Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI
4 January 1710 - 16/17 March 1736 (age 26)

Pergolesi was an Italian composer of the Baroque period. 'The Father of Comic Opera'.
What a tragedy that, remarkably talented, he died at the age of only 26. Yet his beautiful creations had an enormous influence on European music.
What if he had lived another 50 years? ....






portrait of Pergolesi


Born: Giovanni Battista, 4 January 1710, Jesi, nr Ancona, Italy
 Francesco Andrea Draghi, 
Mother: Anna Vittoria Giorgi
Stepmother: Donna Eleonora
Siblings: Rosa died aged 2, Bartolomeo died a few days old, Antonio died aged 2, half-brother Pietro died at birth
Partners: none
Children: none
Died: 16 or 17 March 1736, Pozzuoli, nr Naples, Italy
Cause of death: Tubercolosis
Grave: buried in an unmarked grave in Pozzuoli Cathedral. Body is lost. Memorial in Church of St Anthony of Padua, Pozzuoli. see findagrave

Origin of his name
The family name used to be Draghi when they lived in a village called Pergola near Pesaro in the Marche region of Italy.

When they moved to Jesi they were called Draghi della Pergola or Draghi Pergolesi.
Eventually they were called just Pergolesi.

He was named Giovanni Battista after his godfather Giovanni Battista Franciolini, a local noble, who kept an eye on him and assisted his education in Jesi and career in Naples.

Stabat Mater


Style/period: Baroque
Output: considerable

Opera including: 
* Salustia
* Lo frate 'nnamorato
* Il prigionier superbo
* La serva padrona
* L'Olimpiade 
* Flaminio

Sacred Music including: 
* 2 masses

* Stabat mater
* Salve regina
* motets
Secular Music 

Education and Career

His early musical education was in Jesi which had a very active music activity and community. He studied composition and the violin.
- at age 16 he was invited to study at the Conservatori dei Poveri di Gesu Cristo in Naples. There he studied composition and song for 5 years.
- at age 22 he became Maestro di Cappella to the Prince of Stigliano.
- at age 24 he entered the service of the Duke of Maddaloni

Poor health

It would appear that already when very young Giovanni Battista was not well as his confirmation was brought forward to when he was 18 months old instead of at the normal six years old. This would only be done if it was thought the child's life was to end soon.

Tuberculosis and poor health plagued the family. His sister Rosa and his brother Antonio both died at 2 years old and his other brother, Bartolomeo, died when only a few days old. His mother died when he was 17. His father remarried but his stepmother died in childbirth when he was 20 and his father died two years later.

He had a deformed left leg, probably as a result of polio. It is evident in this in caricature (illustrated here) by Leoni Ghezzi two years before he died.

His tuberculosis was very debilitating and eventually killed him.Considering he had such poor health and delicate constitution it is even more amazing that he achieved so much in such a short life.

The Father of Comic Opera

His first publicly performed opera, Salustia, was premiered in Naples in 1732 when he was 22.
This was followed by a comic opera, Lo frate 'nnammorato, in Neapolitan dialect.
A year later he wrote a serious opera Il Prigionier Superba for which he wrote a comic intermezzo La Serva Padrona (The Servant become Mistress) which was intended to be played between acts. 
After his death La Serva Padrona had an international success throughout Europe. In Paris it caused the "Guerre des Bouffons" - a bitter dispute between fans of Italian light opera and the supporters of traditional French opera.
During his lifetime his reputation and influence was confined to Rome and Naples and most of his work was unpublished. However shortly after his death came international recognition and fame making him an important influence on other composers.
Unscrupulous publishers jumped on the bandwaggon and wrongly attributed works to him.
Other works of major importance were the sacred music compositions Stabat Materand Salve Regina which were his last pieces. He wrote them while he spent his last days at the Capuchin Monastery in Pozzuoli where he was being looked after before he died.


His father was hard working but did not make much money. Fortunately, being the council's surveyor, he made some good contacts with the local aristocracy which helped with Giovanni Battista's education.

Not having any money when he died he was buried in the Pozzuoli cathedral's common grave and his possessions were sold to pay for the funeral, burial and debts. His remaining assets were inherited by his aunt who had come to Pozzuoli from Jesi to look after him.

Lo frate 'nnamorato


La Serva Padrona

Links - where to go for more information

Pergolesi Foundation - includes an interesting biography and festival details

Pergolesi.com a quirky fan site with a good biography and playable recordings

Italian Composers more profiles here at 52composers.com

More Baroque composers

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