Murder, Mystery and a strange connection to Australia. The case of Domenico Cimarosa.

Murder, Mystery and a strange connection to Australia. The case of Domenico Cimarosa.

blog by Samuel Cottell

In Omega Ensemble’s second concert for the year, they are exploring two iconic chamber works; Rachmaninoff's first Piano Trio and Beethoven’s revered Septet in Eb. And true to their philosophy, they are also uncovering a rare gem that rarely gets an outing in chamber music performances. Cimarosa’s Concerto for Clarinet and Strings.

Who is Cimarosa you ask? Well, for a man who led such a tumultuous and intriguing life (which would have made a great plot for an opera) he is hardly known.

Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1809) was an Italian composer mostly known for his operas (during his lifetime he wrote about 80 of them).Haydn loved Cimarosa’s music and it is said that he could write a melody that rivalled Mozart (that is indeed a great gift). He had humble beginnings, his family was poor and his father was a stone mason but at a young age, he showed musical promise. After obtaining musical training he made his mark at age 23 as composer of opera buffa

Musical Style
His music was described is filled ‘with glittering arrays of comic verve, passion, strength, and gaiety.’ The music critic Hanslick wrote that Cimarosa was a ‘captious and intemperate reviler of genius. 
“The secret of Cimarosa’s power to complex imagination lies in his use of long musical phrases which are at once fantastically rich and extraordinarily regular.”

An excerpt from Domenico Cimarosa: His Life and His Operas also demonstrates the power of his compositional abilities: 


Cimarosa loved to be surrounded by noise and he would invite all of his friends to be around him when he composed. This didn’t have much impact on the way he composed and his music is full of grace, beauty and elegance; not at all a representation of noisy surroundings. 

Politics and Mystery
Cimarosa was an avid supporter of the  Revolution and when Napoleon’s forces took over Naples Cimarosa sympathetic to their cause by composing patriotic Hymns, which put him in an awkward political situation when Ferdinand’s troops retook it. He tried to make amends with Ferdinand by composing a cantata but this displeased Ferdinand and the King had Cimarosa arrested and ordered his beheading. He was saved at the last minute by his friends but banished from Naples forever.

An autopsy was ordered to investigate his death as he was suspected of being poisoned. It was suspected that he was poisoned by his enemies. An inquest revealed this to be the case). It is more likely that he just died of old age and from the stress of being in prison and banished from Naples. He worked right up until his death and his opera Artemizia remained incomplete when he died.

The Australian Connection
And finally, to answer the burning question about his connection to Australia! The Australian born composer, Arthur Benjamin, arranged Cimarosa’s Oboe Concerto for Clarinet and that is the version that is being heard in this concert.
It is largely his operas that are still heard today and rarely do we get to hear his chamber music, so it’s  only fitting that we present this particular work and arrangement to you in our next concert. 

His chamber music gives a taste of his overall style and demonstrates his ability to compose melody. If you love Mozart, you’ll love Cimarosa. The opening Larghetto leads into a delightful Allegro which makes reference to opera buff. The work is full of elegance and stylish grace with hints to the Baroque era.

So, there you have it. Some interesting facts about the little known Italian musical ‘genius’ Cimarosa. Don’t miss out on the chance to hear the glorious melodies (that rivalled Mozart’s melodic gift), the elegance and grace of his style and the beautiful sound of the  clarinet combined with strings. You’ll also hear  Beethoven’s revered Septet in Eb, the lyrically haunting Piano Trio in G minor by Rachmaninoff as well as Cimarosa’s charming and graceful Concerto for Clarinet and Strings in Omega’s second concert for the year ‘Romantic Visions’ on 5 April at City Recital Hall

Samuel Cottell

Samuel Cottell is a multi-verstalie musician (pianist, arranger and composer), writer, music journalist (Leader Writer -Cut Common Mag, Fine Music Magazine, Music and Literature, Jazz Australia and Australian, and biographer. Samuel is also an music educator and currently tutors music theory and analysis in the Arts Music Unit, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Samuel is currently undertaking his PhD (Musicology) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he is researching the life and music of Tommy Tycho. Samuel has also been published in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and has interviewed world-acclaimed musicians Renee Flemming, Steven Isserlis, Maxim Vengerov, Stuart Skelton and local musicians Daniel Rojas,  Simon Tedeschi and Katie Noonan. As well as these activities Samuel is in demand as a program note writer (Nexas Saxophone Quartet) and gives pre-concert talks for The Grevillea Ensemble and appeared on Radio National's "RareCollections" talking about Tommy Tycho's recording career and contribution to music.