1. The King and the People
The kingdom of Naples, comprising all Italy south of the Papal States, was buffeted about in the struggle for power among Austria, Spain, England, and France. But that is the dreary logic-chopping of history, the bloody seesaw of victory and defeat; let us merely note that Austria took Naples in 1707; that Don Carlos, Bourbon duke of Parma and son of Philip V of Spain, drove out the Austrians in 1734, and, as Charles IV, king of Naples and Sicily, ruled till 1759. His capital, with 300,000 population, was the largest city in Italy.
Charles matured slowly into the royal art. At first he took kingship as a license for luxury: he neglected government, spent half his days in hunting, and ate himself into obesity. Then, toward 1755, inspired by his Minister of Justice and Foreign Affairs, Marchese Bernardo di Tanucci, he undertook to mitigate the harsh feudalism that underlay the toil and ecstasy of Neapolitan life.
Three interlocking groups had long ruled the kingdom. Nobles owned almost two thirds of the land, held four fifths of its five million souls in bondage, dominated the parliament, controlled taxation, and frustrated all reform. The clergy owned a third of the land, and held the people in spiritual subjection with a theology of terror, a literature of legends, a ritual of stupefaction, and such miracles as the semiannual manipulated liquefaction of the congealed blood of St. Januarius, Naples’ patron saint. Administration was in the hands of lawyers beholden to nobles or prelates, and therefore pledged to the medieval status quo. A small middle class, mostly of merchants, was politically impotent. Peasants and proletaires lived in a poverty that drove some into brigandage and many into beggary; there were thirty thousand beggars in Naples alone.94 De Brosses called the masses of the capital “the most abominable riffraff, the most disgusting vermin”95—a judgment that condemned the result without stigmatizing the cause. We must admit, however, that those ragged, superstitious, and priest-ridden Neapolitans seemed to have more of the salt and joy of life in them than any other populace in Europe.
Charles checked the power of the nobles by attracting them to the court to be under the royal eye, and by creating new nobles pledged to his support. He discouraged the flow of youth into monasteries, reduced the ecclesiastical multitude from 100,000 to 81,000, laid a tax of two per cent upon church property, and limited the legal immunities of the clergy. Tannuci restricted the jurisdiction of the nobles, fought judicial corruption, reformed legal procedure, and moderated the severity of the penal code. Freedom of worship was allowed to the Jews, but the monks assured Charles that his lack of a male heir was God’s punishment for this sinful toleration, and the indulgence was withdrawn.96
The King’s passion for building gave Naples two famous structures. The vast Teatro San Carlo was raised in 1737; it is still one of the largest and most beautiful opera houses in existence. In 1752 Luigi Vanvitelli began at Caserta, twenty-one miles northeast of the capital, the enormous royal palace that was designed to rival Versailles, and to serve the similar functions of housing the royal family, the attendant nobility, and the main administrative staff. Slaves black or white toiled on the task for twenty-two years. Curved buildings flanked a spacious approach to the central edifice, which spread its front for 830 feet. Within were a chapel, a theater, countless rooms, and a broad double stairway of which every step was a single marble slab. Behind the palace, for half a mile, lay formal gardens, a population of statues, and majestic fountains supplied by an aqueduct twenty-seven miles long.
Other than this Caserta (for the palace, like the Escorial and Versailles, took the name of its town) there was no outstanding art in the Naples of this age, nor anything memorable in drama or poetry. One man wrote a bold Istoria civile del regno di Napoli (1723), a running attack upon the greed of the clergy, the abuses of the ecclesiastical courts, the temporal power of the Church, and the claim of the papacy to hold Naples as a papal fief; its author, Pietro Giannone, was excommunicated by the Archbishop of Naples, fled to Vienna, was thrown into prison by the King of Sardinia, and died in Turin (1748) after twelve years of confinement.97—Antonio Geno-vesi, a priest, lost his faith while reading Locke, and in Elementa metaphys-icae (1743) tried to introduce the Lockian psychology into Italy. In 1754 a Florentine businessman established in the University of Naples the first European chair of political economy on two conditions: that it should never be held by an ecclesiastic, and that its first occupant should be Antonio Geno-vesi. Genovesi repaid him (1756) with the first systematic economic treatise in Italian, Lezioni di commercio, which voiced the cry of merchants and manufacturers for liberation from feudal, ecclesiastical, and other restraints on free enterprise. In that same year Quesnay raised the same demand for the French middle class in his articles for Diderot’s Encyclopédie.
