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Maurice Greene's Vocal Chamber Music on Italian Texts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2020

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


Maurice Greene (1696–1755), best known for his sacred and secular vocal music on English texts, left a substantial corpus of vocal chamber music set to Italian texts that remained unpublished during his lifetime and has not been studied in detail until now. It comprises ten cantatas for soprano and continuo, one cantata and seven chamber arias for voice, violin and continuo, four chamber duets and a cycle, scored variously for soprano and bass voice with continuo, of 15 settings of Anacreontic odes translated into Italian by Paolo Rolli. Greene was the only major English composer contemporary with Handel to produce such a quantity and variety of ‘Italian’ vocal music, and these compositions, which evidence a very good knowledge of the Italian language and Italian musical style, are of a quality to match their Handelian counterparts. They are subtle, responsive to the text and in certain respects very distinctive and original.

Research Article
Copyright © 2017 The Royal Musical Association

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I owe a special debt of gratitude to Harry (H. Diack) Johnstone for his constant encouragement, advice and generous sharing of materials. Others to whom I owe thanks are acknowledged in individual footnotes.


1 On this project, see H. Diack Johnstone, ‘The Genesis of Boyce's Cathedral Music’, Music & Letters, 56 (1975), 26–40.

2 For details of this sale and discussion of its contents, see Robert J. Bruce and H. Diack Johnstone, ‘A Collection of the Truly Valuable and Curious Library of Music late in the Possession of Dr. William Boyce (1779): Transcription and Commentary’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 43 (2010), 111–71.

3 Falconer Madan, A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, Vol. iv (Collections Received during the First Half of the 19th Century) (Oxford, 1897), 21–2.

4 Copied in Greene's hand but, as we shall see, probably not an original composition of his.

5 Ernest Walker, ‘The Bodleian Manuscripts of Maurice Greene’, The Musical Antiquary, 2 (1910), 149–65 and 203–14 (pp. 157–9).

6 H. Diack Johnstone, ‘The Life and Work of Maurice Greene (1696–1755)’ (DPhil Dissertation, University of Oxford, 1968), ii, 64–6. Johnstone has followed up his thesis with numerous articles exploring in greater detail different facets of Greene's life and creativity.

7 2015 saw the publication of Michael Talbot's article ‘Maurice Greene, Faustina Bordoni and the Note E’ (Early Music Performer, 37, 4–13), which anticipates in condensed form the discussion of Greene's Italian arias appearing here.

8 Greene's resignation may also have been a means of escaping personal embarrassment, since it was he who in 1728 had apparently introduced Antonio Lotti's madrigal In una siepe ombrosa to the Academy under Bononcini's name, thereby setting in motion the scandal that erupted in 1731.

9 The denial of this commission must have been all the more galling to Green since, in anticipation, he had already composed the anthem, Blessed Are All They.

10 Sir John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (London, 1776), v, 405; Charles Burney, A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (London, 1776–89), iii, 615. Hawkins and Burney, united in their admiration for Handel as man and musician, concur in portraying Greene as an ultra-ambitious intriguer. This view of his character undoubtedly informs their attitude towards his music, which, while frequently commendatory, all too often comes with a negative caveat.

11 See the detailed discussion in Johnstone, ‘The Life and Work’, ii, 72–3.

12 Johnstone, ‘The Life and Work’, i, 190–1; Matthew Gardner, Handel and Maurice Greene's Circle at the Apollo Academy (Göttingen, 2008), especially 21–153.

13 These are settings of nine texts by Rolli and three texts taken from Attilio Ariosti's cantata-cum-sonata publication of 1724. I should like to express my thanks to Dr Peter Horton, Assistant Librarian at the Royal College of Music, London, for information on Roseingrave's second collection.

14 British Library, Add. MS 62103. Roseingrave was not a salaried member of Brydges's musical establishment at Cannons under J. C. Pepusch, but appears to have performed occasional tasks for it. The manuscript contains 12 vocal works of varied type by him: three on English texts, eight on Italian texts and a setting in Latin of an ode by Horace.

15 Burney, General History, iv, 266.

16 The cantata was no. 2, Da l'arco d'un bel ciglio. The opening line of the London version is ‘Under ye gloomy shade of a dark, sullen grove’ – still impeccably Arcadian but by no means a translation.

17 Announced in the Daily Courant of 12 April 1706 and performed the following day.

18 As transcribed in The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, D. D., ed. David Woolley (Frankfurt am Main, 1999–2007), ii, 445–7 (446–7).

