Lidarti, Cristiano Giuseppe (1730 - after 1793)

Composer born in Vienna but having spent a large part of his life in Italy, Lidarti is the author of several Hebrew works, including the famous oratorio Ester, the longest and richest composition of all the Hebrew art music in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti, of Italian origin, was born in Vienna in 1730. Educated by the Jesuits, he studied philosophy and law at the University of Vienna. As a child, he took harp and harpsichord lessons but did not formally study the composition, although his uncle, Giuseppe Bonno, was Kappelmeister at the Imperial Court. In order to correct a certain dilettantism his uncle advised him to study the theoreticians of traditional classical music. At the age of 21 or 22, Lidarti left for Italy with the intention of studying with Jomelli. These projects were not realized, Lidarti lived for some time in Venice and Florence, then worked as a music teacher in Cortona for five years and finally got a position as a musician (double bass / cello) in the chapel of Cavalieri di St. Stefano in Pisa, position which he kept for nearly forty years. In the meantime he was admitted to the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna and Modena. Lidarti, according to his own testimony, abandoned to maturity "the sublime and fugued style" that he practiced during his youth, and adopted the "simple and melodic" gallant style, developed at the time in Italy and characteristic of the preclassical period . The exact date of Lidarti’s death is not known - his last composition dates from 1793 and his name disappears from the salary list of the Cavalieri di St. Stefano chapel after February 15, 1794.

Lidarti is one of the two leading composers of the 18th century who worked for the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam (the other being the Jewish composer Abraham Caceres). His name appears for the first time in the register of the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam around 1770. The known Hebrew pieces of Lidarti include the solo cantatas Bo’i be-shalom and Kol ha-neshama, the duet Ha-mesiah illemim, the choral pieces Be-fi yesharim and Nora elohim, all preserved in manuscript form at the Ets Haim’s community library and especially the oratorio Ester.

The oratorio Ester (1774)
The origin of this work remains mysterious. Lidarti, himself, does not mention in his "autobiography" any trip to London or Amsterdam, and there is no mention of a relationship with the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam or works composed for them.
The Hebrew text of this oratorio is attributed to the Rabbi of Mantua and Venice: Jacob Raphael Saraval. Rabbi Saraval (1707? - 1782) was known for his interest in music. In a document dated March 1757, he asked the authorities of the Mantuan ghetto, a few days before Purim, permission for the students of his Yeshiva to present "a kind of opera based on a biblical story." He obtained permission on the condition that no Gentile be admitted to the performance, with the exception of the instrumentalist and the costume designer. Saraval’s libretto is based on the text of the second version of Haendel’s oratorio (1732), but with many cuts and additions.
The libretto of Saraval, titled (in Hebrew) The Salvation of Israel by Esther or (in Italian) Ester in Oratorio o Sacra Dramma, was known through three manuscripts, two of which were kept in the library of the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam Ets Chaim. The title page of one of these manuscripts specifies that the oratorio, or "sacred drama" must be performed "in music by Signor Handel". In fact, the libretto is a Hebrew adaptation of the English libretto used by Haendel in his oratorio Esther (1718/1732) and attributed to Alexander Pope and / or John Arbuthnot, based on the French drama by Racine.
A third manuscript, preserved in the Hebrew Union College Library in Cincinnati, is a printed booklet of Handel’s English libretto of Esther, with handwritten pages containing the text of the Hebrew adaptation of Saraval, interleaved page by page in front of the printed English text of Handel’s book of Esther.

Who asked Lidarti to compose new music on Saraval’s libretto? No one really knows. Was it David Franco Mendes, the famous historian and secretary of the community, himself a prolific poet, who apparently would have ordered the libretto to Saraval? This is an unconfirmed hypothesis.
The strangest thing is that the libretto of this oratorio preserved in Amsterdam and Cincinnati remained silent until 1998, when Professor Israel Adler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem formally identified his music in a manuscript dated 1774 purchased by the University of Cambridge. The meeting of the text and the music finally allowed to restore this work which remains, to this day, the longest composition (more than 2 hours!) and the richest of all the Hebrew art music of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Analysis of the Work
Ester de Lidarti is composed of three acts each comprising 3 to 4 scenes. The score is written for solo voices - Ester, Donna Israelita (an "Israelite woman" of her suite), Ahasveros, Mordocai and Haman (with a brief appearance of Harbona) - a three-part choir and an orchestra of string instruments, flutes, oboes, horns and basso continuo. It is likely that for religious reasons men performed the soprano voices. There are documentary evidence in the noted manuscripts of the community that the parts designated as soprano voices were performed by male sopranists..

When Lidarti composed Ester, Haydn had already composed his medium symphonies, and Mozart had reached adulthood. Lidarti nevertheless continued in the preclassical style of the years 1720-1750 that he had adopted in Italy in his youth. The opening in three movements is reminiscent of Sammartini’s symphonies and the opera overtures of Pergolese, Jomelli and Galuppi, and the orchestra is still provided with a basso continuo, a reliquat of Baroque practices. Arias and duets also follow the "gallant" preclassical style in their homophonic texture and emphasis on a dominant, cyclic and "closed" melody, simpler and slower harmonies, and an expressive contrast between clearly separated sections.

Biography inspired from the libretto of Esther, taken from the double CD Le salut d’Israël par Esther, Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti (1730-1793?), Ester, Orchestre National de Montpellier, choeur de la radio lettone, Friedemann Layer direction, Euterpe, 2000.

Watch excerpts from the Oratorio of Ester
Watch an excerpt of the concert of Baroque Jewish Music, tribute to Israel Adler
Look at other documents related to Baroque Jewish Music
Listen and order the CD Baroque jewish Music

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