No saint in the Catholic hagiographic tradition has served as a more vivid symbol of martyrdom, veneration, or of God’s profound grace toward a community than San Gennaro (Saint Januarius), the patron saint of the Kingdom of Naples. This essay studies the history and culture surrounding the veneration of San Gennaro. I focus on the longstanding cultivation of cantatas as a vehicle for veneration and for the promotion of catechism and post-Tridentine ideology. The first part of the essay traces political, social, and religious currents that contributed to the growth of the cult. The second part considers late eighteenth-century cantatas by Giovanni Paisiello and Domenico Cimarosa that were created for the Feast of the Traslazione. These works adopt strategies of poetic narrative and musical expression that reflect thematic elements associated with the annual feast. They also represent a musical turning point, incorporating innovative aria types, a widespread use of accompanied recitative and large choral ensembles, and distinctive instrumental sonorities. The Traslazione cantatas thus offer an opportunity not only to examine contemporary cultural currents in early modern Naples, but also to broaden our understanding of the cantata genre and of two leading operatic innovators of the late eighteenth century.
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