Of his life almost nothing is known and there are no actual pictures of him.. His father was a barrel maker, and at the age of twenty Giacomo became chapel-master at Assisi. In 1628 he obtained the same position at the church of St Apollinaris belonging to the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, which he held till his death on January 12 1674, at Rome. This was despite him receiving several offers to work in very prominent establishments, including an offer to take over from Claudio Monteverdi at Saint Mark's in Venice. In 1637 he was ordained a priest. He seems never to have left Italy.
The two great achievements generally ascribed to him are the further development of the recitative, later introduced by Monteverdi, and of infinite importance in the history of dramatic music; and the invention of the chamber-cantata, by which Carissimi superseded the madrigalss formerly in use.
His position in the history of church music and vocal chamber music is somewhat similar to that of Cavalli in the history of opera. It is impossible to say who was really the inventor of the chamber-cantata; but Carissimi and Luigi Rossi were the composers who first made this form the vehicle for the most intellectual style of chamber-music, a function which it continued to perform until the death of Alessandro Scarlatti, Astorga and Marcello.
Carissimi is also noted as one of the first composers of oratorios, with Jephthah probably the most well known; this work and others are important as definitely establishing the form of oratorio unaccompanied by dramatic action, which has maintained its hold to the prcsent day. He also may claim the merit of having given greater variety and interest to the instrumental accompaniments of vocal compositions. Dr Burney and Sir John Hawkins published specimens of his compositions in their works on the history of music; and Dr Aldrich collected an almost complete set of his compositions, at present in the library of Christ Church, Oxford. The British Museum also possesses numerous works by Carissimi. Most of his oratorios are in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.