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Buhagiar, Spiridion Vincent

Francesco Azopardi (1748-1809): A Maltese Classical Composer, Theorist, and Teacher

Ph.D. Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta, Msida, Malta, 1999

Francesco Azopardi (1748-1809) was a successful composer, theorist, and teacher who lived in Malta -- except for the twelve years or so he spent in Naples (1763-1774) -- during the second half of the eighteenth century. Azopardi spent his entire musical career in the service of the Cathedral in Mdina, and after 1789 was also active at St. John's Co-Cathedral (Valletta).

Some of Azopardi's biographers speak of Azopardi's compositions being played in other countries. However, I could not find any tangible evidence of this, but it is certain that he gained his international fame through the French publication of his Il Musico Prattico (I). It was translated into French by Nicholas Etienne Framéry and published by Le Duc in 1786 as Le Musicien Pratique. Le Musicien Pratique must have had a lasting success since Alexandre Choron, a French musicologist, re-edited and published it under the same title in 1824.

Azopardi's quest for musical knowledge kept him constantly searching for new theories. In fact we find him finishing c. 1809 another version of Il Musico Prattico which, besides including an expansion of the principles discussed in the first treatise, also contains a synthesis of the traditional thoroughbass system and the "new" Ramellian concepts, such as those of the fundamental bass, functional harmony, and inversions.

In Chapter One, Volume One, of this three-volume study, I present a biography of Francesco Azopardi. Chapter Two is a detailed overview of eighteenth-century Italian theory, while in Chapter Three of this study I present a comparative study of Il Musico Prattico (I) and Il Musico Pratico (II). Chapter Four consists of a detailed analysis of Il Musico Pratico (II) with reference to other Italian masters who wrote treatises before or during Azopardi's lifetime, such as Penna, Calegari, Tevo, Vallotti, and Sabbatini.

Chapter Five is dedicated to Azopardi as a composer. Four representative works (which together span thirty years of composing) are discussed in detail, thus bringing out his style that developed throughout an entire life dedicated to composition. The chief characteristics that clearly emanate from his compositions are:

  1. his great understanding and exploitation of the human voice, especially soprano, alto, and bass (he never wrote for tenor solo).
  2. the application of standard forms in accordance with contemporary taste such as the binary ritornello and sonata form.
  3. the exploitation of tonal and orchestral colour to bring out the sense of the text.
  4. rhythmic and textual variety which juxtaposes the freedom of the concertato style and the strictness of the stile antico or learned style.

Chapter Six is a résumé of all that has gone before. Here, Azopardi is presented as a gifted pedagogue; an eclectic and pragmatic yet original theorist; and finally as an original and prolific composer.

Volume Two presents an edition of Il Musico Pratico (II), while Volume Three includes a modern edition of four compositions by Azopardi. Il Musico Pratico (II) and the four compositions are discussed in Chapters Four and Five, respectively, of Volume One.