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Giuseppe Maria Gioacchino Cambini

Giuseppe Cambini

Six trio concertans, volume 1 (flute, oboe, basson)
Six trio concertans, volume 2 (flute, oboe, basson)

Remarkably little information regarding Italian composer Giuseppe Maria Gioacchino Cambini (1746-1825?) appears to exist, and the few biographical details to be found in music dictionaries and encyclopaedia are frequently at variance. Indeed, uncertainty surrounds not only Cambini's birth and upbringing (authorities even disagree as to his given names) but also the year of his death, while several of the intervening events of the composer's life are either shrouded in mystery or have else been woven into legend.

Cambini was born in the Tuscan city of Leghorn. According to Fétis, he was a student of an unknown violinist by the name of Polli, and later of Padre Martini, but other sources speak merely of violin tuition with Filippo Manfredi; in 1767 Cambini was allegedly playing the viola in a quartet that included not only Manfredi but also Pietro Nardini (violin) and Luigi Boccherini (cello).

The standard account of Cambini's early career (taken largely from Friedrich Melchior Grimm's Correspondance littéraire) relates how after the disastrous reception of one of his operas in Naples, Cambini made his way back to Leghorn on a ship that was captured by buccaneers; a rich Venetian is said to have recognised Cambini's talent and purchased his freedom from the pirates. Regardless of this tale's veracity, Cambini arrived in Paris around 1770 and was taken up by François-Joseph Gossec, director of the Concerts des Amateurs. He was soon having works played at the Concerts Spirituel under Jean Le Gros, and in 1773 he had his first compositions published (the Sei Quartetti Op. 1).

Cambini realised very early on that success with the Parisian public lay in exploiting the popularity of the latest instrumental 'craze', the symphonie concertante. Thus in February 1776 an announcement appeared in the Mercure de France to the effect that, beginning in March that year, Madame Bérault intended to print twenty of Cambini's symphonies concertantes at intervals of one a month; the composer ultimately went on to produce eighty such works in the course of two decades, holding a virtual monopoly on the genre in Paris in the late 1770s and early 1780s. Mozart placed the blame on Cambini when, in late April 1778, the first performance of his Symphonie Concertante KV297b for flute, oboe, horn and bassoon at a Concert Spirituel was inexplicably cancelled.

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