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On This Day – January 15

Today we look at an Italian composer, organist, choirmaster and teacher that was highly regarded by younger composers such as Johann Christian Bach. His works have been described similar to that of Haydn’s, but he denied such influence. Associated with the formation of the concert symphony and the use of thematic development, his works have been described as galant. Giovanni Battista Sammartini, died on this day in 1775.

Born to a French emigrant and oboist Alexis Saint-Martin and Girolama de Federici in Milan around 1700, he was the seventh of eight children which included Giuseppe Sammartini, a composer with a similarly prolific output. Giovanni Battista received musical instruction from his father and wrote his first work in 1725 – a set of vocal works which have since been lost. In 1728 he acquired the position of maestro di cappella of the Congregazione.

He became famous as a church composer and found fame outside of Italy by the 1830s. Over his life, he joined many churches (8 or more by his death) for work and wrote music to be performed at state occasions and in noble houses. He never strayed far from Milan, yet still came into contact with composers such as J.C. Bach, Mozart, Boccherini, and Gluck.

His death in 1775 was unexpected, and although highly regarded in his time, his works were quickly forgotten until 1913 when rediscovered by researchers Fausto Torrefranca, Georges de Saint-Foix, and Gaetano Cesari.

A prolific composer whose output includes 4 operas, 70 symphonies, 10 concertos and some of the earliest chamber music known, his praise comes mostly from his symphonic innovations which helped develop the symphony perhaps more than the schools of thought in Mannheim and Vienna. His approach drew influence from the trio sonata and concerto forms, as opposed to modelling it after the Italian Overture. Driven by rhythm and a clear form, his works never cease to be inventive, and often anticipated direction of later classical music styles.

Here we have Europa Galante performing Giovanni Battista Sammartini’s Symphony for String Orchestra in G Major

Want to learn more about the career of Giovanni Battista Sammartini? Why not look at this book by Anna Cattoretti.

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