(Lucca 1690 - London 1770)
Francesco Barsanti is one of the many extraordinary Italian instrumentalists - virtuosi and composers - who travelled through Europe all along the eighteenth century, and contributed to the definitive achievement of instrumental music - particularly the genres of sonata, concert and symphony - and to the formation of an international language. Lucca, the town where he was born in 1690, seems to have been particularly rich in these kind of musicians in the previous centuries: Gioseffo e Franceco Guami -for other musical genres- , Gio. Lorenzo Gregori -his name is related to the history of concert, though he did all his work at home-, Franceco Xaverio Geminiani -the greatest promoter of Corelli-, Filippo Manfredi -another excellent violinist that performed in France and Spain, but also in Italy and most of all in Genova: Niccolo Paganini probably performed his first concert in Lucca thanks to a pupil of him- and finally Luigi Boccherini, finishing touch of a so big tradition. Among these musicians from Lucca, Francesco Barsanti should be put in the rank of the “definitive” emigrants, as Francesco Xaverio Geminiani and Luigi Boccherini, who never came back home. We don’t know much of him: the little biographical news present in the good Storia della musica in Lucca by Luigi Nerici (1879) do not say much on his training: «When he was young, he was sent to Padova where he should study Science, but he fell in love with music and decided to study it, becoming a good oboe and flute player». The traces of the activities of Barsanti in Italy are very few, but very significant: in 1717 and in 1718 he played the oboe during the great liturgical services that every year took place in the Santa Croce holy festivities - and his pay was huge. During the eighteenth century the holy festivities of Santa Croce were a place of meeting and of very interesting experimentation too, because the governors of Lucca, who wanted to increase the value of musical performances, had opened the participation to the -foreigners- with a contest for instrumentalists and singers - which was obviously won by the best among them. The liturgy granted privileged spaces for the instrumental performance. Thus in Santa Croce many musicians were allowed to perform: Francesco Maria Veracini, Pietro Nardini, Giuseppe Cambini, and from Lucca Filippo Manfredi and Luigi Boccherini - these last four musicians played all together again in Santa Croce, when they created the first foursome formation, the mighty Quartetto Toscano - until the clamorous, and shocking, performance of Niccolò Paganini. Now it should be evident why Francesco Barsanti, who in 1714 had moved to London - where he played the flute and the oboe in the orchestra of the Italian Opera Theatre - with Francesco Xaverio Geminiani, decided to go back to Lucca to perform in Santa Croce. After having worked in London for many years, in 1735 Barsanti went to Scotland, where he married a Scottish woman, and where he could rely on the aristocratic support, that allowed him to publish his best works: the ten Concerti grossi op.3 in 1742 and the nine Overtures op.4 around 1743. Then he came back to London, but he had lost all his previous contacts, so he had to accept some works as a viola player for the orchestras of the Londoners theatres. He died in 1772 under strange circumstances, when he was already poor. Two aspects of his life deserve to be emphasized. The contemporary presence in London of Barsanti and Geminiani - and sometimes of Veracini - seems to highlight the existence of a little "colony" - the citizens of Lucca, most of all merchants, were all around Europe and were insuperable in getting into the local realities. This colony probably was used has a support and an employment agency for others younger musicians, as the castrated Giovanni Battista Andreoni, who around the ‘40s performed in London for three consecutive seasons playing roles created by Georg Friedrich Handel - after having sung in the theatres of all Europe. It should not surprise that Barsanti changed instrument with great ease: in Lucca the players used to shift easily from flute to oboe, and during that period the musical training was less sectional than nowadays - and this is the reason why Barsanti found a job as a viola player. In some documents of the Edinburgh Musical Society we can read that Barsanti used to play the kettledrum, and in fact he sold a pair, probably because he needed the money to go back to London. The profound knowledge of various instruments is clearly evident in the composition: the sonatas for flute only, the symphony concerts - with the kettledrums, the oboes, the horns, the trumpet, and the usual bows -, the overtures which used the viola in a very innovative way. Although Barsanti has not been studied enough - after the few news we find in Nerici and in others English and Scottish researchers - the little we know of him and of his compositions that have been performed, show us a really interesting personality. By Gabriella Biagi Ravenni, University of Pisa.
print | close