“I bringe you mine owne master Horatio Vecchi of Modena, beside goodness of aire, most pleasing of all other for his conceipt and variety, wherewith all his works are singularly beautified.” Henry Peacham, The Compleat Gentleman, 1622
Orazio Vecchi would no doubt be puzzled to learn that four centuries after his death he would be best remembered (to the extent that he was remembered at all) for a light-hearted piece of entertainment, L’Amfiparnaso, and not for his considerable accomplishments as a composer of sacred music and highly sophisticated madrigals. Not that he would have any difficulty in defending his less serious compositions.
In the dedication of the collection Selva di varia ricreatione from 1590 Vecchi wrote “I am well aware that on first hearing some may perhaps think these my caprices base and trivial. Let them learn that it takes just as much skill, art, and knowledge…to make a silly comic character as it does to create a prudent and sagely old man…and if some smart ass says that it is easy to come up with such things, let him try; he’ll see that it is easy to want ideas, hard to have them, harder still to arrange them, and even more difficult to put them all together well.”
Born in Modena in 1550, Vecchi received his first musical training from a Servite monk named Salvatore Essenga. He took orders at a Benedictine monastery at some point before 1577 and by the end of the 1579 his reputation as a musician was such that he was engaged, along with Claudio Merulo and Giovanni Gabrieli, to provide music for the wedding of Bianca Capello and Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici. In that same year his first publication, a collection of eight voice motets, appeared in Venice. He served as maestro di capella first at the cathedral in Salò from 1581-4 and then at Modena from 1584-86. After a brief tenure at the cathedral of Reggio nell’Emilia, he accepted an appointment as canon at Correggio Cathedral. In a humorous autobiographical document that Vecchi wrote in 1587, he makes reference to the financial hardships and family responsibilities, which would burden him throughout his life.
In 1591, Vecchi was selected, together with Gabrieli and Lodovico Balbi, to revise and correct the Roman Gradual and in the same year he was elevated to the title of archdeacon. From Corregio he moved to the ducal court in Modena in 1593, the year before the first performances of L’Amfiparnaso. He was also admitted into the brotherhood of the Annunciation in the churches of S Maria and S Pietro, where he directed the music on various special occasions.
Vecchi was denied the of post of Maestro di Cappella at the Duomo of Modena by the appointment of the organist Fabio Richetti, which apparently caused considerable resentment. Apparently, simmering hostilities erupted during Mass at the Church of St. Augustine on April 21, 1596. Spaccini, a writer at the time, reported that the two organists obstenately played two different works simultaneously – an anecdote that, while disputed by other contemporaries, has led some historians to characterize Vecchi as a defiant and difficult personality. His involvement in the sordid affairs of his brother, accused of a triple murder, no doubt contributed to this undeserved picture picture of Vecchi’s character.
In 1603 the general council of Modena granted Vecchi a generous stipendium in recognition of his “rare abilities” and later the same year the imperial ambassador came to Modena to offer Vecchi the position of maestro at the court of Emperor Rudolph II, in succession to Monte. Unfortunately, Vecchi’s health was already failing him and he was unable to accept the position. He continued composing and directing in Modena until his death in 1605.
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