Giacobbe Cervetto

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Giacobbe Basevi, known as Giacobbe Cervetto, (1690 – 14 January 1783) was an Anglo-Italian musician of Jewish descent, who was an important classical cellist and composer of Baroque music for cello in 18th century England.


Giacobo Basevi Cervetto (ca.1690-1783), whose name is variously given as Jacob, Jacobo, Jacopo, Giacobbe, and Giacomo, was a cellist and composer, born, according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, in Verona, Italy, into a branch of the Basevi family, whose crest depicted the head of a deer (cervo) - hence the name Cervetto. The Basevi family was immersed in the rich traditions of the Jewish cantors who had been spreading their music throughout numerous Jewish communities all over the world. Giacobo Cervetto and his son James were later followed by others from the Basevi family, who pursued a career in music - for example, the renowned 19th C. musicologist Abraham Basevi (1818-1885), who wrote the first study on Verdi’s music in 1859.

Moving to London in 1739, Giacobo Cervetto became a leading musical figure for many decades, as a performer, composer, string instruments dealer, and music director. Acclaimed for his musicality and pioneering cello technique, he easily became a sought-after free-lancer, performing, among other ensembles, also with Handel’s orchestra. Cervetto was engaged by the Drury Lane Theatre as the orchestra’s principal cellist and later held the post of director. Landing the Drury Lane job soon after his celebrated London solo debut at the Hickford’s Rooms, Brewer Street, Giacobo Cervetto performed with various orchestras at Drury Lane and at Vauxhall Gardens until the end of his life, enjoying tremendous popularity and endearing himself to the audience not only with his virtuosity, but also with his conspicuous appearance, in which a huge diamond worn on the forefinger of his bow-hand played a big role, in addition to a facial feature which earned him the nickname “Nosey”. Cervetto was the first Jewish musician to achieve fame and prominence in England after the 17th C. re-establishment of the Jewish community there. Cervetto was not only immensely popular and enjoyed an extraordinarily long career (performing until his death at age 93), but he also became the founder of the English cello school, and, together with his son - the noted violoncellist James Cervetto (1747-1837), formed an amazing link of cello history, stretching for almost a century and a half, from the reign of James II, to the ascent of Queen Victoria. The Strad Magazine, just a few years after being founded, marveled in 1894 that the father and son Cervetto, “must have taken part in the progress of violoncello playing from its very infancy almost to its present development.” Cervetto’s 1740 debut as a composer was, even before the publishing of his first opus, promoted to a list of 57 subscribers, among which were the Prince of Wales, several counts and barons, and many wealthy merchants, bankers, brokers and financiers. (He dedicated his Opus 1 to Leonora Salvador, the wife of the richest and most influential member of London’s Jewish community.) Cervetto’s successful strategy of securing a substantial list of affluent subscribers for his published compositions, brought him prosperity and wide recognition.

Performing, composing (he published trios, duets and sonatas, mostly for the cello), managing Drury Lane and functioning as a music instruments dealer, he became very wealthy, bequeathing an enormous fortune to his son.

Giacobo Cervetto’s number of compositions is rather small, and his legacy is mainly as a developer of the instrumental capacity of the violoncello, but what an inspiration he must have been over so many years to numerous aspiring performers with his larger-than-life presence on the musical horizon and with his longevity on stage. He was an artist who gave so much and for so long to countless music lovers, as an amazingly vital and enthusiastic musician.

Selected works

  • Six sonatas or trios Op. 1 (1741)
  • Twelve Solos for Cello and B.c. (1750)
  • Eight Solos for a German Flute and B.c. Op. 3 (1757)
  • VI Trios for 2 Violins and Violoncello/Cembalo (1758)
  • Six Lessons or Divertimenti for 2 Violins und B.c. Op. 4 (1761)


External links