19 Richard Goodall, Eighteenth-Century English Secular Cantatas (New York, 1989); Paul Rice, The Solo Cantata in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Warren, MI, 2003). The long chapter dealing with the English cantata alongside the German cantata (predictably to the advantage of the second) in Eugen Schmitz's classic study Geschichte der weltlichen Solokantate (Leipzig, 1914) likewise pays little attention to the text-music relationship from a specifically structural standpoint.

20 Henry Purcell's setting of Nahum Tate's ‘Tell me, some pitying angel’ (The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, Z196) is a perfect case in point.

21 ‘Non-programmed’ recitative does, however, surface in some sacred works in Latin for solo voice by eighteenth-century Italians. These are always settings of liturgical (hence by definition not purpose-written) texts. Vivaldi's Stabat Mater, RV 621, chooses accompanied recitative style for two of its nine movements.

22 The ‘other’ composers included Girolamo Polani, Giuseppe Sammartini and Giovanni Battista Pescetti. The near-eclipse of the English cantata during this brief efflorescence of its Italian counterpart on British soil is commented on in Goodall, Eighteenth-Century English Secular Cantatas, 172–3.

23 More details of these publications are given in Girolamo Polani: Six Chamber Cantatas for Solo Voice, ed. Michael Talbot (Middleton, WI, 2011), x.

24 Samples of the hands of Smith and Boyce appear in Johnstone, ‘The Life and Work’, ii, xvi–xix. Smith went on to become organist at Gloucester Cathedral from 1740 until his death.

25 Among the apprentices of Greene from the relevant period whose hands await identification are Edward Salisbury and Kelly Webb (both articled in 1718), David Digard (1730) and Elias Isaac (1742). However, it is also possible that Greene, like many other composers of his time, sometimes engaged commercial copyists to work under supervision in his own house (a practice aimed at ensuring that they did not surreptitiously make ‘second’ copies for their own use and profit).

26 Shelfmarked A.Ms.3728.

27 A priceless resource for the study of the Fondo Mario and the biography of the collector is Annalisa Bini, Il fondo Mario nella Biblioteca Musicale di Santa Cecilia di Roma. Catalogo dei manoscritti (Rome, 1995). I take this opportunity to thank Dr Bini warmly for answering many questions about the album and other manuscripts in the collection, and for facilitating my access to the music.

28 Greene also visited Mary and George Bowes at their country residence of Gibside, near Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1750. Roz Southey, who is currently working on the patronage of music by the Bowes family, has very kindly informed me in private correspondence of documents held by Durham Record Office showing that in 1744–5 both Greene and (on his behalf) his apprentice Elias Isaac copied music for Mary Bowes; this included cantatas (probably with English words) and parts for Florimel.

29 The literature on members of the Planta family is immense. A recommended starting point is Wendy Moore, Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met his Match (London, 2009), which in the course of relating Mary Eleanor Bowes's scandalous life in a colourful but impeccably documented manner provides information on the Planta family at many points.

30 Her death is reported in the Gentleman's Magazine, 43/1 (1823), 574.

31 A.Ms.3753, with the title of Italian Songs and the owner's name on the flyleaf.

32 Planta betrays her inexperience as a scribe by the great number of void staves and pages she leaves – not only between compositions but, more significantly, also within them. In some instances, void verso sides seem to have been her response to particularly heavy bleed-through from the preceding recto.

33 Jens Peter Larsen, Handel's Messiah: Origins, Composition, Sources (London, 1957), 277–9 and 283.

34 It is interesting that in 1747 Greene included a catch, Primavera, gioventù dell'anno bella, on lines 1–3 of Act III of Il pastor fido. One may assume that he owned a copy of Guarini's pastoral, this being, as Johnstone writes (‘The Life and Work’, ii, 69) ‘a favourite with aristocratic English readers of Italian poetry during the eighteenth century’.

35 This volume and the cultivation of music by the Baillie family have been researched extensively by Lowell Lindgren and the late Anthony Hicks. In 1996 Harry Johnstone received from the second scholar photocopies of the two Greene works, until then unknown, and these he was kind enough to make available to me. I am also extremely grateful to Daniel Wheeldon for making a checklist of the volume's contents on my behalf and taking scans of other material contained in it. More information on the Baillies and this manuscript is contained in Helen Goodwill, ‘The Musical Involvement of the Landed Classes in Eastern Scotland, 1685–1760′ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2000), 112–13, 154, 200; for Bayne, see especially pp. 216–21.

