age requirement for an ordinand as promising as Bigaglia evidently was.

6 The first figure comes from the German traveller Joachim Christoph Nemeitz, in Nachlese besonderer Nachrichten von Italien (Leipzig: Gleditsch, 1726), 53; the second derives from his compatriot Johann Georg Keyssler (his name translated as John George Keysler) in Travels through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and Lorrain, four volumes, third edition (London: Keith and others, 1756–1760), volume 4, 81.

7 A vital resource for research into Bigaglia and life at San Giorgio Maggiore generally is the descriptive catalogue S. Giorgio Maggiore, Vol. 1: Inventario, ed. Luigi Lanfranchi and Bianca Lanfranchi Strina (Rome: Viella, 2016).

8 A Francesco Bagaglia who served between 1694 and 1740 as maestro di cappella at the cathedral of Perugia is a different person for whom the Venetian monk has sometimes been mistaken.

9 This post of dean (decano) has become confused with the major order of deacon (diacono) in most literature up to the present day. See, for example, the article ‘Bigaglia, Diogenio’ by Sven Hansell and Olga Termini in Grove Music Online, reproduced unchanged from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, twenty-nine volumes (London: Macmillan, 2001), volume 3, 563.

10 His role in the transaction is described in Giacomo Braun, ed., I diari di Antonio Scussa, two volumes (Trieste: Lloyd Triestino, 1930–1931), volume 1, 164.

11 Information kindly given to me by Berthold Over in private correspondence.

12 Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Meichelbeckiana 18.b (= Karl Meichelbeck, ‘Diaria, II, 1705–1719’), fol. 260v. Digitized at,1 (verified 2 November 2021). I am indebted again to Berthold Over for bringing this manuscript to my attention.

13 Remarkably, this lost psalm setting is apparently the earliest mention of a sacred vocal composition by Bigaglia to appear in a datable source.

14 On Sparry and his meeting with Bigaglia see Altman Kellner, Musikgeschichte des Stiftes Kremsmünster (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1956), 365, 373.

15 Benjamin Byram-Wigfield, ‘The Sacred Music of Antonio Lotti: Idiom and Influence of a Venetian Master’ (PhD dissertation, The Open University, 2016), 304–306.

16 Nemeitz, Nachlese besonderer Nachrichten, 53, unnumbered footnote.

17 The earliest such reference I have seen occurs in Gustav Schilling, Encyclopädie der gesammten musikalischen Wissenschaften oder Universal-Lexicon der Tonkunst, six volumes, volume 1 (Stuttgart: Köhler, 1835), 633.

18 Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Dresden, Mus. 2679-U-1.

19 Braun, I diari di Antonio Scussa, volume 1, 164.

20 Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, Essai sur la musique ancienne et modern, four volumes (Paris: Pierres, 1780), volume 3, 170.

21 Museo Civico Correr, Venice, MS Gradenigo 67 (‘Notatori Gradenigo’), volume 4, fol. 39v. My translation. ‘Academicians’ are to be understood as members of music societies, in which Venice abounded. On Venetian academies generally see Michael Talbot, ‘Musical Academies in Eighteenth-Century Venice’, Note d'archivio per la storia musicale, nuova serie 2 (1984), 21–65.

22 This is the case with Cambise's aria ‘Dammi, o sposa, un solo amplesso’ from Ciro riconosciuto (Act 3 Scene 9), first staged, with music by Caldara, in 1736 (Santini-Bibliothek, Münster, SANT Hs 180/3).

23 These cantatas are Putte, cosa dixéu? and Donn'Elena, séu qua?, preserved in Conservatoire national de musique, Paris, MUS_L_17265–6. They are published as Diogenio Bigaglia: Two Comic Cantatas in Venetian, ed. Michael Talbot (Launton: Edition HH, 2020).

24 Reported in Antonio Benigna, ‘Libro di memorie di quanto accadde giornalmente in Venezia dal 18 agosto 1714, sino al 9 marzo 1760’ (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, MS it. VII – 1620 (7846), fol. 43r).

25 Listed in [Giovanni Cendoni and Giovanni degli Agostini], Drammaturgia di Lione Allacci accresciuta e continuata sino all'anno MDCCLV (Venice: Pasquali, 1755), column 400.

