Gaspero Angiolini


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(b Florence, 9 Feb. 1731; d Milan, 6 Feb. 1803)

Italian dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and composer. He came from a theatrical family and had his first dance lessons from his father. Between 1747 and 1750 he danced in Venice with occasional guest performances around Italy and he created his first choreography in 1752 in Rome. In or around the same year he moved to Vienna to work under Hilverding. He danced in several of the latter's ballets and in 1758 became Hilverding's successor as ballet master in Vienna, remaining there until 1766 except for a period in St Petersburg. His ballets were strongly influenced by Hilverding's theories of the ballet d'action though he developed his own choreographic idiom which attempted an unusually (for the time) close synthesis between music and dance. In 1761 he staged his pantomime ballet Don Juan to Gluck's music, in which he danced the title role. Audiences accustomed to the light-hearted dance divertissements of the age were moved and shocked by its tragic ending. He continued his fertile association with Gluck by choreographing the first performance of Orpheus and Eurydice (1762) and in 1765 set Semiramide (based on Voltaire's drama) to music by that composer. This work also shocked audiences with its brutal storyline but with it he established himself as a leading choreographer of ballet d'action. A brilliant dancer and mime himself, he demanded total expressiveness of face and gesture from his dancers as well as an impeccable technique. He composed his works almost in the form of classical Greek tragedies with a limited number of soloists and a chorus. Unlike Noverre whose own narrative ballets were accompanied by lengthy explanatory programme notes, he supplied only a bare outline of the plot, insisting that the dancers' ‘silent speech’ was sufficiently eloquent to convey the material.

In 1762 he left Vienna for a year to join Hilverding as assistant ballet master in St Petersburg and in 1766 succeeded him there as ballet master. He choreographed many works in Russia including Les Chinoises en Europe (to his own music) in 1767. Back in Italy between 1772 and 1773 he began making public attacks on Noverre whom he accused of plagiarizing Hilverding's ideas about the ballet d'action (Lettere di Gaspero Angiolini a Mons. Noverre sopra i balli pantomimi). He returned to Vienna (1774–6) where he created L'Orphelin de la Chine (1774), then moved back to St Petersburg for a second contract (1776–8). Between 1778 and 1782 he was again in Italy as ballet master at La Scala and elsewhere then returned to St Petersburg (1783–6) for the last time. Back in Italy he choreographed ballets for several theatres but was imprisoned for his republican activities in 1799. In 1801 he was released and returned to Milan. During his life he composed the music for many of his own ballets and also tried to develop a system of dance notation based on musical notation. He was married to his partner Maria Teresa Fogliazzi.

Subjects: Dance.

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