Leo, Leonardo [Lionardo] (Ortensio Salvatore de [di])
(b San Vito degli Schiavoni [now San Vito dei Normanni], 5 Aug 1694; d Naples, 31 Oct 1744 ). Italian composer and teacher. He was one of the leading Neapolitan composers of his day, especially of theatre and church music.
The son of Corrado de Leo and Rosabetta Pinto, he went to Naples in 1709 and became a pupil of Nicola Fago at the Conservatorio S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini. At the beginning of 1712 his S Chiara, o L’infedeltà abbattuta, a dramma sacro, was performed at the conservatory; from the fact that it was performed again in the viceroy’s palace on 14 February it would seem that Leo’s work attracted unusual attention. On finishing his studies he was appointed supernumerary organist in the viceroy’s chapel on 8 April 1713 and at the same time was employed as maestro di cappella in the service of the Marchese Stella; he is also said to have been maestro di cappella of S Maria della Solitaria.
As early as 13 May 1714 his first opera, Il Pisistrato, was staged. There followed commissions for opera arrangements, intermezzos and serenatas, and in 1718 a second opera, Sofonisba. From Caio Gracco (1720) the list of his opera commissions continues without a break up to his death. In 1723 he wrote his first opera for Venice, and in the same year, with La ’mpeca scoperta, he turned for the first time to the developing genre of Neapolitan commedia musicale; from then on he was regarded as one of the leading composers of comedy.
On Alessandro Scarlatti’s death in 1725 Leo was promoted to first organist of the viceregal chapel. In the following years he lost his supremacy as a composer of serious opera in Naples to his rivals Vinci and Hasse, and between 1726 and 1730 he apparently received no commissions for opera at the Teatro S Bartolomeo in Naples. He did however write serious operas for Rome and Venice, and in Naples he pursued his career as a composer of comic operas. After Hasse’s departure and Vinci’s death in 1730, Leo became the dominant figure in Neapolitan musical life. He succeeded Vinci as pro-vicemaestro and on Mancini’s death in 1737 he became vicemaestro of the royal chapel. He was repeatedly given leave to fulfil commissions for operas elsewhere (1737 Bologna, 1739 Turin, 1740 Turin and Milan), and through the family connections of the Neapolitan royal family he received commissions from the Spanish court. Even greater than his reputation as an opera composer was the esteem he acquired as a composer of oratorios with his settings of Metastasio’s S Elena al Calvario and La morte di Abele.
Leo also became prominent as a teacher: from 1734 to 1737 he taught as vicemaestro at the Conservatorio S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini, in 1739 he succeeded Feo as primo maestro at the Conservatorio S Onofrio and in 1741 he also took over the duties of primo maestro at the S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini in succession to his own teacher, Fago. The Miserere for double choir in eight parts and organ (March 1739) appears to be the first of his works aimed at the reform of church music, closely connected with his activities as a teacher. In both respects he was in competition with Francesco Durante, who taught at the two other conservatories in Naples. On Domenico Sarro’s death (25 January 1744) Leo at last became maestro di cappella of the royal chapel. He immediately composed a series of a cappella compositions (with continuo) for the use of the royal chapel during Lent and reformed the orchestra of the royal opera, but he died after only nine months in office.
Leo was the most versatile and technically the most accomplished among the Neapolitan composers of his time. But he lacked both the genius of Pergolesi and the facility of his rivals Vinci and Hasse (a guard once had to be posted outside his door to force him to finish an opera in time). New versions of his own works play an important part in his output.
Leo’s early works are comparatively conservative in character: chamber cantatas, mostly with only continuo accompaniment, still occupy an important place among them, and it was only gradually that he came to favour Metastasio’s librettos for his operas. Leo helped to raise the musical standards of both commedie musicali and intermezzos. His opera overtures, whose opening movements are in the tradition of the march rather than that of the instrumental concerto, represent an important stage in the development of the pre-Classical symphony.