Perhaps some liaison had been established between Genovesi and Quesnay by Ferdinando Galiani, of Naples and Paris. Galiani published in 1750 a Trattato della moneta, in which, with the innocence of a twenty-two-year-old economist, he determined the price of a product by the cost of its production. More brilliant was his Dialoghi sul commercio dei grant, which we have noted as a criticism of Quesnay. When he had to come home after his exciting years in Paris, he mourned that Naples had no salons, no Mme. Geoffrin to feed him and stir his wit. It had, however, a philosopher who left a mark on history.
2. Giambattista Vico
At the age of seven, says his autobiography, he fell from a ladder, struck the ground head first, and remained unconscious for five hours. He suffered a cranial fracture over which a massive tumor formed. This was reduced by successive lancings; however, the boy lost so much blood in the process that the surgeons expected his early death. “By God’s grace” he survived, “but as a result of this mischance I grew up with a melancholy and irritable temperament.”98 He also developed tuberculosis. If genius depends upon some physical handicap Vico was richly endowed.
At seventeen (1685) he earned his bread by tutoring at Vatolla (near Salerno) the nephews of the bishop of Ischia. There he remained nine years, meanwhile feverishly studying jurisprudence, philology, history, and philosophy. He read with special fascination Plato, Epicurus, Lucretius, Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, Descartes, and Grotius, with some injury to his catechism. In 1697 he obtained a professorship in rhetoric at the University of Naples; it paid him only a hundred ducats yearly, to which he added by tutoring; on this he raised a large family. One daughter died in youth; one son showed such vicious tendencies that he had to be sent to a house of correction. The wife was illiterate and incompetent; Vico had to be father, mother, and teacher.99 Amid these distractions he wrote his philosophy of history.
Principi di una scienza nuova d’intorno alla commune natura delle nazioni (1725) offered the “principles of a new science concerning the common nature of the nations,” and proposed to find in the jungle of history regularities of sequence that might illuminate past, present, and future. Vico thought that he could discern three main periods in the history of every people:
(1) The age of the gods, in which the Gentiles believed that they lived under divine governments, and that everything was commanded them by [gods through] auspices and oracles. … (2) The age of heroes, when these reigned in aristocratic commonwealths, on account of a certain superiority of nature which they held themselves to have over the plebs. (3) The age of men, in which all recognized themselves as equal in human nature, and therefore established the first popular commonwealths, and then monarchies.100
Vico applied the first period only to “Gentiles” and “profane” (non-Biblical) history; he could not, without offending sacred tradition, speak of the Old Testament Jews as merely believing that they “lived under divine governments.,, Since the Inquisition (severer in Naples than in northern Italy) had prosecuted Neapolitan scholars for talking of men before Adam, Vico laboriously reconciled his formula with Genesis by supposing that all the descendants of Adam, except the Jews, had relapsed, after the Flood, into an almost bestial condition, living in caves, and copulating indiscriminately in a communism of women. It was from this secondary “state of nature” that civilization had developed through the family, agriculture, property, morality, and religion. At times Vico spoke of religion as a primitive animistic way of explaining objects and events; at times he exalted it as a peak of evolution.
To the three stages of social development correspond three “natures,” or ways of interpreting the world: the theological, the legendary, the rational.
