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Music to Honor St. Joseph

Let’s honor “the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Mt 1:16). On the day of the Immaculate Conception more than 150 years ago, December 8, 1870, Blessed Pope Pius IX, with the decree Quemadmodum Deus (As almighty God) by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, solemnly declared St. Joseph Patron of the Church. The First Vatican Council had been suspended because of political events in the autumn of 1870 and the Pope, wishing to satisfy the requests of the Council Fathers, entrusted the Church, which was experiencing difficult times, to the special protection of the putative father of Jesus, and elevated the feast of March 19th to the liturgical rank of double of the first class.

On this day dedicated to St. Joseph we want to make some mention of the Italian Baroque oratorios which proposed the holy Patriarch and, in particular, his passing as a theme for meditation. In fact, having died in the best possible way, in the arms of Jesus and Mary, Saint Joseph is considered the most effective protector of the dying. Typically, these oratorios were divided into two parts to be sung before and after the sermon.

Maurizio Cazzati (1616-1678), from 1657 to 1671 maestro di cappella at the basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, began composing oratorios in 1659 setting to music a collection of poems by Giovan Battista Sanuti Pellicani in praise of St. Joseph, entitled Espressione in versi d’alcuni fatti di s. Giuseppe ridotta in musica, a lost work, cited by padre Martini. It served as a starting point for the two authors to write Il transito di San Giuseppe, the first Cazzati’s oratorio, performed in 1665 under his baton in Bologna, in the palace of the marquise Angiola Paleotti.

The Bolognese Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-1695), another director of music at San Petronio, composed the oratorio Il transito di S. Giuseppe, on verses by Giacomo Antonio Bergamori (1653-1717), represented for the first time in 1678 in Bologna in the palace of the marquis Paleotti. Among its beautiful moments we propose: here, preceded by the recitative Purché del mio Signore, the aria of St. Joseph (mezzo-soprano) Non temete costanti pensieri; here, after the recitative Su svegliatevi, the aria of Lucifer (bass) Al suon di mie trombe, with solo trumpet, at the beginning of the second part.

Leone Alberici, poet and librettist from the town of Orvieto, central Italy, published in 1694 the text of Lagonia del glorioso patriarca san Giuseppe. Dialogue for three voices.[1]

Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661-1756), since 1696 maestro di cappella at San Petronio, in 1700 set to music the lost oratorio La morte del giusto ovvero Il transito di san Giuseppe, based on text by the Venetian scholar Bernardo Sandrinelli, for the church named Santa Maria della Consolazione, or “della fava”, in Venice, seat of the Congregation of the Oratory.[2]

Flaminio Langhi (1649-1700), a Barnabite in Milan, in 1702 wrote the lyrics of the Oratorio del transito del gloriosissimo san Giuseppe da cantarsi nella chiesa di S. Giovanni delle Vigne dei PP. Barnabiti. That church is today the main theater of the town of Lodi, northern Italy.[3]

Nicola Fago “il Tarantino” (1677-1745), set to music Il sogno avventurato overo il trionfo della Provvidenza, “a sacred melodrama in honor of the Glorious Patriarch St. Joseph,” whose score is lost. In 1711 it was performed in the Neapolitan basilica of San Paolo Maggiore, belonging to the Theatines.[4]

Francesco Corradini (ca. 1700-1749), Neapolitan maestro di cappella, composed the oratorio Il glorioso San Giuseppe sposo della Beata Vergine, sung in Naples on March 19, 1721, in the house of a Neapolitan nobleman by Francesco Vitale (St. Joseph), Giovanni Maria Morosi (Virgin Mary), Carlo Broschi called Farinelli (Angel) and by a “Choir of Angels” (cfr. Sartori, Ibidem, n. 12428a).

Giuseppe Conte composed the sacred oratorio La morte felice overo Elpino moribondo, on a libretto by Antonio Maria Paolucci, to be sung in Naples on March 19, 1723, in the atrium of the Church of the Congregation of the Oratory, where he was organist and, since 1716, director of music.[5]

Giovanni Fischietti (1692-1743), “Maestro at the Royal Conservatory of Orphans and Organist of the Royal Chapel,” presented “the usual annual devotion of my family” — as he wrote in his dedication — by composing in 1726 the melodrama with music I devoti affetti del Glorioso Patriarca San Giuseppe.[6]

Dulcis in fundo. And the sweet part is one of the greatest Italian composers: Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736). After studying violin and composition at the Conservatorio dei poveri di Gesù Cristo, one of the four music schools in Naples, he made a short artistic career, only six years, in which he touched all the musical forms of his time. Pergolesi for some recalls especially the unattainable Stabat mater or, in a secular context, the comic opera La serva padrona; but his compositional corpus includes masses, psalms, oratorios and the other opera buffa Lo frate ‘nnammorato.

The twenty-one year old composer from Jesi made his debut just with a work dedicated to the “patron of a happy death.” The first important commission reached Pergolesi from the Fathers of the Naples Oratory: La fenice sul rogo, ovvero La morte di San Giuseppe, “sacred melodrama” on the modest libretto by Antonino Maria Paolucci, to be performed on March 19, 1731, in the atrium of their church, today called the Girolamini.

The score, divided into two parts for about an hour and half of music, in which not much happens apart from the death of St. Joseph, is conceived for four characters (Holy Mary, alto; St. Joseph, tenor; St. Michael the Archangel and Divine Love, sopranos), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 horns, archlute, viola d’amore, strings and basso continuo. Here are excerpts from the first aria of St. Michael the Archangel (Sono spirito immortale), St. Joseph (Se a un sì bel foco), Divine Love (Morono le Fenici) and of Holy Mary (Gradite ferite).


[1] Cf. O. M. Paltrinieri, Elogio del nobile e pontificio Collegio Clementino di Roma, Rome 1795, p. LXXX.

[2] Cf. L. Allacci, Drammaturgia, accresciuta e continuata fino all’anno MDCCLV, Venice 1755, p. 540.

[3] Cf. G. Boffito, Scrittori barnabiti, 1533-1933, Vol. 2, Olschki, Florence 1933, p. 341.

[4] Cf. C. Sartori, I libretti italiani a stampa dalle origini al 1800. Catalogo analitico con 16 indici, Cuneo, Bertola & Locatelli, 1990-1994, n. 22208.

[5] Cf. C. Sartori, ibidem, n. 16097.

[6] Cf. C. Sartori, ibidem, n. 7665.

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