(b Turin, ?c1610; d Rome, 28 Dec 1695). Italian organist and composer. He was organist of Turin Cathedral in 1632 but spent much of his working life in Rome. In 1651 he was a member of the Congregazione di S Cecilia. He became organist of S Maria in Vallicella and continued to hold this post while acting as Alessandro Costantini's substitute at S Pietro from 24 September 1657. After Costantini's death on 20 October 1657, he was appointed organist of S Pietro. On 7 March 1664 he was organist of the second choir at the first oratorio in S Marcello, and he played the ‘violone’ (probably cello) at similar oratorios from 1674 to 1678. In 1653 and 1688 he was guardiano of the organists' section of the Congregazione di S Cecilia. On 13 August 1691 he retired from S Pietro and received a pension ‘on account of his old age and in recognition of his outstanding service’. In spite of failing sight he became organist of S Maria dell'Anima on 15 March 1692, a post he held until his death. As a composer he is known for keyboard music. The 12 Ricercari for organ (Rome, 1677; ed. G. Doderer, Milan, 1975) are modelled on Frescobaldi's Fantasie of 1608 and show the same interest in contrapuntal problems; the preface states that they were the first to be printed in Rome for half a century. They are deliberately written in a stile antico e grave and with Battiferri's Ricercari (Bologna, 1669) are the last Italian keyboard pieces in this conservative style. Toccatas by Fontana appear in the anthologies The Lady's Entertainment or Banquet of Music (London, ) and A Second Collection of Toccatas (London, 1719). Other surviving works include a corrente (in I-Rvat Vat.Mus.569; ed. in Silbiger, JAMS, 1980, and Johnsson), three ‘preludes’ (in D-Hs, see ApelG), which appear to be from the printed Toccatas of 1719, and two cantatas: Giuda disperata (I-Rvat Vat.Mus.426) and L'Impotente (I-Bc Q46).
A.Liess: ‘Materialen zur römischen Musikgeschichte des Seicento: Musikerlisten des Oratorio San Marcello 1664–1725’, AcM, xxix (1957), 137–71
M.-T.Bouquet: Musique et musiciens à Turin de 1648 à 1775 (Turin, 1968), 212
A.Silbiger: ‘The Roman Frescobaldi Tradition, 1640–1670’, JAMS, xxxiii (1980), 42–87
A.Silbiger: ‘Keyboard Music by Corelli's Colleagues: Roman Composers in English Sources’, Nuovissimi studi corelliani: Fusignano 1980, 253–68
B.Johnsson, ed.: Roman Keyboard Music of the 17th Century: the Manuscript Vat.Mus.569 from The Vatican Library (Egtved, 1981)
(b Milan, 10 Jan 1850; d Lugano, 12 May 1919). Italian writer and librettist. An adherent of the artistic avant-garde movement known as the ‘scapigliatura’, he first made his name as a poet and dramatist, many of his works being written in Milanese dialect. Ponchielli brought him into contact with the young Puccini, for whom he wrote the librettos of Le villi and Edgar. His career as a librettist effectively came to an end in 1898 when, as a radical republican, he was suspected of having fomented the popular riots of that year and consequently banished to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life in reduced circumstances.
Fontana’s theatrical credo is set forth in his manifesto, In teatro (1884), which among other bizarre theories proclaims the need for an opera synopsis to form an independent work of art; hence, no doubt, the verses that link the two acts of Le villi, which were intended to be read by the audience, not declaimed from the stage. His most successful libretto is Asrael, written for Alberto Franchetti, which with its scenes in heaven and hell shows the influence of Boito’s Mefistofele. Fontana was also the Italian translator of d’Albert’s Tiefland and of four of Lehár’s operettas, including Die lustige Witwe. Several of his romanze were set by Paolo Tosti.
GroveO (J. Budden) [incl. list of libs]
B.Longoni: ‘Vita e opere di Ferdinando Fontana’, Quaderni pucciniani, iv (1992), 237–46 [incl. work-list]
Fontana, Giovanni Battista
(b Brescia, ?1589; d ?Padua, ?1630). Italian composer and violinist. Knowledge of his life and work is confined to a few documents, the most extensive of which is the preface to a posthumous memorial publication, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarone, violoncino o simile altro istromento (Venice, 1641/R1985; examples in AMI, vii, 92; HAM, no.198; Mw, xv, 1960; Diletto musicale, xiii–xv, 1962, and cdxlii, 1969; ed. F. Cerha, Vienna and Munich, 1976). He is described as being from Brescia and as having also worked in Venice, Rome and finally Padua. His death was attributed to ‘the voracity of the pestilence’, that raged in northern Italy in the years 1630–31. Another Brescian, Cesario Gussago, dedicated a sonata to him (in RISM 16082). Other documents may refer to the musician. One of them, a property assessment of 1627 for a Gio: Batta Fontana, gives his age as 38, his residence as Padua, and refers to extensive connections with Brescia. An atto di morte dated 7 September 1630 for a “Zan Batta Fontana” aged 50, is the only one among the Paduan death registers of 1625–30 for a person bearing that name (see Baroncini).
The 1641 collection comprises six sonatas for solo violin and continuo and 12 ensemble sonatas for one to three violins and continuo, the latter group often including a technically demanding concertante part for bassoon or cello. None of the individual works can be firmly dated: it can only be stated that they represent sonata composition probably from its beginnings to about 1630. All are divisible into numerous contrasting sections; in about a third of them some sections are repeated, suggesting an arch form. Repeated periods are often elaborated with diminutions. Except for a few short sections recalling the style of vocal recitative, the melodic material is on the whole related to that found in canzonas and dance pieces of the period. A nervous, variegated rhythmic idiom is found in some of these works; the sixth sonata, for example, abounds with sudden bursts of diminutions and triplets. The underlying contrapuntal and harmonic vocabulary is quite conservative, with the bass line often a regular voice part rather than a truly accompanimental line. Works such as sonatas 5, 6 and 16 show Fontana to be a leading figure in the early development of the sonata, especially the solo sonata, of which he and Marini were the first important composers.