Italian composer and friend of Alexander Pope
Giovanni Bononcini was born on the 18th July 1670 at Modena in Northern Italy. He was born into a musical family: his father was the chapel master at the cathedral and his two brothers were composers and instrumentalists. He was a prolific composer of operas (25) and cantatas (more than 300). After some time in Bologna, he moved to Rome in 1691. In 1719, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, owner of Chiswick House, was on his second Grand Tour. He met Bononcini in Rome and was responsible for his subsequent move to London as composer to the newly-formed Royal Academy of Music. At about the same time, Handel was appointed the Academy’s ‘Master of the Orchester’ having earlier been installed at Burlington House, the Earl’s London residence.
Burlington had also met William Kent in Rome, where Kent was studying art, and brought him back to Chiswick as, what we would call today, artist-in-residence. Kent later became, inter alia, an architect, interior decorator, furniture designer and, most famously, a garden designer. Kent and Burlington are known to have been friends of Alexander Pope and it likely that it was through them that Pope met Bononcini.
Bononcini in Twickenham
Bononcini came to live in Twickenham in 1721. It is not known where exactly where he lived, nor how long he remained in Twickenham, but the most famous resident of Twickenham at that time was Pope. Pope wrote of his “having a great esteem for the famous Bononcini; not only from his great fame but from a personal knowledge of his character”(1).
It is possible that Pope arranged a concert at his villa in Bononcini’s honour in 1721. It is known that Pope and his friends vigorously promoted Bononcini’s Cantate, which were sold by subscription. It may be significant that Pope himself had made his fortune by selling his translation of Homer’s Illiad by subscription. The Cantate’s subscription list of 200 subscribers comprises aristocrats and Pope’s friends and neighbours. It includes the Earl of Peterborough, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Pope’s friend but ultimately his bitter enemy), the Duchess of Buckinghamshire, Lord Radnor (a close neighbour and witness to Pope’s will), Thomas Vernon (Pope’s landlord), the Prince of Wales, Henrietta Howard (Countess of Suffolk, chatelaine of Marble Hill House and friend of Pope), the 3rd Duke of Argyll (of Whitton Place), Sir Godfrey Kneller (painter and owner of Kneller Hall), John Arbuthnot (Pope’s correspondent), Sir Clement Cottrell (inheritor of the Rousham estate) and Charles Jervas (the portrait painter who lived in Hampton).
Decline and move to Paris
In 1722 Jacobite conspiracies put all Catholics under suspicion and Bononcini’s star declined. He was re-engaged by the Royal Academy for the 1723-24 season but by now he was looking elsewhere, mainly to France, for success. However, he may have been persuaded to stay in London by the offer of £500 a year for life by the Duchess of Marlborough to become effectively her composer-in-residence. This arrangement continued until 1732 when, after an accusation of plagiarism, he finally resettled in Paris. He died in Vienna on 9th July 1747.
1. Letter from Alexander Pope to the Duke of Buckinghamshire, Jan 27, 1720.
Sources:The Alexander Pope Encyclopaedia, Rogers, Greenwood Press, 2004, ISBN 0-313-32426-3
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version
Oxford Music Online
The complete works of Alexander Pope, various editions