The first nature, by an illusion of imagination (which is strongest in those who are weakest in reasoning power), was a poetic or creative nature, which we may be allowed to call divine, since it conceived physical things as animated by gods. … Through the same error of their imagination men had a terrible fear of the gods whom they themselves had created. … The second nature was the heroic: the heroes believed themselves to be of divine origin. … The third was the human nature [way], intelligent and therefore modest, benign, and rational, recognizing conscience, reason, and duty as laws.101
Vico strove to fit the history of language, literature, law, and government into this triadic scheme. In the first stage men communicated through signs and gestures; in the second, through “emblems, similitudes, images”; in the third, through “words agreed upon by the people, … whereby they might fix the meaning of the laws.” Law itself passed through a corresponding development: at first it was divine, god-given, as in the Mosaic code; then heroic, as in Lycurgus; then human—“dictated by fully developed human reason.”102 Government, too, has gone through three stages: the theocratic, in which the rulers claimed to be the voice of God; the aristocratic, in which “all civil rights” were confined to the ruling order of “heroes”; and the human, wherein “all are accounted equal before the laws. … This is the case in the free popular cities, and … also in those monarchies that make all their subjects equal under their laws.”103 Vico evidently recalled Plato’s summary of political evolution from monarchy through aristocracy to democracy to dictatorship (tyrannis), but he varied the formula to read: theocracy, aristocracy, democracy, monarchy. He agreed with Plato that democracy tends toward chaos, and he looked upon one-man rule as a necessary remedy for democratic disorder; “monarchies are the final governments … in which nations come to rest.”104
Social disorder may come through moral deterioration, luxury, effeminacy, loss of martial qualities, corruption in office, a disruptive concentration of wealth, or an aggressive envy among the poor. Usually such disorder leads to dictatorship, as when the rule of Augustus cured the democratic chaos of the Roman Republic.105 If even dictatorship fails to stem decay, some more vigorous nation enters as conqueror.
Since people so far corrupted have already become slaves of their unrestrained passions, … Providence decrees that they become slaves by the natural law of nations; … they become subject to better nations which, having conquered them, keep them as subject provinces. Herein two great lights of natural order shine forth: first, that he who cannot govern himself must let himself be governed by another who can; second, that the world is always governed by those who are naturally fittest.106
In such cases the conquered people falls back into the stage of development reached by its conquerors. So the population of the Roman Empire, after the barbarian invasions, relapsed into barbarism, and had to begin with theocracy [rule by priests and theology]; such were the Dark Ages. With the Crusades came another heroic age; the feudal chieftains correspond to the heroes of Homer, and Dante is Homer again.
We hear in Vico echoes of the theory that history is a circular repetition, and of Machiavelli’s law of corsi e ricorsi, development and return. The idea of progress suffers in this analysis; progress is merely one half of a cyclical movement in which the other half is decay; history, like life, is evolution and dissolution in an ineluctible sequence and fatality.
On his way Vico offered some striking suggestions. He reduced many heroes of classic legend to eponyms—afternames—post-factum personifications of long impersonal or multipersonal processes; so Orpheus was the imaginary consolidation of many primitive musicians; Lycurgus was the embodiment of the series of laws and customs that congealed Sparta; Romulus was a thousand men who had made Rome a state.107 Likewise Vico reduced Homer to a myth by arguing—half a century before Friedrich Wolf’sProlegomena to Homer (1795)—that the Homeric epics are the accumulated and gradually amalgamated product of groups and generations of rhapsodes who sang, in the cities of Greece, the sagas of Troy and Odysseus.108 And almost a century before Barthold Niebuhr’s History of Rome (1811-32) Vico rejected as legendary the first chapters of Livy. “All the histories of the Gentile nations have had fabulous beginnings.”109 (Again Vico carefully avoids impugning the historicity of Genesis.)
This epochal book reveals a powerful but harassed mind struggling to formulate basic ideas without getting himself into an Inquisition jail. Vico went out of his way, time after time, to profess his loyalty to the Church, and he felt that he merited ecclesiastical commendation for explaining the principles of jurisprudence in a manner compatible with Catholic theology.110 We hear a sincerer tone in his view of religion as the indispensable support of social order and personal morality: “Religions alone have the power to cause the people to do virtuous works . . .”111 And yet, despite his frequent use of “Providence,” he seems to eliminate God from history, and to reduce events to the unimpeded play of natural causes and effects. A Dominican scholar attacked Vico’s philosophy as not Christian but Lucretian.
