Composer. One of the most popular creators of opera in the 18th Century, his music represented all the virtues - and vices - of the Italian Baroque tradition of "opera seria". Hasse's decorative arias, with their easy, graceful melodies, enjoyed the status of popular tunes from Poland to England. Many of his stage works were set to texts by Pietro Metastasio, the leading librettist of his day. Hasse was born in Bergedorf near Hamburg, Germany. His family had been musicians for four generations and he began his career at 19 as a tenor with the local opera company. By 1724 he was in Naples studying composition with Porpora and Alessandro Scarlatti; his first major opera, "Sesostrato" (1726), spread his fame throughout Italy. In 1730 he married superstar singer Faustina Bordoni, for whom he would write his most important mezzo-soprano roles; and his fruitful collaboration with Metastasio began with "Artaserse". Their dozens of other operas together include "Cleofide" (1731), "La Clemenza di Tito" (1732, the text was set again by Mozart in 1782), "Antigono" (1743), "Semiramide riconosciuta" (1744), "L'Olimpiade" (1756), "Zenobia" (1761), and "Il Ruggiero" (1771). From 1731 to 1764 Hasse was Kapellmeister at the Saxony court of Dresden, a post that allowed him freedom to travel and accept commissions from all over Europe. At peak fame he outshone Handel in the opera world, was courted by royalty and admired by J.S. Bach, and in the process became a very wealthy man. From 1764 he produced operas at Vienna and in 1772 he and Bordoni settled in Venice. But while Hasse's later years were ones of great material prosperity, they also marked the decline of his fame and influence as an artist. Lack of depth was his principal failing. He regarded melody and beautiful singing as the most important aspects of music and all too often sacrificed dramatic integrity to mere vocal display and crowd-pleasing pageantry; in this he was certainly influenced by Metastasio, whose scripts could be hopelessly artificial. Even his "tragedies" have happy endings. When Gluck set about reforming opera in the 1760s, it was primarily Hasse (and Metastasio) he was reacting against. Unable to fully embrace the new Classical trend, he abandoned opera in 1772 and devoted his last years to liturgical settings. At his death he was dismissed as old-fashioned. Immensely prolific, Hasse may have written as many as 1600 compositions. When an English critic asked him for a work list in the early 1770s, the composer admitted he'd lost track of his output years earlier. "Like most bad fathers, I took more pleasure in producing than preserving my offspring", he said. Many of his works were destroyed during Frederick the Great's siege of Dresden in 1760, though 63 operas, 12 oratorios, 20 Masses, 90 cantatas, 80 flute concertos (all written, ironically enough, for Frederick), and hundreds of instrumental and smaller vocal pieces have survived. His final effort, a Requiem, was performed at his funeral. His tomb was unmarked until 1820, a sign of how quickly he had fallen into obscurity. Today only some of his chamber music is performed and he is remembered mainly by historians.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards