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Biography of

Giovanni Battista Sammartini

ca. 1700 (Milan) - 15 jan 1775 (Milan)
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The only surviving portrait of Sammartini by Domenico Riccardi.[1]

Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700 or 1701 – 15 January 1775) was an Italian composer, organist, choirmaster and teacher. He counted Gluck among his students, and was highly regarded by younger composers including Johann Christian Bach. It has also been noted that many stylizations in Joseph Haydn's compositions are similar to those of Sammartini, although Haydn denied any such influence.[2] Sammartini is especially associated with the formation of the concert symphony through both the shift from a brief opera-overture style and the introduction of a new seriousness and use of thematic development that prefigure Haydn and Mozart. Some of his works are described as galant, a style associated with Enlightenment ideals, while "the prevailing impression left by Sammartini's work... [is that] he contributed greatly to the development of a Classical style that achieved its moment of greatest clarity precisely when his long, active life was approaching its end".[3]

He is often confused with his brother, Giuseppe, a composer with a similarly prolific output (and the same first initial).



Giovanni Battista Sammartini was born to French emigrant and oboist Alexis Saint-Martin and Girolama de Federici in Milan, in what was Austria during most of his lifetime and Italy today. He was the seventh of eight children. He received musical instruction from his father and wrote his first work in 1725, which was a set of vocal works (now lost). Not long after, he acquired the positions of maestro di cappella at Sant'Ambrogio and to the Congregazione del Santissimo Entierro in 1728. He held the position at Sant'Ambrogio until his death.[4]

Sammartini quickly became famous as a church composer and obtained fame outside of Italy by the 1730s. Over the course of the years, he joined many churches for work (8 or more by his death[5]) and wrote music to be performed at state occasions and in houses of nobility. Although he never strayed far from Milan, he came into contact with many notable composers including J.C. Bach, Mozart, Boccherini, and Gluck, the latter of whom became his student from the years 1737 to 1741.

Sammartini’s death in 1775 was unexpected. Although he was highly regarded in his time, his music was quickly forgotten, and Sammartini wasn’t to be restudied until 1913 by researchers Fausto Torrefranca, Georges de Saint-Foix, and Gaetano Cesari. Ironically, most of his surviving works have been recovered from published editions from outside his hometown of Milan.


Sammartini is mostly praised for his innovations in the development of the symphony, perhaps more so than the schools of thought in Mannheim and Vienna.[6] His approach to symphonic composition was unique in that it drew influence from the trio sonata and concerto forms, in contrast to other composers during the time that modeled symphonies after the Italian overture. His symphonies were driven by rhythm and a clearer form, especially early sonata and rounded binary forms. His works never ceased to be inventive, and sometimes anticipated the direction of classical music such as the Sturm und Drang style. [7]


Sammartini was a prolific composer, and his compositions include 4 operas, about 70 symphonies, ten concertos and some of the earliest chamber music known in the history of western music. As of 2004, approximately 450 known works have been composed by Sammartini, although a fair amount of his music has been lost, especially sacred and dramatic works.[6] Some of it may have also been lost due to publishment under other names, especially that his brother, Giuseppe.[8] His earliest music was for liturgical use.

Sammartini's works are referred to, in publications or recordings, either by the opus number they received in his lifetime, or by the J-C numbers they receive in the Jenkins-Churgin catalog referred to below. Newell Jenkins edited some of Sammartini's works, including a Magnificat, for the first time (he was also an editor of works by Vivaldi, Paisiello and Boccherini, among others).

Sammartini’s music is generally divided into three stylistic periods: the early period (1724-1739), which reflects a mixture of Baroque and Preclassical forms, the middle period (1740-1758), which suggests Preclassical form, and the late period (1759-1774), that displays Classical influences.[4] Sammartini’s middle period is regarded as his most significant and pioneering, during which his compositions in the galant style of music foreshadow the Classical era to come.

Known works

  • Operas (4)
    • Memet (1732, Lodi, Italy), 'tragedia' in three acts, the first movements of two of Sammartini’s earliest known symphonies appear as overtures
    • L'ambizione superata dalla virtù (26 December 1734, Teatro Regio Ducal, Milan), 'drama' in three acts
    • L'Agrippina, moglie di Tiberio (January 1743, Teatro Regio Ducal, Milan), dramma per musica in three acts,
    • La gara dei geni (28 May 1747, Teatro Regio Ducal, Milan), 'componimento drammatico' (of which only one aria survives)
  • Sonatas (over 50):
    • For organ
    • For cello
    • For violin
    • For flute
  • Concertos (10):
    • For cello and piccolo
    • For flute
    • For violin
  • Symphonies (68 or more)
  • Concertinos (7)
  • Marches (4)
  • Minuets (4)
  • String quintets (6)
  • Flute and string quartets (21)
  • String trios (~200)
  • Arias and vocal ensemble pieces (9)
  • Cantatas (8)
  • Sacred works (17)


  1. ^ Cattoretti, Anna, ed. Giovanni Battista Sammartini and His Musical Environment. Brepolis, 2004.
  2. ^ Churgin, Bathia: "Sammartini [St Martini, San Martini, San Martino, Martini, Martino] Giovanni Battista", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed [21 March 2007]), <>
  3. ^ Cattoretti, Anna, ed. Giovanni Battista Sammartini and His Musical Environment. Brepolis, 2004.
  4. ^ a b Marley, Marie. Giovanni Battista Sammartini: Il Pianto Della Pie Donne. (A-R Editions: 1990), vii.
  5. ^ G. B. Sammartini and the Symphony Churgin, Bathia The Musical Times, Vol. 116, No. 1583. (Jan., 1975), pp. 26-29. Stable URL:
  6. ^ a b Sammartini, Giovanni Battista. The Symphonies of G. B. Sammartini. Ed. Bathia Churgin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.
  7. ^ Churgin, Bathia: ‘Sammartini [St Martini, San Martini, San Martino, Martini, Martino] Giovanni Battistam', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed [21 March 2007]), <>
  8. ^ The Published Instrumental Works of Giovanni Battista Sammartini: A Bibliographical Reappraisal Henry G. Mishkin; Giovanni Battista Sammartini The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 3. (Jul., 1959), pp. 361-374. Stable URL:


  • Cattoretti, Anna, ed., Giovanni Battista Sammartini and his musical environment, Brepols, Turnhout, 2004. ISBN 2-503-51233-X.
  • Churgin, Bathia and Jenkins, Newell. Thematic Catalog of the Works of Giovanni Sammartini: Orchestral and Vocal Music. Cambridge: published for the American Musicological Society by Harvard University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-674-87735-7.
  • Stedman, Preston. The Symphony. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall 1992.

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Giovanni Battista Sammartini. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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