Francesco Bartolomeo Conti

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Although known to modern audiences from his compositions, in his day Francesco Bartolomeo Conti was renowned as the greatest living interpreter on the theorbo and mandolin. Although not born before 1681,…
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Although known to modern audiences from his compositions, in his day Francesco Bartolomeo Conti was renowned as the greatest living interpreter on the theorbo and mandolin. Although not born before 1681, by 1700, Conti was already famous as a musician in the courts of Italy, and in 1701, Conti accepted a position in Vienna as an assistant theorbist at the Habsburg court. Upon the death of his predecessor in 1708, Conti was named into the top spot and held this position until failing health forced his resignation in 1726. Conti returned to his position briefly in 1732 before finally perishing that same year at age 50 or 51. He married Maria Landini, the most popular singer in the Viennese court of that day, in 1711. When Landini died in 1722, she was replaced by Maria Anna Lorenzani, whom Conti likewise married in 1725.

Conti's surviving output is largely devoted to sacred and secular cantatas, masses, oratorios, and operas. A volume of his instrumental music published in London in 1707 is lost, but nine sinfonias, extracted from operas, still exist, along with what is likely the earliest known sonata for the mandolin. Conti's cantatas are particularly outstanding; one of them, Languet anima mea, survives in a manuscript version from 1716 as arranged by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV deest I 006). Conti's cantata output is of such quality that it is able to withstand comparison to similar works by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi; however, many of his cantatas survive in a two-part texture consisting of vocal line and continuo only. Conti composed more than 30 operas, of which the first, Clotida (1706), was the most popular during his lifetime. Unfortunately, this work is lost outside of excerpts drawn into other pasticcio; however, his Don Chiscotte in Sierra Morena (1719) has gained enough traction in modern times to become Conti's best-known work outside of Languet anima mea.

Conti was an enormously prolific and highly respected musician in the Viennese court of his day. When he resigned, it took more than a year for Habsburg court officials to find a suitable replacement. In time, they settled on no less a talent than Antonio Caldara, but even he was required to step aside during the few months that Conti was able to return to his duties in 1732.