Leo’s works, even those for the stage, reflected more than those of others of his generation the academic side of his training, to the extent that his ecclesiastical style is echoed even in his opere buffe (albeit with parodistic intent). There was considerable rivalry in the Neapolitan school between the ‘Leisti’, the supporters of Leo, and the ‘Durantisi’, those of Francesco Durante, the first characterized by their ‘scientific’, almost cerebral, approach, with counterpoint to the fore, and the second by a more instinctive approach allied to a tendency to harmonic and melodic simplicity, free of the contrapuntal artifice of Leo’s adherents. In opera, Leo was a great deal more conservative and bound by tradition than his contemporaries Hasse, Vinci and Porpora; the choral episodes of L’olimpiade and Il Ciro riconosciuto, for example, are closer to the motet style than to the celebratory choruses of contemporary opera seria. His comic operas likewise show a solid compositional technique, above all in the ensembles at the ends of acts; Leo is credited with having conferred on comic opera a musical dignity equal to that of opera seria, whose salient characteristics it borrowed. A typical example is the celebrated aria of the leading character, Fazio Tonti, in Amor vuol sofferenza, ‘Io non so dove mi sto’, accompanied by two orchestras in dialogue; its academic and pompous structure, as well as mocking the whole Metastasian style, ironically echoes Leo’s ecclesiastical manner.
Tradition, inadequately supported by evidence (as so often with the biographies and teaching careers of musicians of the Neapolitan school), has it that Leo, besides being a pupil of Scarlatti in Naples, studied with Ottavio Pitoni in Rome (particularly 1726–31, when Il trionfo di Camilla and Il Cid were performed at the Teatro Capranica, and Evergete at the Teatro delle Dame); certainly his earliest operas (at least up to 1730) are characterized by elements clearly derived from the older style, including figured bass and ostinato typical of late Baroque opera and the use of strict contrapuntal techniques, including canon. This assiduous use of counterpoint provided a firm basis for his melodic phrase structure, and certainly Leo showed an innate gift for melody, with numerous borrowings from popular song, especially in comic operas. His buffo works show a care over form and technique, in melodic structure and in the management of ensembles, that hitherto had been the preserve of serious opera.
Of particular interest for the history of the diffusion of Leo’s operas is that a manuscript of Catone in Utica (in Gb-Lam) bears notes in Handel’s handwriting and was used for a performance of the pasticcio Catone (London, King’s Theatre, 1732) directed by Handel himself and including music by Hasse, Porpora, Vivaldi and Vinci as well as Leo.
Leo’s reforming activities in sacred music in his last years are seen both in the composition of a cappella works (with organ) for the church’s times of penance (which, however, are by no means written in the ‘old style’) and in his use of choral cantus firmi and scholarly contrapuntal techniques in church music with orchestral accompaniment. It is clear that his Istituzioni o regole del contrappunto and Lezioni di canto fermo were also produced in his last years. Among his most important pupils were Piccinni, Cafaro and Jommelli. Towards the end of the 18th century his Miserere played an important role in the rediscovery of the ‘church music of the old Italians’ and was widely rated as comparable to the works of Palestrina.
see complete list in Pastore (1994)
Ov. in 6 ouverture a più stromenti composte da vari autori, op.5 (Paris, c1759)
Sinfonia a 6, 2 vn, 2 ob, 2 hn, hpd, in 1er recueil de sinfonies de différens auteurs italiens (Paris, c1760)
Sinfonia concertata, vn, vc, I-Mc
6 concs., vc, str orch, bc, 1737–8, Mc, Nc (incl. 1 as Sinfonia concertata, autograph); 1 in D, ed. F. Cilea (Milan, 1922), 1 in A, ed. E. Rapp (Mainz, 1938), 1 in c, ed. C. Gatti (Milan, n.d.), 3 ed. in SEM, vii (1973), 1 in f, ed. U. Rapalo (Milan, 1987)
Conc., D, 4 vn, bc, D-Bsb, ed. M. Abbado and E. Polo (Milan, 1939), ed. in Musikschätze der Vergangenheit, xxiv (Berlin, 1952)
Duet in Scielta di 6 duetti … composte da vari autori, 2 ?/vn/bn (Paris, n.d.)
