Surely this is surprising because, after all, the famous Adagio in G minor is not only one of the best-known pieces of classical music but also one of the most popular among music lovers with a closely linked name of title and author: “Albinoni’s Adagio”. It is ironic, therefore, that in reality the work is not by that baroque composer but by a biographer of him who lived two centuries later, the musicologist Remo Giazotto, who presented it in 1945.
Tomaso Albinoni was born in Venice in 1675, son of a wealthy merchant whose comfortable position allowed him to give his son a good musical training, which he made compatible with the family paper business with his brothers. Thus, a consummate violinist and a good singer with resources, Tomaso rejected the idea of working as a court musician in order to become a more or less independent dilettantian artist, which gave him some autonomy (in fact, until 1711 he added to his name the nickname dilettante veneto, or Venetian amateur). However, no one could make a living without a patron and he could find it in Pietro Ottoboni, a cardinal grand-nephew of Pope Alexander VIII who was a great lover of art and had under his protection painters, sculptors, poets…
Ottoboni was also Venetian and in his palace he gathered a pleiad of artists in which there was no lack of such important composers as Corelli, Scarlatti, Haendel, as well as the scenographer Filippo Juvara or the painter Sebastiano Ricci. Albinoni dedicated his Opus 1 to him but it is not clear if he really put himself at his service, as it seems likely that he was to the Duke of Mantua, Fernando Caro, honored by the violinist in his Opus 2; by the way, the Opus 3 suites were also for a duke, that of Tuscany.
However, although Albinoni initially devoted himself mainly to sonatas and concerts for specific instruments (violin, oboe), from 1705 he slightly switched genres because that year he married an opera singer named Margherita Raimondi. His work was then full of operas – half a hundred – which gave him considerable success in almost all of Italy and Germany. That and the death of his father four years later decided him to devote himself exclusively to music, leaving the company to his brothers.
However, with the passing of time Albinoni’s operas took a back seat and his instrumental work was fundamentally valued, influencing other musicians such as the aforementioned Corelli or Bach himself. A parish archive tells us that he died in 1751 of diabetes but we do not have data from his last decade of life, nor have the pieces he probably made in that period been preserved with the exception of Six sonatas for violin and the opera Artamene (both in 1740).
In fact, much of Albinoni’s music was lost in the bombing of Dresden during World War II, when it was kept in the Staatsbibliothek Dresden, the State Library, which had its headquarters in that city and was destroyed by fire. It is therefore particularly striking that in 1945, at the end of the war, it was the Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto who composed the now famous Adagio in G minor, better known as “Albinoni’s Adagio”, on the basis of the fragment of a trio sonata that he found among the ruins of the library.
Or so he said. Giazotto, musical critician and editor of the Rivista Musicale Italiana, was one of the world’s greatest experts on the figure of Tomaso Albinoni, of whom he wrote a biography, just as he had done with other baroque composers such as Vivaldi, classifying and cataloguing his entire production. In 1958 Casa Ricordi, a classical music publishing house, published the Adagio explaining the story referred to by Giazotto and of which there are doubts because this fragment has never been seen and the German library denied having it in its collection.
That small part of Albinoni’s original would be reduced only to the stave of the bass and six measures of the melody, constituting the slow movement of the aforementioned trio sonata, the rest having been lost. Some believe that the Adagio bears a certain resemblance to the Adagio sotenuto of the Trio in G minor, opus 33 for piano, violin and cello composed by the French Louise Farrenc in 1841. Others compare it with the beginning of the second movement of his Concerto for two horns, strings and continuo in F major, RV 538; and there is also speculation with the aria Es ist vollbracht from Bach’s The Passion According to St. John.
So the Italian lied and he was the real – and only – author? Giazotto was not an opportunistic swindler but a prestigious intellectual who a year before publication had been appointed professor of History of Music at the University of Florence and who four years later would join the Academia Nazionale di S. Cecilia, apart from accumulating other distinctions in his curriculum, as director of the international programmes of the European Broadcasting Union, president of the RAI committee and, in 1967, co-editor of the Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana.
Moreover, he always said that he had limited himself to making the musical arrangements of the work, duly attributing his authorship to the Baroque composer. However, today all the experts consider that it is a composition by Giazotto himself; the only one he did in his life, by the way, which, considering the success he achieved, would indicate that he was a wasted talent. He died in 1998, taking the secret of why he did it with him to his grave. Ironically, his Adagio is the work that has truly given Albinoni his name.
Sources: Historias curiosas de la música(Lawrence Lindt)/Guía universal de la música clásica(Josep Pascual Triay)/Venetian Instrumental Music from Gabrieli to Vivaldi(Eleanor Selfridge-Field)/A History of Baroque Music(George J. Buelow)/Tomaso Albinoni: “musico di violino dilettante veneto”, 1671 – 1750 ; con il catalogo tematico delle musiche per strumenti, 197 esempi musicali e 14 tavole fuori testo(Remo Giazotto)/Wikipedia