Cimarosa’s significance for the music of his time should not be underestimated. His operas were regularly staged in the opera houses of all major European cities. His operatic oeuvre was compared to that of Mozart. As Esterházy’s Kapellmeister, Haydn conducted 12 of Cimarosa’s operas, and in 1789 Mozart wrote an insertion aria for Cimarosa’s opera I due baroni. A much lesser known fact is that, besides his extensive operatic output, Cimarosa also wrote almost 90 keyboard sonatas, and the latest of these are in close proximity to Mozart’s dramatic musical language.
Domenico Cimarosa was born in 1749 in Aversa in the kingdom of Naples. He received his musical training between 1761 and 1771 at the city’s Conservatorio di S. Maria di Loreto. Cimarosa became a skilled performer on the violin and the keyboard, as well as an able singer and towards the end of his musical education began to distinguish himself as a capable composer. His talent as a composer of operas soon became known throughout Europe. Cimarosa’s widespread popularity eventually led to his employment as Maestro di Capella at the court of the Russian Empress Catherine II in St. Petersburg. After his contract ended there, Emperor Leopold II. appointed him as the successor of Antonio Salieri in Vienna. Until 1796 Cimarosa made frequent travels between Vienna and Naples, until in 1796 he again settled in Naples. But political unrest in the aftermath of the French Revolution led to a precarious situation for the composer. Known for his republican views, Cimarosa was arrested in 1799 and spent four months in prison. He only narrowly escaped the death penalty, thanks to influential supporters such as Lady Hamilton, who acted on his behalf. After his release from prison Cimarosa settled in Venice, where he died in 1801.