By Travis Ludlow
Dale Monson, principal American scholar of Italian composer, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, visited Italy to speak at a conference in Pergolesi”s honor.
Monson, director of BYU”s music school, who has studied the composer”s work for decades, talked about Pergolesi”s opera “Salustia” and the manuscript traditions of Italian opera at the conference.
The professor”s interest in the composer was first sparked as a graduate student at Columbia University. Since then, he has spent many years searching through Pergolesi”s manuscripts, editing them and finding a few of the originals amongst thousands of scores, he explained.
In 18th-century Italy, when Pergolesi wrote his works, scribes copied compositions by hand, so the musicians sang the operas differently in each city. Thus, editing is a tedious process that involves comparing various versions of a piece.
The international conference convened in Pergolesi”s birthplace, Lesi, Italy, Monson said.
Lesi hosts an annual festival that includes musical events and concerts. This year, the Barroque orchestra Ravenna Capella Byzantina played music in the traditional style on instruments like those used during Pergolesi”s time, Monson said. Singers performed the opera “Flaminio.”
Last year, they sang another called “Olympics,” which will be sung at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Pergolesi wrote four serious and two comic operas. His most popular opera, however, is a short comic piece titled “La Serva Pedrona.” He also created religious works like “Sabat Mater,” an account of Mary standing at the cross as her son was hanging there. About 20 versions of this famous piece sell today.
Monson has edited a critical edition consisting of Pergolesi”s manuscripts and written articles about the composer”s work. He heads the Pergolesi Research Center, which moved with him to BYU after he taught at Pennsylvania State University during the ”90s.
He became director of the center in 1997 because of his reputation for his work in connection with the composer.
“Dale Monson is the foremost American scholar on Pergolesi,” said Barbara Mackenzie, Director of the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation, in an e-mail.
The City University in New York City originally housed the center, but then Barry S. Brook, in his later years, entrusted the directorship of the center to Monson, who loaded its contents, filing cabinets stocked with microfilm, on a truck and moved it to the state university in Pennsylvania and then to BYU.
The cabinets now stand in a faculty-size room in the Harold B. Lee Library.