Perhaps the emerging secularism of Vico’s analysis had something to do with its failure to win a hearing in Italy, and doubtless the disorderly discursiveness of his work and the confusion of his thought doomed his “new science” to a still but painful birth. No one agreed with his belief that he had written a profound or illuminating book. He appealed in vain to Jean Le Clerc to at least mention it in the periodical Nouvelles de la républiquedes lettres. Ten years after the Scienza nuova appeared, Charles IV came to Vico’s aid by appointing him historiographer royal with a yearly stipend of a hundred ducats. In 1741 Giambattista had the satisfaction of seeing his son Gennaro succeed to his professorship in the University of Naples. In his final years (1743-44) his mind gave way, and he lapsed into a mysticism bordering on insanity.
A copy of his book was in Montesquieu’s library.112 In private notes the French philosopher acknowledged his debt to Vico’s theory of cyclical development and decay; and that debt, unnamed, appears in Montesquieu’s Greatness and Decadence of the Romans(1734). For the rest Vico remained almost unknown in France until Jules Michelet published (1827) an abridged translation of the Scienza nuova. Michelet described Italy as “the second mother and nurse who in my youth suckled me on Virgil, and in my maturity nourished me with Vico.”113 In 1826 Auguste Comte began the lectures that became his Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42), wherein the influence of Vico is felt at every stage. It was left for a Neapolitan, Benedetto Croce, to give Vico his full due,114 and to suggest again that history must take its place beside science as the ground and vestibule of philosophy.
3. Neapolitan Music
Naples reversed Pythagoras, and judged music to be the highest philosophy. Said Lalande, the French astronomer, after a tour of Italy in 1765-66:
Music is the special triumph of the Neapolitans. It seems as if in that country the membranes of the eardrum are more taut, more harmonious, more sonorous than elsewhere in Europe. The whole nation sings. Gestures, tone, voice, rhythm of syllables, the very conversation—all breathe music.... So Naples is the principal source of Italian music, of great composers and excellent operas; it is there that Corelli, Vinci, Rinaldo, Jommelli, Durante, Leo, Pergolesi, … and so many other famous composers have brought forth their masterpieces.115
Naples, however; was supreme only in opera and vocal melody; in instrumental music Venice led the way; and music fanciers complained that the Neapolitans loved the tricks of the voice more than the subtleties of harmony and counterpoint. Here reigned Niccolò Porpora, “perhaps the greatest singing teacher who ever lived.”116 Every Italian warbler aspired to be his pupil, and, once accepted, bore humbly with his imperious eccentricities; so, said a story, he kept Gaetano Caffarelli for five years at one page of exercises, and then dismissed him with the assurance that he was now the greatest singer in Europe.117 Second only to Porpora as a teacher was Francesco Durante, who taught Vinci, Jommelli, Pergolesi, Paisiello, and Piccini.
Leonardo Vinci seemed handicapped by his name, but he won early acclaim by his setting of Metastasio’s Didone abbandonata; Algarotti felt that “Virgil himself would have been pleased to hear a composition so animated and so harrowing in which the heart and soul were at once assailed by all the powers of music.”118 Still more famous was Leonardo Leo, in opera seria and buffa, oratorio, Masses, and motets; Naples oscillated for some time between laughing at his comic opera La finta Fracastana and weeping over the “Miserere” that he composed for the Lenten services of 1744.
When, about 1735, Leo heard a cantata by Niccolò Jommelli, he exclaimed, “A short time, and this young man will be the wonder and admiration of Europe.”119 Jommelli almost verified the prophecy. At twenty-three he won the plaudits of Naples with his first opera; at twenty-six he earned a similar triumph in Rome. Passing to Bologna, he presented himself as a pupil to Padre Martini; but when that reverend teacher heard him extemporize a fugue in all its classic development he cried out, “Who are you, then? Are you making fun of me? It is I who should learn from you.”120 At Venice his operas aroused such enthusiasm that the Council of Ten appointed him music director of the Scuola degli Incurabili; there he wrote some of the best religious music of that generation. Moving on to Vienna (1748) he composed in close friendship with Metastasio. After further victories in Venice and Rome he settled down in Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg (1753-68) as Kapellmeister to the Duke of Württemberg. Here he modified his operatic style in a German direction, giving more complexity to his harmony, more substance and weight to the instrumental music; he discarded the da capo repetition of arias, and provided orchestral accompaniment for recitatives. Probably under the influence of Jean-Georges Noverre, the French ballet master at Stuttgart, he gave ballet a prominent part in his operas. In some measure these developments in Jommelli’s music prepared the way for the reforms of Gluck.
