Josef Václav Mysliveček: Il divino Boemo

Josef Mysliveček

Josef Václav Mysliveček, was a famous 18th century Czech composer who spent most of his life in Italy, where he was known as the ingenious 'Il Boemo'. Musicologists speak about his significant contribution to the formation of late eighteenth-century classicism in music.

Josef Mysliveček | Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

Mysliveček was born in Prague in 1737, where he received a sound education in music at the Prague Jesuit College. He was the son of a prosperous mill owner but he decided not to take over his father's mills and devote himself fully to music.

At the age of 26 he left Prague when it became clear he could not make a good living there as a composer. He settled in Italy where he soon gained immense popularity.

His operas were performed in Milan, Rome, Venice, Bologna, Parma and Florence. But the most important event in Mysliveček's career was the performance of his opera Il Bellerofonte, written for the Real Teatro San Carlo in Naples, the most prestigious venue in Italy at that time.

It became an overnight success and helped to establish Mysliveček as one of the most sough-after opera composers in Italy. His operas were performed at theatre houses around the country and he was welcomed at nearly all the courts in Europe, where his abilities won him great praise and where he made friends with the greatest personalities.

Photo: CPO

He became a close friend of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whom he first met in 1770 in Bologna. It is said that Mysliveček provided his younger friend Wolfgang with inspiration and guidance.

In the course of his career, Mysliveček composed 28 operas, 8 oratorios, more than 50 symphonies and cantatas, 29 overtures, and over 130 pieces of chamber music.

His operatic works include Il Bellerofonte, Semiramide riconosciuta, Il Farnace, Armida, la Clemenza di Tito, Adriano in Siria, L'Antigono and Demetrio.

However, Il Boemo’s popularity did not last long.

As a result of an unspecified disease, most likely syphilis, the composer’s face became disfigured, and he ceased to be a welcome guest at the royal courts, gradually losing his commissions. He died in Rome in 1781 in utter poverty and isolation.

A biographical film about Josef Mysliveček called Il Boemo has just hit cinemas in Czechia.

The film, directed by Petr Vaclav, was ten years in the making. It stars Vojtěch Dyk in the main role, along with Barbara Ronchi, Elena Radonicich and Lana Vlady.

Mysliveček’s operatic arias are performed in the film by world-renowned soloists such as Philippe Jaroussky, Simona Saturova, Raffaella Milanesi and Emoke Barath, accompanied by the Czech Collegium 1704 Baroque music orchestra.

The film was shot in the Czech Republic and Italy, in a Czech-Italian-Slovak co-production.

It was selected by the Czech Film and Television Academy to represent the Czech Republic at the Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film.

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