Trios in 6 Trios, ?, vn, bn/vc (London, c1795)
14 toccatas, hpd, I-Mc, Nc, ?1 pubd in The Lady’s Entertainment or Banquet of Music, bks 1–2 (London, 1708): ed. A. Longo, Composizioni per clavicembalo ordinate in forma di suite (Milan, n.d.); some ed. M. Maffioletti, 6 Toccate per cembalo (Milan, 1926); 3 ed. in Antologia di musica antica e moderna per pianoforte, xii (Milan, 1932); ed. A. Bassi (Milan, 1988); ed. C. Prontera (Rome, 1996)
Aria con variazioni, hpd, ?D-Dl, I-Nc, ed. G. Azzoni (Florence, 1906)
J.F. Reichardt : ‘Leonardo Leo’, Musikalisches Kunstmagazin, i (1782), 39–41
[G.B.G. Grossi]: ‘Leonardo Leo’, Biografia degli uomini illustri del regno di Napoli ornata de’ loro rispettivi ritratti, compilata da diversi litterati nazionali, vi (Naples, 1819)
V. Leo : Leonardo Leo e la sua epoca musicale (Brindisi, 1894)
G. Leo : Leonardo Leo celebre musico del sec. XVIII ed il suo omonimo Leonardo Leo di Corrado (Naples, 1901)
G. Leo : I signori Leo e Di Leo ricchi e poveri nel secolo XVII e XVIII in S. Vito de’ Normanni ed il celebre musicista Leonardo Leo (Naples, 1901)
G. Leo : Leonardo Leo musicista del secolo XVIII e le sue opere musicali (Naples, 1905/R)
E.J. Dent : ‘Leonardo Leo’, SIMG, viii (1906–7), 550–66
F. Piovano : ‘A propos d’une récente biographie de Léonard Leo’, SIMG, viii (1906–7), 70–95, 336 only
E. Faustini-Fasini : ‘Leonardo Leo e la sua famiglia’, NA, xiv (1937), 11–18
F. Walker : ‘Cav. Giacomo Leo and his Famous “Ancestor”’, MR, ix (1948), 241–6
F. Schlitzer : ‘Notizie di Leonardo Leo’, Tommaso Traetta, Leonardo Leo, Vincenzo Bellini: note e documenti, Chigiana, ix (1952), 55–60
G.A. Pastore : Leonardo Leo (Galatina, 1957)
G. Roma: Il brindisino Leonardo Leo (Fasano, 1966)
D. Green : ‘Progressive and Conservative Tendencies in the Violoncello Concertos of Leonardo Leo’, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Music: a Tribute to Karl Geiringer, ed. H.C. Robbins Landon and R. Chapman (London, 1970), 261–71
H.C. Wolff : ‘Leonardo Leo’s Oper “L’Andromaca” (1742)’, Studi musicali, i (1972), 285–315
H.C. Wolff : ‘Un oratorio sconosciuto di Leonardo Leo’, RIM, vii (1972), 196–213
G. Hardie : Leonardo Leo (1694–1744) and his Comic Opera ‘Amor vuol sofferenza’ and ‘Alidoro’ (diss. Cornell U., 1973)
G. Hardie : ‘Gennaro Antonio Federico’s Amor vuol sofferenza (1739) and the Neapolitan Comic Opera’, SMA, x (1976), 62–6
R. Strohm : Italienische Opernarien des frühen Settecento, AnMc, no.16 (1976)
F. Degrada : ‘L’opera napoletana’, Storia dell'opera, ed. G. Barblan and A. Basso, i (Turin, 1977), 237–332
B. Cagli and A. Ziino, eds.: Il Teatro di San Carlo 1737–1987, ii: La cronologia, ed. C. Marinelli Roscioni (Naples, 1987) [incl. F. Degrada: ‘“Scuola napoletana” e “Opera napoletana”: nascita, sviluppo e prospettive di un concetto storiografico’, 9–20; H. Hucke: ‘L’“Achille in Sciro” di Domenico Sarri e l’inaugurazione del teatro di San Carlo’, 21–32; G. Morelli: ‘Castrati, primedonne, e Metastasio nel felicissimo giorno del nome di Carlo’, 33–60]
R. Krause : Die Kirchenmusik von Leonardo Leo (1694–1744): ein Beitrag zur Musikgeschichte Neapels im 18. Jahrhundert (Regensburg, 1987)
M. de Santis : ‘Musica sacra a Napoli: i responsori della Settimana Santa di Leonardo Leo’, De musica hispana et aliis: miscelánea en honor al Prof. Dr. José López-Calo, ed. E. Casares and C. Villanueva (Santiago de Compostela, 1990), i, 555–92
F. Cotticelli and P. Maione : Le istituzioni musicali a Napoli durante il viceregno austriaco (1707–1734): materiali inediti sulla Real Cappella ed il Teatro di San Bartolomeo (Naples, 1994)
G.A. Pastore : Don Lionardo: vita e opere di Leonardo Leo (Cuneo, 1994)
P. Pellegrino, ed.: Amor sacro e amor profano: Leonardo Leo e la cultura musicale napoletana del '700 (Lecce, 1996)