When the aging composer returned to Naples (1768) the audience resented his Teutonic tendencies, and decisively rejected his operas. Mozart, hearing one of them there in 1770, remarked: “It is beautiful, but the style is too elevated, as well as too antique, for the theater.”121 Jommelli fared better with his church music; his “Miserere” and his Mass for the Dead were sung throughout the Catholic world. William Beckford, after hearing the Mass in Lisbon in 1787, wrote: “Such august, such affecting music I never heard, and perhaps may never hear again.”122 Having saved his earnings with Teutonic care, Jommelli retired to his native Aversa, and spent his final years in opulent corpulence. In 1774 all the prominent musicians of Naples attended his funeral.
Naples laughed even more than it sang. It was with a comic opera that Pergolesi conquered Paris after that proud city, alone among the European capitals, had refused to submit to Italy’s opera seria. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi did not fight that battle in person, for he died in 1736 at the age of twenty-six. Born near Ancona, he came to Naples at sixteen. By the age of twenty-two he had written several operas, thirty sonatas, and two Masses much admired. In 1733 he presented an opera, Il prigioniero, and as an interlude to this he offered La serva padrona— “the maid” become “mistress” of the house. The libretto is a jolly story of how Serpina, the servant, maneuvers her master into marrying her; the music is an hour of gaiety and agile arias. We have seen how this artful frolic captured the mood and heart of Paris in the Guerre des Bouffons of 1752, when it ran for a hundred performances at the Opéra, and then, in 1753, for ninety-six more at the Théâtre-Français. Meanwhile Pergolesi conducted his opera L’Olimpiade in Rome (1735). It was hailed with a storm of hoots, and with an orange accurately aimed at the composer’s head.123 A year later he went to Pozzuoli to be treated for tuberculosis, which had been made worse by his profligate life. His early death atoned for his sins, and he was buried in the local cathedral by the Capuchin friars among whom he had spent his last days. Rome, repentant, revived L’Olimpiade, and applauded it rapturously. Italy honors him not so much for his joyous intermezzi as for the tender sentiment of his “Stabat Mater,” which he did not live to complete. Pergolesi himself was made the subject of two operas.
Domenico Scarlatti, like Pergolesi, has been slightly inflated by the winds of taste, but who can resist the sparkle of his prestidigitation? Born in the annus mirabilis of Handel and Bach (1685), he was the sixth child of Alessandro Scarlatti, then the Verdi of Italian opera. He breathed music from his birth. His brother Pietro, his cousin Giuseppe, his uncles Francesco and Tommaso, were musicians; Giuseppe’s operas were produced in Naples, Rome, Turin, Venice, Vienna. Fearing lest Domenico’s genius be stifled by this plethora of talent, the father sent him, aged twenty, to Venice. “This son of mine,” he said, “is an eagle whose wings are grown. He must not remain in the nest, and I must not hinder his flight.”124
In Venice the youth continued his studies, and met Handel. Perhaps together they passed to Rome, where, at the urging of Cardinal Ottoboni, they engaged in an amiable competition on the harpsichord and then on the organ. Domenico was already the best harpsichordist in Italy, but Handel, we are told, equaled him; while on the organ Scarlatti frankly owned il caro Sassone’s superiority. The two men became fast friends; this is extremely difficult for leading practitioners of the same art, but, a contemporary tells us, “Domenico had the sweetest temper and the genteelest behavior,”125 and Handel’s heart was as big as his frame. The shy modesty of the Italian deterred him from giving public displays of his harpsichord mastery; we know it only from reports of private musicales. One auditor in Rome (1714) “thought ten thousand devils had been at the instrument”; never before had he heard “such passages of execution and effect.”126 Scarlatti was the first to develop the keyboard potentialities of the left hand, including its crossing over the right. “Nature,” he said, “gave me ten fingers, and as my instrument has employment for all, I see no reason why I should not use them.”127
In 1709 he accepted appointment as maestro di capella to the former Queen of Poland, Maria Kazimiera. On the death of her husband, Jan So-bieski, she had been banished as a troublesome intriguer; coming to Rome in 1699, she resolved to set up a salon as brilliant with genius as that of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had died ten years before. In a palace on the Piazza della Trinità dei Monti she gathered many of Christina’s former circle, including several members of the Arcadian Academy. There (1709-14) Scarlatti produced several of his operas. Encouraged by their success, he presented Amleto (Hamlet) in the Teatro Capranico. It was not well received, and Domenico never again offered an opera to an Italian public. His father had set a standard too high for him to reach.
