Composers Datebook®

Jacopo Peri and early opera

Composer's Datebook - Aug. 20, 2023


Details on the lives and careers of composers born before 1700 tend to be a bit skimpy, at best. For example, we know that the Italian Baroque composer Jacopo Peri was born on today’s date in 1561, but we’re not sure if that was in Rome or Florence.

As a point of reference, remember that William Shakespeare was born in 1564, just three years after Peri. And by the 1580s, around the same time Shakespeare was learning to be a playwright, Peri and some of his Italian contemporaries were experimenting with a new art form that we call now call “opera.”

There was much discussion at the time about what the music of the ancient Greek dramas must have been like, and how dramatic stories might be told in music. Peri was instrumental in the production of two of the earliest operas for which the complete music survives: Dafne, which premiered around 1597, and Euridice from 1600.

Peri outlived his English contemporary Shakespeare by 17 years. Shakespeare died in 1616 at 52, while Peri died sometime in August of 1633, at 72, a ripe old age for the 17th century.

Music Played in Today's Program

Jacopo Peri (1561 - 1633 ) – Euridice (Sylva Pozzer, sop.; Ensemble Albalonga; Anibal E. Cetrangolo, cond.) Pavane Records 7372/3

On This Day


  • 1561 - Italian composer Jacopo Peri, in Rome; His setting of Rinuccini's poem "Dafne," staged in 1600, is credited as the first opera;


  • 1813 - Bohemian composer Jan Krittel Vanhal (Johann Baptist Wanhal), age 74, in Vienna;


  • 1882 - Tchaikovsky: "1812 Overture," on an all-Tchaikovsky program presented during an Art and Industrial Exhibition in Moscow (Julian date: Aug. 8);

  • 1943 - Manuel Ponce: Violin Concerto, in Mexico City, conducted by Carlos Chavez;

  • 1956 - Bliss: "Edinburgh Overture," at the opening of the Edinburgh Festival of Music and Drama;

  • 1958 - Menotti: opera "Maria Golovin," at the International Exposition in Brussels, Belgium;

  • 1961 - John Harbison: "Duo" for flute and piano, at the Brooklyn Museum, with flutist Neil Zaslaw and pianist Juliette Arnold;

  • 1965 - Harrison Birtwistle: "Tragoedia" for chamber ensemble, at Wardour Castle in England, during the Castle Summer School of Music, by the Melos Ensemble conducted by Lawrence Foster;

  • 1973 - Carl Orff: cantata "De Temporum Fine Commedia" (A Play of the End of Time) at the Salzburg Festival, with Herbert von Karajan conducting;

  • 1979 - Harbison: opera "The Winter's Tale" in San Francisco;

  • 1980 - Rubbra: Symphony No. 11, in London by the BBC Northern Symphony;

  • 1992 - Joan Tower: "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman" No. 5 (dedicated to Joan Harris), at the opening of the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado.

  • 2004 - Zhou Long: “The Immortal” for orchestra, at a BBC Proms concerts with the BBC Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting;

  • 2004 - Peter Maxwell Davies: “Naxos Quartet” No. 4 (“Children’s Games”), in the Chapel of the Royal Palace, Oslo (Norway) during the Oslo Chamber Music Festival, by the Maggini Quartet.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®