36 G. Mus. 362, II, ff. 9r–12r and 1r–3r, respectively.

37 Add. MS 65486. Comprising 127 folios and containing 12 items, the manuscript was acquired by Vincent Novello at the Puttick sale of Samuel Picart's library in 1848 and passed from the Novello firm to the British Library in the 1980s. The Greene duets appear on ff. 6r–8r and 8v–10r, respectively. Their hands are shared by no other items in the volume.

38 Paolo Rolli, Di canzonetti e cantate libri due (London, 1727). Rolli never added to, or revised, these 25 cantatas in later editions of his poems.

39 The first version of Son gelsomino, son picciol fiore (HWB 164b), dates from before 1720, while Deh lasciate e vita e volo (HWV 103) and Ho fuggito Amore anch'io (HWV 118) were composed in the early 1720s.

40 George E. Dorris, Paolo Rolli and the Italian Circle in London, 1715–1744 (The Hague, 1967), 164.

41 These are S’è tiranno il bendato bambin (1701) and Lontan dall'idol mio (1704), to which can be added the undated Questi occhi e questi rai.

42 Delle ode d'Anacreonte Teio (London, 1739).

43 The analogy with four-movement and three-movement sonata designs from the same period is of course obvious, and certainly not fortuitous.

44 On this question, see Michael Talbot, The Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi (Woodbridge, 2006), 30–1.

45 It must be conceded, however, that many cantatas opening with a recitative are tonally closed only in the formal sense that their opening chord coincides with the final chord of the last aria: rapid modulation from the very start prevents most recitatives from acquiring any definite tonal character.

46 Regarding this date, see Lowell Lindgren, ‘Bononcini's “Agreable and Easie Style, and Those Fine Inventions in His Basses (to which He was Led by an Instrument on which He Excells)”’, in Aspects of the Secular Cantata in Late Baroque Italy, ed. Michael Talbot (Farnham, 2009), 135–75 (pp. 163–4).

47 Similarly, his anthem O Lord our Governor of 1726, seemingly uniquely among his compositions in A major, employs a two-sharp key signature.

48 Infelice tortorella was also set earlier (as L'infelice tortorella) by Giovanni (or possibly Antonio) Bononcini and later by Francesco Weber. The lack of musical correspondences with Greene's setting as well as divergences in the literary texts themselves suggest that the English composer took the text from a different source.

49 The same alteration is made in ink on the example of the 1733 edition of Rolli's poetry (published in Venice) held by the Taylor Institution, Oxford. It is doubtful whether Rolli himself sanctioned it, for it would have then been adopted in later editions of his poetry,

50 A good example is the aria ‘La pena del mio cor’ ending Albinoni's Son qual Tantalo novello, op. 4 no. 12 (1702).

51 I am grateful to Carlo Vitali for pointing me towards the literature on this subject.

52 Johnstone, ‘The Life and Work’, i, 112–13, discusses Greene's connection with the Robinson sisters.

53 A Miscellany of Lyric Poems, The Greatest Part Written for, and Performed in, the Academy of Music Hold in Apollo (London, 1740). The foundation and activity of the Apollo Society are described in Gardner, Handel and Maurice Greene's Circle, 13–17. I am very grateful to the author for commenting on this point and others in the present article.

54 Naples, Conservatorio S. Pietro a Majella, Cantate 140(2).

55 The translation is my own.

56 This remarkable progression, which takes the music to the diametrically opposite point in the circle of fifths, will be used with similar powerful effect in bars 93–7 of the first movement of Haydn's Symphony no. 86.

57 Burney, General History, iv, p. 327. The device occurs at the close of the second vocal period in bars 44–45.

58 Examples occur in the second arias of Nel tuo foglio, o cara Irene and Non te lo dissi già.

59 Consulted in the copy in British Library, Add. MS 14209, ff. 23r–27v. The text, hilarious in places, relates the amorous wiles of a nymph. It is possibly of Venetian provenance, since settings by Benedetto Marcello and Diogenio Bigaglia also exist.

