Research project of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (Cologne, Germany)

The Cantata as an Aristocratic Medium of Expression in Rome during Handel's Times
(ca. 1695-1715)

In October 2010 the research project „The Cantata as an Aristocratic Medium of Expression in Rome during Handel's Times (ca. 1695-1715)“, financed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, started with an investigation of one of the most important musical genres in the 'eternal city': the cantata.

By focusing on the cantata the project is dealing with a genre central to the musical culture of Roman aristocracy, which has not yet been studied thoroughly. Due to the enormous bulk of musical sources the research has hitherto limited itself mainly to bibliographic work or to the study of the works of certain exponents like George Frideric Handel. The project's aim however is to broaden the research field including aspects of interdisciplinary research on Rome and Roman aristocracy and to understand the Roman cantata's function as a medium of expression of the nobility.

To be more concrete the following questions are not unsubstantial if we consider the value cantatas had:

Despite their huge number, cantatas don't seem to have been a trivial bulk. In fact they were copied and archived, they could serve as gifts to other nobles, they were put together in valuable manuscripts, bound in leather, gilded with the arms of the owner/donator/presentee and decorated with miniatures. This elaborate exterior suggests that text and music of the cantatas was also held in high esteem.

The project is considering the repertoire of four Roman music patrons who were linked to George Frideric Handel and who commissioned works from him. In addition to Handel's most important patron Marchese (later Principe) Francesco Maria Ruspoli (1672-1731) repertoires of the cardinals Benedetto Pamphilj (1653-1730), Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740) and Carlo Colonna (1665-1739) are considered. Besides compositions of well-known composers like Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti or Antonio Caldara music by unknown composers like Carlo Francesco Cesarini, Francesco Carlo Lanciani or Severo de Luca will be investigated, to some extent for the first time. Texts and music will be analysed considering the cultural, social and political context of the time. This overall view shows considerable promise to attain fundamental insight in the role and function of the cantata and in the end will account for a better understanding of Handel's cantata oeuvre.

The project is a co-operation of the musicological departments of the universities of Mainz (Germany) and Zurich (Switzerland) and headed by Prof. Dr. Klaus Pietschmann (Mainz) and Prof. Dr. Laurenz Lütteken (Zurich). Research is done by Dr. Berthold Over, investigating the repertoires of Handel's four patrons, and Magdalena Boschung M.A., working on Antonio Caldara's cantatas for Prince Ruspoli. Their scientific results will be published in two monographs and in the cantata database CLORI (

Contact details

Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Musikwissenschaftliches Institut
Jakob-Welder-Weg 18
55128 Mainz

phone: +49/6131/39-22781