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Although scarcely meriting one page in Grove nowadays, in his time Antonio Rosetti (c 1750-1792) was a well-respected and well-known composer. Much of his interest for us, an interest richly satisfied in this book, is that his life and career were very typical for an 18th-century musician. Like JS Bach, Haydn and so many others, his career choices in the German-speaking world essentially boiled down to either finding a permanent position at the court of one of the many dozens of principalities, duchies, etc, or risking a life of freelancing in a big city like Hamburg or Vienna.

Rosetti was born on the outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in Leitmeritz in Bohemia, in what is now part of the Czech Republic. There is still confusion regarding his name and family history – many musicians then Italianised their names – but we know that he was sent to Prague at a very young age, initially to study for the priesthood, but he also received an astonishingly high-level musical education. One of the many merits of Murray’s account is to cast light on the widespread musical education offered to (if not forced on) children of the empire in that era – a case of enlightened self- interest on the part of those on top, as courts vied with one another in musical standards.

Rosetti eventually found a permanent appointment at the court of the prince of Oettingen-Wallerstein, in southern Germany, where he remained on the payroll from 1773 to 1790. Descendants of the princely line survive to this day, plus much of their real estate and – most importantly for us – much music and archival material dating from the time, to which the author was allowed access over many years (Rosetti spent only the last two years of his life in the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin). This has resulted in a meticulously detailed account, with one half of the book biographical, the other half close analysis of Rosetti’s music. In all, a valuable addition to our knowledge of the era.

DELLA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica


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