26 The importance of celebrating the feast of St Stephen arose from the church's claimed possession of the saint's body.

27 See Lanfranchi and Lanfranchi Strina, S. Giorgio Maggiore, 57, 328; Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Pallade veneta: Writings on Music in Venetian Society, 1650–1750 (Venice: Edizioni Fondazione Levi, 1985), 271, 281; and David Bryant and Elena Quaranta, ‘Il passaggio del giovane Händel a Venezia: la vita musicale veneziana nei primi anni del Settecento’, in G. F. Händel: Aufbruch nach Italien / In viaggio verso l'Italia, ed. Helen Geyer and Birgit J. Wertenson (Rome: Viella, 2013), 25–27 and 34–40.

28 Archivio di Stato, Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore, b. 22, proc. 13 A II, fasc. 8 (‘Organo e musica’) fascicoletto b (‘Orchestra musiche 1683–1765’), loose sheet (‘Poliza per s. Zorzi 1708’). The list is transcribed in Bryant and Quaranta, ‘Il passaggio’, 35–36.

29 For confirmation of this number see Lanfranchi and Lanfranchi Strina, S. Giorgio Maggiore, 328.

30 In Venetian (as distinct from Roman) usage a violone is normally understood as a violone grosso playing at 16′ pitch.

31 On the evolving make-up of the San Marco orchestra between 1685 and c1760 see Michael Talbot, Benedetto Vinaccesi: A Musician in Brescia and Venice in the Age of Corelli (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), 324.

32 A lost published libretto for L'Amorat (shelfmark 4 380.3) is listed in the catalogue of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (D-Mbs). The same library formerly possessed also the undated libretto of La passione d'Abele innocente (4 380.7). No music for either work apparently survives.

33 Bigaglia's known oratorios, composed during the approximate period 1726–1733, number five.

34 British Library, London, Loan, 91.11. The manuscript containing the two Bigaglia compositions, prepared in Rome (where the exile joined his son, the famous cardinal Pietro Ottoboni), is a compilation, made in 1713, of recent settings of Antonio's poetry by various composers. The cantata is published as Diogenio Bigaglia: Plutone e Proserpina, ed. Michael Talbot (Launton: Edition HH, 2020).

35 On Mildmay and Bigaglia's cantatas generally see Michael Talbot, ‘The Chamber Cantatas of Diogenio Bigaglia (1678–1745): Venice's Overlooked Dilettante’, The Musical Times 162/1954 (2021), 37–60.

36 Landesbibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern ‘Günther Uecke’, Schwerin, Mus. 1254, 1254/1, 1254/2. The sonatas are published as Diogenio Bigaglia: Three Trio Sonatas for Two Flutes and Basso Continuo, ed. Michael Talbot (Launton: Edition HH, 2021).

37 Preserved complete in Bibliothèque du Conservatoire Royal, Brussels, MS 693, 117–158, and fragmentarily in other locations. These highly original duets are examined in Michael Talbot, ‘Bigaglia's Chamber Duets on Texts Taken from Gesualdo's Madrigals’, Early Music Performer 49 (2021), 15–26. They are published as Diogenio Bigaglia: Twelve Chamber Duets on Texts Taken from Madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo, four volumes, ed. Michael Talbot (Launton: Edition HH, 2021–2022).

38 A contemporary Vivaldi work with similar Janus-like characteristics, mixing seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century elements, is the Sonata for Violin, Cello and Continuo rv820.

39 Numbered 73 in the catalogue of Lotti's sacred music contained in Byram-Wigfield, ‘The Sacred Music of Antonio Lotti’, 331.

40 For the fullest and most recent exposition of this argument see Byram-Wigfield, ‘The Sacred Music of Antonio Lotti’, 296–304.

41 Lotti placed one of his six known settings of Psalm 109 (Byram-Wigfield 76) likewise in G minor. Since this setting has only one viola part rather than two, it appears to be of later date, hence unlikely to have influenced Handel.