For four years (1715-19) he directed the Cappella Giulia at the Vatican, and officiated at the organ in St. Peter’s; now he composed a “Stabat Mater” which has been pronounced “a genuine masterpiece.”128 In 1719 he conducted his opera Narciso in London. Two years later we find him in Lisbon as chapelmaster to John V, and as teacher to the King’s daughter Maria Barbara, who became a skilled harpsichordist under his tutelage; most of his extant sonatas were composed for her use. Returning to Naples (1725), he married, age forty-two, Maria Gentile, age sixteen; and in 1729 he took her to Madrid. In that year Maria Barbara married Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Spain. When she moved with him to Seville Scarlatti accompanied her, and he remained in her service till her death.
Scarlatti’s wife died in 1739, leaving him five children. He married again, and soon the five were nine. When Maria Barbara became queen of Spain (1746) she brought the Scarlatti family with her to Madrid. Farinelli was the favorite musician of the royal pair, but the singer and the virtuoso became good friends. Scarlatti’s position was that of a privileged servitor, providing music for the Spanish court. He obtained leave to go to Dublin in 1740 and to London in 1741; but mostly he lived in quiet content in or near Madrid, almost secluded from the world, and probably with no suspicion that he would become a favorite with pianists in the twentieth century.
Of the 555 “sonatas” that now precariously support his fame on their tonal filigree, Scarlatti in his lifetime published only thirty. Their modest title, Esercizii per gravicembalo, indicated their limited aim—to explore the possibilities of expression through harpsichord technique. They are sonatas only in the older sense of the term, as instrumental pieces to be “sounded,” not sung. Some have contrasted themes, and some are paired in major and minor keys, but they are all in single movements, with no attempt at thematic elaboration and recapitulation. They represent the emancipation of harpsichord music from the influence of the organ, and the reception, by keyboard compositions, of influences from opera. The vivacity, delicacy, trills, and tricks of sopranos andcastratiare here surpassed by agile fingers obeying a playful and prodigal imagination. Scarlatti literally “played” the harpsichord. “Do not expect,” he said, “any profound learning, but rather an ingenious jesting with art.”129 Something of the Spanish dance—its prancing feet and swirling skirts and tinkling castanets—is in these ripples and cascades, and everywhere in the sonatas is the abandon of a performer to pleasure in mastery over his instrument.130
That joy in the instrument must have been one source of solace to Scarlatti in those serving years in Spain. It was rivaled by his delight in gambling, which consumed much of his pension; the Queen had repeatedly to pay his debts. After 1751 his health failed, and his piety increased. In 1754 he returned to Naples, and there, three years later, he died. The good Farinelli provided for his friend’s impoverished family.
We have left to a later chapter the strange career of Farinelli in Spain. He and Domenico Scarlatti, Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo, were among the gifted Italians who, with the almost Italianate Mengs, brought Italian music and art into the Spanish quickening. In 1759 the King of Naples followed or preceded them. In that year Ferdinand VI died without issue, and his brother Charles IV of Naples inherited the Spanish throne as Charles III. Naples was sorry to see him go. His departure, in a fleet of sixteen ships, was a sad holiday for the Neapolitans; they gathered in great throngs along the shore to see him sail away, and many, we are told, wept in bidding farewell to “a sovereign who had proved himself the father of his people.”131 He was to crown his career by rejuvenating Spain.