2019 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684), an important baroque composer of instrumental and sacred vocal music in Germany and Italy at the middle of the seventeenth century. He was an organist, trombonist, teacher and composer who survived a homosexual scandal in Leipzig and escaped to Italy, where he resurrected a major career in Venice.
After graduating from the University of Leipzig, he became the assistant to the Thomasschule Cantor (director of music). Working his way up, he was next appointed organist at the Nicolaikirche, one of the three important churches in the city. As his boss became increasingly ill, Rosenmüller was assured he would be next in line for the position of Cantor at the Thomasschule, the same position that Johann Sebastian Bach would assume seventy years later. In 1655, however, Rosenmüller was arrested on charges of seducing several of his choir boys; he subsequently escaped from jail and fled to Venice, where he supported himself by playing trombone at St. Mark’s Basilica.
Some years later, he attained a position as maestro di coro (master of the chorus), at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage school that featured an acclaimed all-girl* choir and orchestra that performed liturgical functions and gave concerts on Sunday afternoons. A generation later Antonio Vivaldi famously directed the musical activities at this orphanage school, elevating the female choir and orchestra to world-wide fame, attracting many tourists. Today the Metropole Hotel is the former music building, and guides point out (erroneously) that the church to the left of the hotel was the church where Vivaldi’s girls performed. In fact, the church was built many years after Vivaldi’s death.
*Many of these girls were the illegitimate children of Venetian nobles, who lavishly supported the school. The girls performed behind screens so that their “comeliness would not distract those in attendance”. Your blogger surmises that a more plausible cause might have been to hide any physical resemblance of the orphans to their noble (actual) parents. Scandal!
Rosenmüller’s sacred compositions reflected an obvious Italian influence, and students who came from Germany to study with him took these works back to their homeland, thus introducing Italian musician idioms to Germany. In 1682, considering that the coast was clear after an interval of nearly 30 years, he left Italy and returned to his homeland, Germany, where he became court composer for a duke at Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony. He died there in 1684, at age 65. In the annals of classical music history, Rosenmüller is hardly a household word, but his name is frequently mentioned as the man who held two posts eventually filled by much more famous men, J. S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Not to mention the well-documented homosexual scandal.
Graeme Skinner: “Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II”.
Robert A. Green, Professor at the School of Music, Northern Illinois University. GLBTQ Archive.