Giovanni Battista Marella

by Thomas Stiegler

Today there are only a few people left who are interested in the work of the French composer G. B. Marella. Probably the only one of his works that is still regularly heard is his Suite in A major. Yet there are still so many people who are waiting for an interpreter who will take care of them and bring them to the attention of the general public.

Almost as unknown as his work is the life of G. B. Marella.

His name first appears in the late 1740s, when he became the first violinist of the “Concert Spirituel” in Paris.

Around 1750 the now “famous Srg. Marella” moved to Dublin to work as leader of the “Band of Musick at the New Gardens”. 1

The following years he was resident in this city as a conductor and instrumentalist (he played both the violin and the viola d’amour).

Testimonials from this period testify to the esteem in which he was held.

“Signor Marella will perform some new works on the violin. In particular a self-composed, large concert on the viola d’amore. It’s the first time he plays this instrument in this kingdom. Signor Marella and Mr. Deboeck will also play a duet. The whole thing will end with the popular pieces “Ellin-a-Roon” and the “Kettle-Bender”, both played and varied by Signor Marella “. 2


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He got married with the singer Eleonara Oldmixon, a daughter of the dramatist John Oldmixon in 1754 and they moved to London in the same year.

There they gave their first common concert in the Little Theatre at the Haymarket at a “Benefit of the Managers of the Italian Company”. 3

During all these years he must have been intensely involved with the guitar, as he was the first guitarist ever to perform a solo recital in the UK.

In 1758 he published his “Sixty-six Lessons for the Cister or the Guitar”, in his own words “one of the most impressive collections of unaccompanied solos for this instrument”.

In it, he complained, among other things, of total ignorance of the beauty and expressiveness of the guitar.

“… in order to show it to its fullest extent and out of the desire to extend and facilitate the widespread rules of instruction, the author felt compelled to publish the following lessons in each key.

He is aware that there will be some who think that these compositions are too difficult, if not impossible, to perform on the Cester … he has to tell them that there are many ladies (some of them started with this instrument without having even the most rudimentary knowledge of music) who, after a few months of lessons, were able to perform the most difficult of them.”


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In 1762 he wrote a second and last work in this style: “Compositions for the Cetra or Guitar, with an Accompanyment, consisting of a Variety of Pieces in every Stile of Music”.

Since the early 1760s, his name is rarely mentioned in public. It seems that teaching has been his main occupation since then.

In an article in the St. James Chronicle of 1763, a Mr. Marella is mentioned as a “teacher of the guitar and the viola d’amour”. But it is not sure if this is the speech of G. B. Marella.

Later he rarely returned to the stage, for example at a big concert for the coronation of George III.

His last documented performance was in 1778, when he played for Abel and J. C. Bach (see McVeigh 2001, p. 170).

Then his traces are lost again in the darkness of history. Probably he settled, together with his wife, in Surrey (in the south of England), but there are no further records of their lives.

Only once more one of his name appears from the darkness of history. His son did not follow in his footsteps, but reached the rank of an officer in the British army and was later knighted.

1 ….. (Boydell, DMC, S. 142, Fitzgerald / Jellett, S. 212)
2 ….. (Boydell, DMC , S. 149-5)
3 ….. (Public Advertiser, 11. Januar 1755; GDN. Z2001069039 )
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