Francesco Usper Sponga

Francesco Usper (Sponga, Spongia, Sponza, Sponga detto Usper; Poreč?, c. 1560/61 – Venice, Feb. 24, 1641) was a Venetian composer, organist and priest.

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Francesco Usper (Sponga, Spongia, Sponza, Sponga detto Usper; Poreč?, c. 1560/61 – Venice, Feb. 24, 1641) was a Venetian composer, organist and priest. Little is known about his training. As a young man, he served as a priest in Koper, while he moved to Venice before 1586. He signed his first printed opus, the Ricercari et arie francesi collection (1595), as “discepolo di Andrea Gabrieli”, and dedicated it to his patron, the Venetian lawyer Lodovico Usper. Adopting the surname of his protector, F. Usper filled various positions in the S. Giovanni Evangelista guild: he was organist (1596-1607), chaplain (1607-1624), choir master (1624-1626), manager (“capo”, 1626-1641) and administrator (“mansionario”, 1631-1641). At the same time, he sometimes worked elsewhere in Venice, for example, as organist at the Church of S. Salvatore (1614-1615) and organist at the Basilica of S. Marco (1622-1623). He published five independent collections, all in Venice.
The madrigal collection (1604) is in the Late Renaissance style. He also participated with secular madrigals in two northern European anthologies (Nuremberg, 1604; Copenhagen, 1606), and is represented by several motets in Venetian anthologies (1624 and 1625). The City Archive in Pirna (Germany) holds in manuscripts of several of his sacral compositions. He dedicated the Messa e salmi da concertarsi… et insieme sinfonie, et motetti collection (1614) to the bishop of Poreč, L. Tritoni. The Mass, in the early polyphonic style, is a particularly successful composition. In his expansive collection, Compositioni armoniche (1619), he published instrumental compositions, which drew the attention of the very earliest historians of Venetian Baroque music. In this vein, A. Einstein declared Usper’s composition Sinfonia prima a 8 to be the forerunner of the concerto grosso. This collection, arguably Usper’s most important one, contains frequent vocal-instrumental combinations in the G. Gabrieli style. The last collection, Salmi vespertini per tutto l’anno a doi chori (1627), contains psalms ranging from four-part to double chorus pieces, some with instrumental accompaniment. The indicative style range is noted on the title page: the psalms are “al’uso moderno”, although some of them are also in the earlier style. Usper wrote the Gradual and Tractus movements for the lost requiem in honour of Cosimo II Medici, which he composed with C. Monteverdi and G. B. Grillo. Together with V. Jelić of Rijeka, Usper was the most prominent composer of the Early Baroque who was born in the Croatian lands, but lived and worked outside of his homeland.

Ennio Stipčević (c) Muzički informativni centar

Citation: Stipčević, Ennio, „Francesco Usper“. Introduction to the sheet music: Francesco Sponga Usper. Messa concertata del secondo tuono a 5 (Messa, e salmi da concertarsi nel’ organo, Venetia, 1614), Muzički informativni centar, Zagreb 2006.