- Giovanni Battista Serini -
by Marcello Villa
Giovanni Battista Serini is a composer all but forgotten today, known exclusively by harpsichordists and pianists thanks only to the three sonatas presented in this recording. In actuality, these works already enjoyed considerable renown at the time of their first publication and were then revised and adapted for the piano and, successively, various new modern editions. Nevertheless the thorough study of Serini in recent years has revealed him to be quite a unique musical figure of remarkable grandeur. His biography still contains many unknown aspects but thanks to recent discoveries it is being enriched with new elements little by little. Many points published here are, in fact, absolutely new.
Giovanni Battista Serini was most likely born in Cremona around 1710-15 into a musical family. His uncle Bartolomeo Serini's last will and testament, dating from 19 February 1720 and preserved in the Cremona States Archives, confirms for us the names and familial relations of some members of the Serini family more or less noted in musical circles of that period. Don Giuseppe Serini 'degenti in civitate Vienna', uncle to our Giovanni Battista and Cremonese himself, was a highly esteemed musician in the Austrian capital where he composed, among other things, Il Genio deluso, oratorio per San' Omobuono Cremonese in 1680 and Il Concerto de' Dei e delle Muse in 1685 on the occasion of the wedding of the Bavarian elector.
Giuseppe's brother and another of Giovanni Battista's uncles was Don Pietro Paolo Serini, degenti in civitate Cremona, a contralto cantor in the Cappella delle Laudi at the Cathedral of Cremona from November 1668 until 1709 and sporadically thereafter until 1727.
We then learn that a third brother named Giovanni Battista had already died by 1720 - the date of the will. His son, Pietro Paolo, was degenti in civitate Venetia at that time. Here we have the grandfather and father of our Giovanni Battista who would in turn learn the fundaments of music from his father and perhaps his uncle Giuseppe Gonelli, Chapel Master at the Cremona Cathedral, and eventually leave his city of birth to move to Venice with his family.
By 1714, father Pietro Paolo Serini, resident of Venice and a fairly good violinist, had already attempted to enter S. Marks Chapel without success.
In his Venetian years, Giovanni Battista turned out to be a student of Baldassarre Galuppi, and thanks to the probable mediation of the latter, entered into service to Robert D'Arcy IV Earl of Holdernesse in Yorkshire (English ambassador to Venice between 1744 and 1746) in the capacity of director of all musicall Entertainment.
We learn all this in a dedication to D'Arcy from 15 June 1755 which accompanies an impressive autographed manuscript preserved at York and containing a variety of compositions. There one can read: "The Reknowne attained alongside the joyfull Arrival of Your Always August Majesty of Britain brings with it too the outstanding and celebrated Name of Your Eminence as its sublime accompaniment. I who had the enviable Honour to serve You the entire time of Your Venetian Sojourne as Director of all Your Musicall Entertainment on the occasion of Your solemn extraordinary Embassy. Grace obtained by means of Vice Master Galuppi my fond Supporter and Instructor. " And it goes on: I am as well encouraged by the Honour which I had in Venice to present You some Thing of mine commanded from me by You."
This would be the only important documented commission for our Giò Batta Serini in Venice where it is also appears in the 1750 census.
In the same year, Serini obtained, perhaps again thanks to D'Arcy and Galuppi's mediation, a prestigious charge: he moved to Bückeburg in Germany where he was hired as Court Composer to Count Wilhelm Schaumburg - Lippe. The latter probably met Robert D'Arcy and Giovanni Battista Serini during his travels to Italy in 1750, the year in which he took the throne. A second oldest son, he suddenly found himself having to rule over the small state of Bückeburg after the death of his older brother, transforming it with his illuminated government into a model of military, economic and cultural efficiency. Besides personally occupying himself with assistance to the poor and orphaned and the betterment of his territory, he fashioned his court after the Berlin model: he strengthened the orchestra which he loved to conduct personally in moments of diversion and hired a number of musicians among whom our Serini as court composer, Angelo Colonna as Konzertmeister and the youthful Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, youngest son of Johann Sebastian, as a member of the orchestra.
Serini seemed at ease working in the small but stimulating town where he composed quite a lot of music. We also learn from the aforementioned dedication written in his hand at Bückeburg in 1755: "For five years in which I have had the honour to be in service to this most Benignant and Gracious Lord in the role of composer that this occasion is given me. "
Before the Second World War the library at Bückeburg preserved about 24 sinfonias, numerous pieces of chamber music, intermezzi, cantatas, motets, various sacred and secular works all of which is at least partially lost. In those years he was also singing instructor to Lucia Elisabeth Munchausen who was wed, in 1755, to Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach.
At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War Count Wilhelm, who was allied with Hannover and England against France, devoted all his attention to military operations, neglecting the court and its musical activity. Serini and Colonna left Bückeburg for Prague and were substituted by the young Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach who took over both of their posts.
There would only be news from Serini in 1765 when, on 8 January, he wrote a letter to Bonn addressed to Count Wilhelm who had since returned to his homeland. His letter, accompanied by some of his scores, informed the count of his new duty as instructor of the daughter of Mgr. Cresserner, English ambassador to Bonn between 1755 and 1781, a post probably obtained once again thanks to a recommendation by D'Arcy.
For the time being his place of birth and death remain unknown.
Some members of the Serini family were active in Venice in the years that followed, but family ties with Giovanni Battista have yet to be verified. There is news of a Caterina Serini, singer and member of the choir at the Ospedale degli Incurabili from 1760 to 1779 and interpreter of a few oratorios and performances by Brusa and Galuppi.
Worth noting is our Serini's musical output: besides the three sonatas for harpsichord, object of this recording, only the Sei Duetti per Due Violini, op.1 were published while he was living, but his catalog also stipulates six concertos for harpsichord and strings, six sinfonias, six sonatas for flute and basso continuo and seven arias for voice and orchestra. All this material, preserved in manuscripts at the library in York Minster and dedicated to Robert D'Arcy, constitutes the most important corpus of his compositions, probably destined to a printed edition which never came to be. Other sinfonias and instrumental pieces are found in manuscript in Venice, Regensburg and Paris. Some trio sonatas are preserved in manuscript form in Venice, Paris and Berlin. He also wrote several vocal works for which only the librettos survive: the scenic musical weaving Le nozze di Pisiche written to V. Cassini's celebrated libretto and the musical drama La Fortunata Sventura.
Surviving works of his sacred output are few - the bulk of them probably lost along with other compositions during more recent conflicts.