Marcello di Capua – selected biographical issues
Facts and hypotheses

When he was actually born…

It is known that Marcello di Capua was born towards the end of the first half of the 18th century, and died – as recorded in the register of deaths (liber mortuorum) of the Łańcut parish – on 2 April 1819.

It is difficult to determine the exact date of the composer’s birth due to lack of source materials. Any data that has been published on this subject is only conjecture based on indirect premises (sometimes mutually exclusive). In musical writing one can find considerable discrepancies between individual researchers, amounting to as many as 17 or more years. Eitner, Loewenberg, Meloncelli, followed by Biegański and Lanfranchi, are in favour of 1740 or even earlier years (1730–40 – Meloncelli together with McClymonds), while some Polish musicologists mention the year 1747, calculated “arithmetically” on the basis of a known yet unverified annotation in the Łańcut register of deaths. Therefore, while the parish liber mortuorum determines the date of the death of Marcello di Capua definitively, the date of his birth is still questionable.

In the church death certificate mentioned above, the age of the deceased was determined – or judged – as 72 years old. Such a note indicates that Marcello di Capua was indeed born in 1746 or 1747. On the other hand, accepting this date “complicates” the collected facts about the composer’s early years in Rome; and therefore the record loses credibility. Without presenting a detailed analysis of historical sources, it is worth emphasising that based on the notes of Pier Leone Ghezzi, the Italian 18th-century painter, it is assumed that it was in 1740 that in the family of the Italian composer Rinaldo di Capua a son was born – most probably Marcello.


Where he came from…

One of the circumstances that still remain unclear in Marcello di Capua’s biography, full of gaps and mysteries, is his place of birth. Lexicographers assume (although without much conviction) that the composer was born in Capua – a small town of ancient roots, located near Caserta in Campagna (at that time part of the Kingdom of Naples). This is implied by the sobriquet “di Capua” that refers directly to the geographical name. It was most probably from Capua or the neighbourhood of Naples that Marcello’s presumed father came. Rinaldo di Capua (born ca. 1705–10, died ca. 1780) was described by Charles Burney, the 18th-century musicologist and traveller, as “a Neapolitan composer of great genius and fire” who was active in Rome. According to Burney, Rinaldo, who was “a natural son of a person of very high rank”, was abandoned by his father, which might have meant that he did not use his family name, but his sobriquet instead. It is probable that in Rome, Rinaldo’s sobriquet became a more official characteristic of his person and began to function as his surname. If so, the hypothesis that Marcello di Capua simply took his name from his father seems justified. As a result, it cannot be ruled out that the actual (other than generally assumed) place of birth of Marcello was Rome – the city from which the earliest documents about him come. It is also worth adding that Marcello’s presumed mother, Agata Lamparelli (the wife of Rinaldo di Capua), was Roman.

Interestingly, the “Roman” hypothesis outlined above, even if it seems closer to the truth than the belief in the Capuan roots of Marcello, can be challenged in the most surprising way. Based on the notes of Pier Leone Ghezzi, who in 1739 drew a portrait of Rinaldo at around 30 years old, to which he later added a comment one can assume that Marcello was born nowhere else but… Lisbon. Ghezzi’s commentary reads as follows: “The said [Rinaldo] set off for Portugal on 18 March 1740, together with his five-months-pregnant wife, and left Rome to compose operas [there] for the sum of one thousand scudi per year”. There is much to suggest that around July 1740, in Lisbon, Rinaldo’s heir was born – Marcello.

Mirosław Płoski
Translated by Xymena Pietraszek-Płatek
Proofread by Ben Koschalka


(The full version of this article has been published separately)

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