Monday, 22 December 2008

Who was Dr Charles Burney’s mysterious Monsignor Reggio?

Presentation given at
XV Convegno della Società Italiano di Musicologia
Biblioteca ‘ Angelo Mai ‘ Bergamo il 26 octobre 2008

Anthony Hart (Malta)

In 1770 the English historian and musician Dr Charles Burney (1726-1814) embarked on a journey which would take him to France and Italy. The objective of this journey was to collect information for his book ‘The History of Music’. During his visit he met many musicians, attended numerous concerts and made the acquaintance of several composers. He also encountered many other nowadays less recognized musicians, in particular, one Monsignor Reggio. Burney was introduced to Reggio through members of the English nobility residing in Rome.
During his visit Burney kept a detailed journal of meetings and discussions. September 1770 sees Burney in Rome and we read in his journal:
'Wednesday 26 Sept: "... . to the prelate Monsignor Regio(sic) - who is likewise a pretty good composer and performer on the harpsichord and violoncello. He has got 2 or 3 delicate-toned harpsichords and a good library.”’

Later in his journal he speaks generally of Italian performers, discusses the state of Italian harpsichords, and admits being disappointed by the Italian harpsichord and harpsichord players. He again mentions Reggio.
‘.....The best Italian harpsichord which I met with …. for tone, that of Monsignor Reggio at Rome;...’

In his final summing up of his visit to Rome he writes:
'… I am indebted for some curious compositions, and for the conversations of several persons in Rome, eminent for their skill in the art, and learning in the science of sound; among whom ….. Monsignor Reggio.'

No contemporary or modern musicological sources mention any Monsignor Reggio. He was obviously well-known to the English nobility residing in Rome during this period and it would appear that he left a lasting impression on Burney and worthy of note in the published, edited version of his journal. But who was this mysterious prelate? Have any of his works survived?

Using clues provided by annotations on original manuscripts in the Santini Collection in the Diözensanbibliothek in Münster and other sources, it has been possible to trace Reggio’s origins to a cadet branch of an 18th century Sicilian noble family. Through further references in the manuscripts a connection with Roman Nobility was also established. He has also been mentioned in connection with the sallotti and of the Roman intelligentsia during the Age of Enlightenment. Using this information a positive identification of Reggio has been established.

From the identification of Reggio’s autograph in the original manuscripts, it has been possible to conclude that he was the owner of the five volumes of the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti held in the Santini Collection, and scribe of many of the individual manuscripts within the volumes.

Anthony Hart, Malta, 2008

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