Paul F. Rice Venanzio Rauzzini in Britain: Castrato, Composer and Cultural Leader

University of Rochester Press, 2015. xii + 402pp.
Boydell & Brewer, £65.00.

Rauzzini (1746-1810) was born in Camerino (or Camerano), about 40 miles south of Ancona and roughly west of Assissi, half-way across the peninsula. He accepted castration when eleven. He studied with famous singers and his dramatic career began in Rome in 1764. He was not extremely powerful, but he had subtle skills and he often wrote his own music. He performed in major theatres from 1765 in Rome, Venice, Munich and Vienna and was the leading “man” in Mozart’s Lucio Silla (Milan, 1773). Mozart also wrote Exsultate, jubilate for him.

Rauzzini arrived in London on 19 September 1774 and his first performance in Armida, a pasticcio, was first heard on 8 November. He was not well, two performances were cancelled, and his second appearance was on 19 November. He did his best. When cured, his singing was fine, though if he had a high note, he ran up with short notes to the top and descended to a final note. In Piramo e Tisbe (1775) he was probably the first castrato to sing in one of his own operas in London: there were also performances in Vienna, Brunswick and Bologna. The information concerning the Overture is confusing, with paragraphs on pp. 37 & 38 and footnotes 40, 42 & 43. The list of operas (Appendix B, pp. 354-6) includes the European ones, but it omits the later L’eroe (1782), Creusa (1783), Alina (1784) & La Vestale (1787), even if they are pastiches – though they are listed in the index with the other Rauzzini operas; La sorpressa (1779) is not on the list and indexed under “vocal music”. It is odd that Rauzzini’s Operatic Roles (Appendix B) omit five titles, even if they are not complete works by him.

Rauzzini settled in London, but made many visits to Bath. Its social and artistic life began with Beau Nash early in the 18th century. At first the regular musicians were natives. Chilcot published 12 English Songs around 1744 – well worth buying (Kings Music/Early Music Company), and the Linleys – father and six sons. William Herschel was an astronomer and an organist, Henry Harrington was a physician and a glee composer. J. C. Smith Jnr moved to Bath along with Handel’s manuscripts. His concert programmes in Bath from 1786-1810 are listed in Appendix A, filling pp. 287-353 with the titles grouped compactly in two paragraphs each for the first and second half. I was surprised to see Handel’s Funeral Anthem, presumably for Queen Caroline, which was probably performed to mark the 50th anniversary of her death. The Dec. 6 1786 performance was performed as at Westminster Abbey “by Desire”. The Bath lists of performers are similar to those in London, and Rauzzini retained his activity there, though his reputation declined, particularly with problems with another singer. I suspect that his performances in Bath were more relaxing.

Rauzzini was happiest in performing and later composing the standard Italian opera practice. He wasn’t full-blooded, and was probably best at more gentle roles, and he managed fairly well in his composition. The chance of operatic revivals are slim – perhaps Piramo e Tisbe is the most likely to spread now. It is, though, difficult to value a composer of whom I have never heard a note – and I don’t think that over the 20 years of Early Music Review I can remember any reviews, in which I proof-read every note, and my much longer The Gramophone, though I don’t have to proof-read it!

The preface is a survey of the social problem for castrati: despite being men in nearly every respect, they can’t mix with men or women without great care.

Clifford Bartlett

I’ve taken from Paul Rice the list of instrumental and small-scale vocal music, and it would be well worth making it available. His published music is certainly competent, but I’d rather see the quartets in proper scores. It would be useful if the whole set were published, with separate parts added.

Rauzzini published 8 sets of instrumental music published by Welcker:

op.1. Six favourite Sonatas for the Piano forte or Harpsichord. With an Accompaniment for a Violin 1777. [The Welcker parts was in score with the piano, but a later French edition had a separate violin part.]
op. 2. Six Quartettos for two Violins, a Tenor and Bass. 1778.
op. 3. The Favourite songs, Rondeaus, DUETTS & CHORUS, in the OPERA LE ALI D’AMORE 1778. [Full score]
op. 4. La Partenza: a Cantata composed by Sigr.: Venanzio and Sung by Him and Miss Storace at the Opera House 1778.
op. 5. Twelve Italian duettinos, for two voices with a thorough bass. 1778.
op. 6. Six Quartettos for the Piano Forte or Harpsichord with Accompaniments for two Violins and a Bass. 1781
op. 7. A Second Set of Six Quartettos for two Violins, a Tenor and Bass. [1780]
op. 8. Six Sonatas for the Piano Forte or harpsichord. With an Accompanyment for a Violin. [1781]

Then followed:

op.9. Six Favorite Italian Canzonets, with an Accompanyment for the pianoforte. Blundell [1781]
op. 10 & 11 unknown.
op. 12. Three Grand Duets; for two performers. Beardmore & Birchall, 1783.
op. 13. Four Favourite Italian Duets for a Voice… also, four Easy Airs. R. Birchall [1784]
op. 14. Six Italian Canzonets, with an Accompanyment for the Piano Forte. J.Bland [1785]
op. 15. Three Sonatas and a Duet for the Harpsichord or Piano-Forte with an Accompanyment for the Violin Ad Libitum. Birchall and Andrews [1786], reissued by Goulding & Co c.1800.