42 It appears that Baldan, a secular priest, started out as a copyist of historical documents (his updated copy in seven volumes of Marco Barbaro's genealogy of the complete Venetian patriciate, originally prepared for Pietro Gradenigo and today in Venice's Museo Civico Correr (MS Gradenigo 81), is dated 1729). It was probably in the 1730s, as the successor of Francesco Trogiani, that Baldan established himself primarily as a music copyist. He is probably identical with the ‘Giaseppe [sic]’ whom Burney encountered at Venice in 1770 and described as an ‘excellent copiest [sic]’. See Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy (London: Becket, 1771), 180, unnumbered footnote.

43 There are as yet no integrated accounts of Baldan's life and career, but countless references in musicological literature to his copies and especially his falsified attributions. For instance, the five sacred vocal works by Vivaldi attributed to Galuppi in the huge consignment of music (mostly by the second-named composer) sent in 1758 or 1759 from his copisteria to the Saxon-Polish court temporarily residing in Warsaw are discussed in Michael Talbot, ‘Another Vivaldi Work Falsely Attributed to Galuppi by Iseppo Baldan: A New Laetatus sum for Choir and Strings in Dresden’, Studi vivaldiani 17 (2017), 103–118.

44 Usually, the choice of clef and its position within the ‘stacked’ staves making up the system suffice to identify a part without ambiguity.

45 The scholarly literature on these ‘church tones’ is extensive, and perspectives on them very varied. A good survey appears in Gregory Barnett, Bolognese Instrumental Music, 1660–1710: Spiritual Comfort, Courtly Delight, and Commercial Triumph (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 245–292.

46 The quickfire alternation of subtonium and subsemitonium reminds one strongly of French usage in the decades around 1700. Perhaps this feature was deliberate on Bigaglia's part, since movement VI in many places employs the pervasive dotted rhythms that in Italy were regarded as hallmarks of the stile francese.

47 On Bigaglia's later readiness to modulate through several different keys in quick succession see Talbot, ‘Diogenio Bigaglia's Chamber Duets’, 23.

48 In the terminology used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, concertato denotes more commonly the use of solo in addition to choral voices and/or the presence of independent instrumental parts – in other words, a choice of texture rather than a compositional technique.

49 It is true that the main subject of Bigaglia's fugue is so basic in outline as to border on the generic, making fortuitous resemblance a genuine possibility. Nevertheless, the parallel with another suspected borrowing by Bigaglia from Palestrina and the close thematic concordance with a fugue on the same text by Padre Martini (see next footnote) lend support to what is proposed here.

50 See Talbot, ‘Vivaldi, Bigaglia, Tartini’, 60, note 64. Coincidence or not, the final fugue, on the identical words, of a Magnificat in D major by Giovanni Battista Martini (1706–1784) dating from 1749 (RISM ID no. 452006719) uses the same subject as Bigaglia's Dixit Dominus in an only slightly different rhythmic configuration.

51 For an in-depth analysis of word-painting in the Crucifixus see Cameron, Jasmin Melissa, The Crucifixion in Music: An Analytical Survey of Settings of the Crucifixus between 1680 and 1800 (Lanham: Scarecrow, 2006)Google Scholar. Among the merits of Cameron's study is the fact that in addition to relating word-painting to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theory and vocabulary associated with the concept of musical rhetoric, she uses comparative analysis to demonstrate the longevity of the traditions informing the treatment of specific words and phrases in commonly set liturgical texts from this time.

52 The rationale for the parlando delivery commonly adopted for this semiverse is probably that the words are an orally delivered divine proclamation, and the rather mechanical sequential treatment that often characterizes the section perhaps symbolizes the strict discipline inherent in membership of a priestly caste.

53 Emans, Reinmar, ‘Il Miserere di Diogenio Bigaglia’, in Barocco Padano 4. Atti del XII convegno internazionale sulla musica italiana nei secoli XVII–XVIII: Brescia, 14–16 luglio 2003, ed. Colzano, Alberto, Luppi, Andrea and Padoan, Maurizio (Como: AMIS, 2006), 359368Google Scholar.

54 Emans, ‘Il Miserere’, 368.

55 Byram-Wigfield, ‘The Sacred Music of Antonio Lotti’.

56 As a step towards its performance, I am preparing a critical edition of the Dixit Dominus at the time of writing.

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