Italian composer and violin virtuoso Pietro Antonio Locatelli came to Amsterdam in 1729 and lived and worked there until his death in 1764, advertising himself as “an Italian music master living in Amsterdam”. He was born in the Italian town of Bergamo (near Milan and Lake Como) in 1695. At the age of 14 he played violin in the orchestra of the Santa Maria Maggiore church in Bergamo.
He went to Rome in 1711 (aged 16), where he studied under Giuseppe Valentini (but not with Arcangelo Corelli as he had hoped). His fast and daring style earned him the nickname “il terremoto” (the earthquake). In Rome he also debuted as a composer. When he was 26, his XII Concerti grossi, Opus 1 was published in Amsterdam in 1721, dedicated to the Venetian patriarch Girolamo Michiel Lini, for whom he had performed while staying in Venice.
From 1723 to 1728 Locatelli travelled through Italy and Germany and most of his concert compositions, including the violin concertos and the capricci, were probably written in this period, published later in Amsterdam. His performances made him famous, his style described as very self-assured while wearing elaborate diamond-studded clothes. He became a traveling musician and performed for various noble houses for money, but he did not wish to spend the rest of his life as a court musician at the whim of some rich employer.
Moving to Amsterdam
The relatively free atmosphere in Amsterdam had lured various foreign geniuses to Amsterdam since the 17th century. In 1729, 34 years old, Locatelli settled in Amsterdam. He lived in an unassuming house on the Prinsengracht. Here he was not bound to the musical tastes of any noble or chained by the church, free to write and play when and how he wanted, an exceptional status for a musician in the 18th century.
While in Amsterdam he did not compose as much, but he gave violin lessons and edited his own works and those of other musicians. His public performances were open only to music lovers, not to professional musicians — he was afraid people would steal his ideas.
Pietro Locatelli was endowed with a real trading spirit, selling his compositions. Rich music lovers helped him to become affluent. In 1741 he also set up a business selling imported Italian violin strings from his home. He made a very good living for himself in the city — Amsterdam was a hub for European music publishing and he always made sure that his editions were flawless.
Locatelli obtained a 15 year privilege in 1731 which protected his works from unauthorised reprints and prevented the import of reprints. He also directed the Collegium Musicum for rich music lovers, for whom he also composed. On Wednesdays he would give concerts at private homes for a select audience.
Influence on Paganini
His virtuoso works with their associated Capricci became standards for virtuosos and made him famous throughout Europe, even though they were exercise pieces not intended for public performance. Musicians like Niccolò Paganini discovered Locatelli’s music probably through French violin schools. The Flute Sonatas, the Trio Sonatas and the Violin Sonatas were popular in Amsterdam.
House on the Prinsengracht
After having lived for a while on the other side of the canal, Locatelli moved to Prinsengracht 506 in 1741, where he composed an taught. He lived there with his female housekeeper, probably as an unmarried couple — she also helped him with his string sales. Locatelli avoided publicity and was almost never a part of public cultural life in Amsterdam.
In his honour his birth town of Bergamo donated a commemorative stone which was attached to the front of the building in 1964. It reads “In this house worked, lived and died the great composer and violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli. His birth town placed this in the 200th year of his death. Bergamo 3-IX-1695 – Amsterdam 30-III-1764”.
Locatelli collected musical instruments, manuscripts and various artistic pieces as well as bird cages. He also collected books on all sorts of subjects from all over Europe, which he then sold. At his death in 1764 he left a sizable heritage, including an enormous library — proof of his success and his ability to promote his talent and fame. His artistic legacy lives on in its influence on the French and Italian violin traditions.
Dutch musicologist Albert Dunning created the Foundation Pietro Antonio Locatelli, based in Amsterdam and Cremona, dedicated to keeping his legacy alive. A canal in the newer Zuidas area has been named Locatellikade.
Locatelli’s Violin Concerto no. 1
Locatelli died on 30 March 1764 in his house on the Prinsengracht. He was buried in the English Reformed Church at the Begijnhof, in front of the organ, the cost covered by the City, after recommendation from an influential admiring merchant.
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