60 Consulted in the copy in British Library, R.M.24.c.17., ff. 49v–51r.

61 Many of Greene's appoggiaturas notated in this manner take the form of a quaver grace-note before a (notated) crotchet on an adjacent pitch which is itself then repeated. The question then arises whether the appoggiaturas are ‘half-replacing’ or ‘full-replacing’, to adopt a terminology proposed in David Montgomery, Franz Schubert's Music in Performance: Compositional Ideals, Notational Intent, Historical Realities, Notational Foundations (Hillsdale, NY, 2003), 176–83. First impressions suggest that the ‘half-replacing’ function is intended.

62 On the harmonic and tonal transition between recitative and aria, see Michael Talbot, ‘How Recitatives End and Arias Begin in the Solo Cantatas of Antonio Vivaldi’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 126 (2001), 169–92.

63 Burney, General History, iii, 615.

64 George Hogarth, Musical History, Biography, and Criticism: Being a General Survey of Music, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time (London, 1835), 292–3.

65 The contemporary term ‘ambitus’, as used by the theorist J. D. Heinichen, refers to the set of five closely related keys based on the diatonic triads II–VI in major keys and III–VII in minor keys.

66 Upper-case and lower-case letters represent major and minor keys, respectively. The keys reached at the ends of the four vocal periods are underlined. The forward slash marks the division between the A and B sections.

67 Burney, General History, iv, 327.

68 Winton Dean, The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992), i, 547; C. Steven LaRue, Handel and His Singers: The Creation of the Royal Academy Operas, 1720–1728 (Oxford, 1995), 164–5.

69 Examples 1 and 2 in Talbot, ‘Maurice Greene, Faustina Bordoni and the Note E’, illustrate the ubiquity and prominence of this note in the soprano part.

70 Here, and throughout the Oxford volume, instrumental parts lack individual designations. In theory, the instrumental part prefaced by a treble clef, clearly identifiable from its compass as being for violin, could be intended for unison violins rather than a solo violin, but the generally cantabile character of the parts, the frequency of dialogues with the soprano (as if in a love duet!) and the absence of even sporadic division into two separate lines (as seen, for example, in Roseingrave's cantata arias with a single staff for violins) make that possibility remote.

71 Chelleri's visits to London are discussed in Michael Talbot, ‘Fortunato Chelleri's Cantate e arie con stromenti: A Souvenir of London (1727)’, De musica disserenda, 7 (2011), 51–68, where, however, the provenance of the arias is not investigated.

72 The arias are published in two volumes as Maurice Greene: Six Italian Arias, ed. Michael Talbot (Launton, 2015).

73 The relationship of Salvini and Addison is explored in Maria Pia Paoli, ‘Anton Maria Salvini (1653–1729). Il ritratto di un “letterato” nella Firenze di fine Seicento’, published online at <>, 26–7.

74 The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq. (London, 1721), iv, 42–55 (pp. 52–3).

75 These visits were reported in the Country Journal and British Journal of 6 July 1728.

76 The contribution of the unidentified Scribe I (see Table 1) to the otherwise autograph manuscript is limited to the notes (but not the underlaid text) of the vocal parts.

77 Walker, ‘The Bodleian Manuscripts’, 159–65.

78 As he writes in his foreword, Rolli took not the original Greek version but the Latin translations of Michael Mattaire and Joshua Barnes as his basis. Three odes only (nos. 32, 35 and 49) were omitted on the grounds of apparent spuriosity, all the rest being accepted as genuine products of Anacreon's stylus.

79 Harry Johnstone comments (in private correspondence) that if the original singer of the soprano part were indeed Mary Bowes, the bass part could well have been intended for Greene himself, judging from the compass of the part for the Satyr that he took in the 1737 performance of Florimel.

80 Johnstone, ‘The Life and Work’, ii, 49.

81 Ernest Walker (‘The Bodleian Manuscripts’, p. 159) noted the striding broken-chord figuration of the continuo bass towards the end of Ode 37, which he described sourly and not entirely accurately as ‘“Alberti-Bass” passages in the accompaniment, after an unfortunate model to which Greene was happily extremely rarely addicted’.

82 Benedetto Marcello composed the texts and music for such cycles, and rich patrons who were also prolific poets, such as Antonio Ottoboni (1646–1720) and his son Pietro (1667–1740), were in a position to instruct composers in their service to set connected groups of cantata texts.

83 Johnstone (‘The Life and Work’, i, 87) writes appositely: ‘His natural mode of musical expression was […] founded on the cosmopolitan lingua franca of the day, an urbane but thoroughly eclectic style whose more prominent Italianate features are by some still fondly imagined to be Handelian in origin.’

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