picture of Pietro Metastasio

About the Website Handbook for Metastasio Research and the Metastasio Database


Pietro Metastasio (b.1698) was an Italian poet and librettist whose name, during the eighteenth century, was synonymous with all that was worthy in Italian serious opera, lyric poetry, and moral aspiration. His career began in Rome and Naples and continued in Vienna where, from 1730 until his death in 1782, he held the prime position of Imperial Court Poet. Metastasio's works range from the 27 librettos for the Italian serious opera through a host of similar pieces for the Viennese court and chapel, to smaller sonnets and lyrical verses, while also embracing treatises on the Greek drama, the Aristotle Poetics and the Horace Ars Poetica. Metastasian texts caught the attention of some 400 composers between 1720 and c.1835 and were represented across a geographical area that stretched from Lisbon to St. Petersburg and on through Central Europe; Copenhagen to Naples and even into the New World.

Metastasio Research:

Quite apart from the numer of works written and the number of composers involved, many texts were set several times. Further, all but the first settings by the composers for whom the texts were originally written were usually adaptations that responded to local conditions or contemporary trends, and subsequent performances of the same work by the same composer in another location would invariably involve additional modifications. Thus the various versions of Metastasian texts and the musical manuscripts associated with them number into the thousands, and to these sources can be added the Metastasio epistolario (the collection of more than 2,600 extant letters) and the editions of the poet's works published between 1717 and the present that number almost 200. As for writings on Metastasio, it is unlikely that a definitive bibliography will ever be possible.

Daunting, then, to Metastasio research, is the enormity of the poet's output and the vastness of its dissemination. Equally daunting, however, are the many disciplines to which Metastasian enquiries must relate. All the poet's works, whether for theatre, church, or salon, were intended to be works of literature, and as such, they reflect the literary principles of the Arcadian movement in Italian literature which, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, coincided precisely with the principles of pulpit oratory. Concealed under the guise of pleasure, instruction was the aim, the poetry and the musical dress being but part of an aesthetic drive towards moral beauty and moral truth. And through association, an image of order, power, majesty, magnanimity, and piety was rendered to the Habsburg monarchy, a practice that had gained impetus through a blending of politics with religion, a union upon which the very survival of the monarchy had once depended. In short, "Metastasio" as a subject, touches upon matters relating to aesthetics, moral philosophy, art history, the history of literature, church history, the history of preaching, political, economic, and social history, musicology, classics, the history of theatre and upon musical and literary analysis and criticism.

A Website Handbook and a Database:

In the process of confronting the enormity of Metastasio research, a considerable amount of disparate information has been drawn together. Yet even as this information serves the Metastasio projects for which it was initially gathered, its frequent usage has suggested that it be made available to the scholarly community at large in as accessible a form as is possible. This decision has lead to the creation of both a Website Handbook for Metastasio Research and a Metastasio Database. More information continues to be gathered and will be added to the appropriate areas in due course. Particularly important for the present, however, is the practical aspect of both the Handbook and the Database. For the information that is already online, Dr. Don Neville, the site director, will be pleased to make additions and deletions or correct any errors that users may be kind enough to bring to his attention.

Metastasio Home

Maintained by Dr. Don Neville, dneville@uwo.ca
Faculty of Music, The University of Western Ontario
Last revised: August 21, 2001