Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810): castrato, composer and copyright obsessed?

We’re delighted to share our first guest blogpost, by Dr Brianna E Robertson-Kirkland. It’s fascinating to read about this Georgian musician’s passionate interest in copyright!

 

William_Herschel_Museum_-_portrait_of_Vananzio_Rauzzini
Figure 1: Portrait of Venanzio Rauzzini with his dog Turk. At the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. Wikimedia Commons.

As the reigning primo uomo at the King’s Theatre from 1774-1778 (and then briefly again in 1784), Venanzio Rauzzini enjoyed many privileges. A handsome salary, opportunities to compose his own arias and some pull when it came to casting; the castrato used all of his clout to demonstrate his versatility in the music industry. Prior to his London residency, he had shown an enthusiasm for composition as well as singing, having composed the opera Piramo e Tisbe, performed for the Bavarian court in 1769 and ‘two or three comic operas […] which has been very much approved’ (Rice, 2015: 6 & Burney, 1775, 1:128). His passion for composition did not diminish as he continued to write opera, songs and even instrumental music after his immigration to Britain. Composing opera in which he starred also gave Rauzzini the opportunity to showcase the talents of his young students. Vocal teaching was just another strand in his multidimensional musical career. One such student, Nancy Storace, debuted on the operatic stage as Cupido in Rauzzini’s L’Ali D’Amore at the tender age of 11 as well as performing alongside her master in the cantata setting of La Partenza in 1777.

Opera in London was constantly surrounded by gossip and scandal. Moreover, claims of copyright were a tricky, controversial subject. Arias and songs were frequently removed from one opera and inserted into pasticcio. Such light-hearted theatre entertainments resembled a patchwork of favourite operatic numbers held together by a somewhat loose and generally absurd plot. While one arranger would oversee such a production, lyrics and occasionally the music were altered, blurring the lines between arranger, editor and composer. Expectations from singers added an extra complication since they frequently added their own unique flair to arias to ensure originality. If a singer was known for singing a particular aria, it was generally expected they would utilise it as a suitcase aria, inserting it into operas at their demand. The composer’s name usual appeared, even when a suitcase aria was performed, but when singers names were branded on title pages, often in a bigger font, it is not too far of a leap to assume the singer felt an equal sense of ownership.

RangeTheFields_0000 karen blog post
Figure 2: Singers John Braham and Catherine Stephens names appear but in this example no composer is even listed. This was not an uncommon sight. Together let us range the fields [words by Edward Moore ; composed by William Boyce [c. 1815]. [Available from: https://archive.org/details/RangeTheFields46587 ]
This is perhaps why the controversy between Rauzzini and fellow composer Antonio Sacchini became so heated. Not only had the two written an opera of the same name, L’eroe cinese, the similarity between the two was remarkable, leading to gossip that Rauzzini had ghost-written the original for Sacchini (Rice, 2015: 126). There was a further claim that Rauzzini had composed most of his own arias when playing the leading role in Sacchini’s operas. This was not uncommon, as Rauzzini often composed his own arias, though it was unusual that Sacchini should gain the credit. Neither benefitted from the controversy and afterward Rauzzini was far more diligent in claiming authorship over his work.

Michael Kassler’s comprehensive list of Music Entries at Stationers’ Hall, 1710–1818 reveals from 1795 onwards Rauzzini regularly entered his compositions into Stationer’s Hall including all 14 songs appearing in A Periodic Collection of Vocal Music published in two volumes in 1797. However, Rauzzini neglected to enter his Twelve Solfeggi or exercises to be sung by the voice (1808) – a final publication that provided a legacy for over forty years’ experience in vocal teaching. In his preface, Rauzzini writes:

I think that after a practice of thirty four years in England, during which time, I have had the opportunity of reflecting on the different dispositions and abilities of a great many Pupils professional as well as Dilettanti, my opinion may be relied on, and my advice followed, therefore, confiding on that Experience (1808: 1).

If this treatise was to be his legacy, why not enter it too? Did he not fear that his work could be stolen or claimed to be someone else’s work? The solfeggi are excellent examples of vocal exercises, but they lack an indicative style (which was perhaps the point of such exercises) that could make it more difficult to identify them as Rauzzini’s work. That being said, Rauzzini died just two years after this publication and before his second volume A second sett of solfeggi for the voice was published. Perhaps, he was simply too old to care. Or perhaps, there was a different attitude towards singing treatises in terms of copyright? Though there are some entries for music treatises listed by Kassler, compared to song compositions they are relatively few. This begs the question: why were music treatises not regularly entered?

While Rauzzini’s treatise continued to be recommended by other masters as late as the 1830s, his original treatises was manipulated and bastardised creating Exercises for the Voice, consisting of various solfeggi, collected from manuscripts of the late Venanzio Rauzzini (1817). While the title was careful not to claim Rauzzini as the creator a quick read of the preface reveals its origins – none other than Rauzzini’s 1808 publication with several alterations to make it more appealing to a ‘beginner’ consumer. This had never been Rauzzini’s intended clientele having written his original for more advanced students.

So what was the relationship between copyright and the education manual? I have to admit prior to this Stationer’s Hall project, I had not thought very much of it. Then again, treatises were being churned out at such a rapid rate with every teacher claiming a unique or original method of teaching perhaps it is an area that begs for further research.

References

Burney, Charles. 1775. The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands and United Provinces, second ed. London: T. Becket, J. Robson and G. Robinson

Rauzzini, Venanzio. 1808. Twelve Solfeggi or Exercises for the Voice to be Vocalised, London: Goulding and D’Almaine

Rice, Paul 2015. Venanzio Rauzzini in Britain. Castrato, Composer and Cultural Leader, New York: University of Rochester Press

 

Brianna is Lecturer in Music (Historical Musicology) at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Course Convenor (MCLNC) and Performance Course Facilitator at the University of Glasgow.

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