Vincenzo Albrici [Albricci]


Italian musician. Albrici was born in Rome in 1631, into a musical family that originated in Senigallia, in the province of Ancona. His uncles Fabio and Alessandro Costantini were composers, and his father Domenico Albrici was an alto singer who settled in Rome. Albrici was educated by Jesuit priests at the Roman Collegio Germanico in the early 1640s, where he sang as a choirboy under the famed maestro di cappella, Giacomo Carissimi (1605-74). He remained at the German College for five years, and served as an organist there throughout most of 1646. After this, he may have served briefly as maestro di cappella or organist at the Chiesa Nuova (Santa Maria in Vallicella).

Albrici seems to have left Italy for the first time in the fall of 1652, when he traveled with his father and brother Bartolomeo to Stockholm with a troupe of Italian musicians hired by Queen Christina; his earliest surviving compositions date from this time. After Christina's abdication in June 1654, he and his brother may have spent some time at the Wittelsbach court in Neuburg; both did hold positions at the court of Stuttgart in late 1655 and early 1656. Later that year, Albrici landed his most prestigious position to date: co-Kapellmeister (with the castrato Giovanni Andrea Bontempi) in Dresden to Crown Prince Johann Georg II (1613-80) of Saxony. His brother Bartolomeo, an organist and composer, received an appointment as well, and replaced Matthias Weckmann, who had departed for Hamburg, as the prince's organist. Although interrupted several times, Albrici's tenure in Dresden proved to be his longest anywhere, and totaled about fifteen years (1656-63, 1669-73, 1676-80).

Some years before Albrici's appointment, Crown Prince Johann Georg had begun to build an Italianate cappella independent of that of his father, Elector Johann Georg I (r. 1611-56), which stood under the direction of the famed Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). Prince Johann Georg clearly had a new vision for music at court, and upon his accession to the throne in October 1656, quickly instituted major organizational changes in the court musical establishment. He merged his cappella with that of his father, placed the large ensemble of fifty performers under the direction of Albrici and Bontempi, and essentially allowed Schütz to retire. The Italian singers, whose ranks included soprano and alto castrati as well as tenors and basses, became the privileged members of the court ensemble, and regularly performed as soloists in the Latin-texted compositions that had quickly become de rigeur in the court chapel. Most of the German vocalists, on the other hand, served primarily as choristers. Johann Georg also retained a large group of instrumentalists, the majority of whom were native musicians. At least six composers were available to keep this ensemble of virtuoso singers supplied with new repertoire: Albrici, Bontempi, Peranda, and Bartolomeo Albrici, as well as the Germans Schütz and Christoph Bernhard. After four decades of service, however, Schütz was now rarely called upon to provide compositions.

At first, Albrici shared the duties of Kapellmeister with Bontempi, but court diaries demonstrate that by 1662, he had assumed sole responsibility for sacred music during the morning Hauptgottesdienst (principal worship service) and the afternoon Vespers service on Sundays and feast days. Weekday worship services, which included little figural music, remained the province of the German court musicians. Albrici's Dresden years were fruitful ones; in 1662 alone, he presented over fifty of his own sacred concertos in the elector's Lutheran court chapel, including three of the pieces heard on this recording: Sperate in Deo, Amo te, laudo te, and Ave Jesu Christe; O cor meum was performed in 1660. His other musical contributions included settings of Mass movements (Kyrie, Gloria, and Credo), the Magnificat, and other liturgical texts. In addition to his own compositions, however, Albrici also presented works of Carissimi, Cavalli, Peranda, Bernhard, Kerll, and others. The diaries for the years 1660 through 1680 leave no doubt that under Johann Georg II, music in the contemporary Italian style enjoyed complete hegemony in the Dresden court chapel; performances of Schütz's music were now extremely rare.

In August 1663, Albrici and his brother left Dresden for London, and entered the service of King Charles II, where they remained until 1668. Little is known of Albrici's musical activities during these years. He does appear, however, in the chronicles of the celebrated English diarist, Samuel Pepys. In February 1667, Pepys reported a conversation with Giovanni Battista Draghi, who told him that Albrici was the "chief composer" of the Italians then in the employ of Charles II. Several days later, Pepys reported hearing "Italian musique" at the home of Lord Bruckner, performed by "Seignor Vincentio" [Albrici] ... the maister composer," and six other musicians, including two castrati and one woman (probably Albrici's half-sister, Leonora). Pepys waxed enthusiastic in his account of the evening: "and I confess, very good music they made; that is, the composition was exceeding good."

Albrici seems to have returned to Dresden with two English diplomats in April 1669, in order to direct the music at Johann Georg's induction into the English Order of the Garter. During the next four years, he shared the post of Kapellmeister with Marco Giuseppe Peranda and the Venetian opera composer Carlo Pallavicino, until he departed for Italy in July 1673. He next surfaces in October 1673 as maestro di cappella and organist at the Roman Oratorio dei Filippini (Chiesa Nuova), where he served until the fall of 1675. Here he may have composed oratorios, but no evidence of this Roman repertoire survives.

After leaving the Oratorio, Albrici may have visited France, but returned to Dresden once again in September 1676. His Dresden colleague Peranda had died in January 1675, and had been succeeded by the Ferrarese composer Sebastiano Cherici, whose brief tenure in Dresden had lasted less than a year. Cherici's departure likely caused Johann Georg II to call Albrici back to Dresden; he now served as the sole Kapellmeister, assisted by vice-Kapellmeisters Bernhard and Giovanni Novelli. The court diaries demonstrate that Albrici was once again very active, directing sacred music during worship services and Tafelmusik during meals, but these later chronicles report very few of the titles that he presented during these years.

Elector Johann Georg II died in August 1680, whereupon his son and successor, Johann Georg III, concerned about court expenditures, dismissed all of the Italian musicians. Early the following year, Albrici took a position as organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, for which he was required to convert to Lutheranism (Johann Georg II had never required any of his Italian musicians to convert.) The following year, however, Albrici left Leipzig and traveled to Prague, where he may have served as organist at an Augustinian church, perhaps St. Thomas's. His oratorio Jephte was performed in Prague in 1684. He remained in Prague until his death on 8 August 1690 (or 1696). Albrici seems to have regarded his final years in Prague with some disappointment, for on the cover of the libretto of an Easter cantata, Extraordinaria novorum paschalium relatio, he described himself as the "former music director of kings, dukes, and princes, music director of the former illustrious Saxon duke, today the resigned servant of true lovers of music."

VIIA: Henry Purcell and his Contemporaries