Giacomo Carissimi

From New World Encyclopedia

Giacomo Carissimi (baptized April 18, 1605 – January 12, 1674) was an Italian composer and one of the most celebrated masters of the early Baroque, or, more accurately, the Roman School of music. An ordained priest of the Catholic Church, Carissimi found satisfaction in using the splendor of the church and the strength of musical settings to produce many powerful Mass arrangements, cantatas, motets, and oratorios.

He made significant contributions to the advancement of dramatic musical forms in both sacred and secular genres.


Carissimi's exact birth date is not known, but it was probably in 1604 or 1605 in Marino, Italy, near Rome. Of his early life almost nothing is known. Giacomo's parents, Amico (1548–1633, a cooper (barrel maker) by trade) and Livia (1565–1622), were married on May 14, 1595 and had four daughters and two sons; Giacomo was the youngest.

Nothing is known of his early musical training. His first known appointments were at Tivoli Cathedral, under the maestri di cappella Aurelio Briganti Colonna, Alessandro Capece and Francesco Manelli; from October 1623 he sang in the choir, and from October 1624 to October 1627 he was the organist. In 1628 Carissimi moved north to Assisi, as maestro di cappella (chapel master) at the Cathedral of San Rufino. In 1628 he obtained the same position at the church of St. Apollinaris, belonging to the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, which he held until his death. This was despite receiving several offers to work in very prominent establishments, including an offer to take over from Claudio Monteverdi at San Marco di Venezia, or St Mark's Basilica in Venice. In 1637 he was ordained a priest.

He seems never to have left Italy, and died in Rome in 1674.


Musicians of the King’s Road baroque orchestra and choir Turku Cathedral in Finland, after the performance of works by Giacomo Carissimi in 2020

The great achievements generally ascribed to him are the further development of the recitative, later introduced by Monteverdi, and a tremendous contribution to dramatic music; the further development of the chamber-cantata, by which Carissimi superseded the concertato madrigals which had themselves replaced the madrigals of the late Renaissance; and the development of the oratorio, of which he was the first significant composer.

His position in the history of church music and vocal chamber music is somewhat similar to that of Cavalli in the history of opera. While Luigi Rossi was his predecessor in developing the chamber-cantata, Carissimi was the composer who first made this form the vehicle for the most intellectual style of chamber-music, a function which it continued to perform until the death of Alessandro Scarlatti, Astorga and Marcello.

Carissimi is also noted as one of the first composers of oratorios, with Jephte probably the best known, as well as Jonas; this work and others are important as definitely establishing the form of oratorio unaccompanied by dramatic action, which maintained its hold for two hundred years. The name comes from their presentation at the Oratory of Santissimo Crocifisso in Rome. He also may claim the merit of having given greater variety and interest to the instrumental accompaniments of vocal compositions. Dr. Burney and Sir John Hawkins published specimens of his compositions in their works on the history of music; and Henry Aldrich collected an almost complete set of his compositions, at present in the library of Christ Church College in Oxford. The British Museum also possesses numerous works by Carissimi. Most of his oratorios are in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Carissimi was active at the time when secular music was about to usurp the dominance of sacred music in Italy; the change was decisive, and permanent. When he began composing, the influence of the previous generations of Roman composers was still heavy (for instance, the style of Palestrina), and when his career came to a close, the operatic forms, as well as the instrumental secular forms, were predominant. In addition, Carissimi was important as a teacher, and his influence spread far into Germany and France as much of the musical style of Charpentier, for example, is dependent on the earlier composer.

Selected works


  • Dives Malus (The wicked rich man) also known as Historia Divitis for 2 sopranos, tenor, bass (c. 1640), about the Rich man and Lazarus.
  • Jephte, oratorio for 6 voices & continuo 1648
  • Jonas, oratorio for soloists, SATB double chorus, 2 violins & continuo
  • Judicium Extremum, oratorio for soloists, chorus & continuo
  • Vanitas Vanitatum, oratorio for 5 voices, 2 violins & continuo
  • Oratorio Della Santissima Vergine


  • Piangete, aure, piangete, cantata for soprano & continuo
  • Così volete, così sarà, cantata for soprano & continuo 1640
  • Vittoria, mio core (Amante sciolto d'amore), cantata for soprano & continuo 1646
  • Ferma Lascia Ch'Io Parli (Lamento della Regina Maria Stuarda), cantata for soprano & continuo 1650
  • Sciolto havean dall'alte sponde (I naviganti), cantata for 2 sopranos, baritone & continuo 1653
  • Apritevi inferni (Peccator penitente), cantata for soprano & continuo 1663


  • Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae, motet for mezzo-soprano, soprano & continuo
  • Exulta, gaude, filia Sion, motet for 2 sopranos & continuo 1675
  • Exurge, cor meum, in cithara, motet for soprano, 2 violins, viole & continuo 1670
  • Ardens est cor nostrum [meum], motet for soprano, alto, tenor, bass & continuo 1664
  • Desiderata nobis, motet for alto, tenor, bass & continuo 1667


  • Missa "Sciolto havean dall'alte sponde," mass for 5 voices & continuo

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Buff, Iva M. A Thematic Catalog of the Sacred Works of Giacomo Carissimi. Clifton, NJ: European American Music Corp., 1979. ISBN 0913574155
  • Bukofzer, Manfred F. Music in the Baroque Era. Von Elterlein Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1406739336
  • Dixon, Graham. Carissimi. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0193152495
  • MacClintock, Carol. The Solo Song, 1580-1730. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973. ISBN 9780393099829
  • Rose, Gloria. Giacomo Carissimi. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 1966. OCLC 1075874

External Links

All links retrieved May 26, 2021.


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