The violinist, guitar player and composer Nicola Matteis was born in 1650 in Naples. He didn`t stay long in Italy. Already at twenty, he felt the urge to travel northwards, crossing Germany barefoot and arriving in 1670 in London. Revolutionary England, slumbering away to the music of nice little gamba consorts, allowed Matteis to take it by storm. The whole pallet of human emotions, the drama of human existence was musically presented by the Italian to utter excess. The contemporary biographer Roger North noted about one of Matteis’ concerts: “And when the raptures ame[…]one would have thought the man beside himself.
And then came his superior powers, an arcata as from the clouds, and after that a querolous expostulary style, as just not speaking, all which and other signall excellencys might then be perceived but now may not be described, so violent was his conference of extreams, whereof the like I never heard before or since.. ” For the restrained British this Italian demon violinist was truly revolutionary. Baroque Popstar In London Nicola Matteis initially met with incomprehension. He was accused of incomparable rrogance, and as result could not and would not give public concerts.
Little by little though he won over his audiences and celebrated in the end triumphant success. Idealisingly John Evelyn, another biographer wrote of him: “I heard that stupendious Violin Signor Nicholao whom certainly never mortal man exceeded on that instrument. ” The highly esteemed, wealthy musician lived like a popstar, and bought himself a large house inside which he indulged in Italian luxury. Not without after-? effects: Matteis was gradually to lose his artistic abilities, and ied sometime after 1713 a financial, mental and physical wreck.
Mystery The music of Matteis is a mystery. A glimpse into the remaining printed music leaves one only guessing at the reported colourfulness of his performances. Contemporaries wrote that this written material showed “nothing of his manner of playing, which made them much richer than ye prints shew and now it is impossible either to find out or describe the musick he made of them”. This confirms the assumption that on paper we only have a tiny part of that which made his music what it was as a hole.
Nicola Matteis is in many ways an ideal starting point for our exploration. We begin with his mystery. In the discrepancy between the rudimentary notation and the performances which so fascinated his contemporaries, there arises an opening which allows us to comprehend that which is essential in Matteis’ music, the timelessness within and the associated possibility of bridging the gap between the centuries. Nicola Matteis died almost 300 years ago. Today his music and his life – both so very human and dramatic – can be brought to life in inventive ways.