b Valencia, May 2, 1754; d St. Petersburg, (?) February 10, 1806
Vicente Martín y Soler was a leading composer in Vienna in the late 1780s, whose works rivaled those of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then debuting his most mature and popular operas. Born in Valencia, Martín first worked for the future king, Charles IV. As the Spanish Bourbons were then closely connected to Naples, he later traveled there to serve the monarch’s brother, Ferdinand IV/I. The city was the center of musical development, and the queen of Naples was the sister of Joseph II, emperor of Austria. Martín later set roots in Venice in 1782, writing mostly comic operas and making further Viennese connections.
Martín y Soler had further premieres in Turin and Parma, where other Hapsburg and Bourbon relations were seated, and finally made it to Vienna in 1785. There he received commissions for three comic operas, which would define his fame – Il burbero di buon cuore (1786), Una cosa rara (1786), and L’arbore di Diana (1787). Una cosa rara eclipsed the initial run of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and L’arbore became the most repeated work of the decade at the Burgtheater during Joseph II’s regime. Lorenzo da Ponte was indebted to Martín for the launching of his career as a librettist (rather than Mozart, as many commonly believe).
In 1788, Martín moved to a more lucrative position in Saint Petersburg. Domenico Cimarosa held the post of official court composer, but Martín enjoyed some success setting a comic opera to a Russian libretto by Empress Catherine the Great, Gore bogatyr Kosometovich, which mocked her adversary, Swedish King Gustave III (later of Un ballo in maschera fame). He was appointed director of Russian opera for the next four years.
Martín left the country in 1794, moving west to London where his fame had preceded him, and where da Ponte now resided. Together they created two more works, La scuola dei maritati and L’isola del piacere, the first of which achieved considerable success, the latter with less praise. He returned to Russia after that season to serve the new emperor, Paul I, and remained there, teaching and administrating the music academy, until his death in 1806.