Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was born in Jesi on January 4th, 1710, third-born in a family from Pergola, a little village belonging to the Church, from where his ancestor Francesco, an humble shoemaker, departed in 1635 to try his fortune. The original family surname, Draghi, survived until the XVI century, when the adjective that used to follow it to indicate the place of origin – “Pergolesi” or “Della Pergola” – replaced it in a branch, to which the composer belonged. Giovanni Battista’s childhood is quite a mystery for the scholars. The title of “Donna” that precedes in the wedding act the name of his mother, Anna Vittoria Giorgi, could prove but with some doubts, her rich or even noble origins. Very probably Pergolesi’s family belonged to the humble and little provincial bourgeoisie: it is known that his father was a Sergeant in Jesi Territorial Army, administrator of Buon Gesù Confraternity properties and geometer for the town council and for the local nobility. All these occupations, however, were not enough for the family maintenance, and when Francesco Andrea died all his properties had been confiscated by creditors. Nevertheless, the opportunity of frequenting local aristocracy could offer precious support and possibilities for the future of his son.
Certainly, Pergolesi’s family was undermined by tuberculosis. Among Francesco Andrea’s four children, Giovanni Battista, that died at the age of 26 years, had been the only one to survive for such a long time: his sister Rosa died when she was two, in 1708; his brother Bartolomeo died few days after his birth, always in 1708, and the other brother, Antonio, died when he was two, in 1726. His parents died both in a very short period: his mother in 1727 and his father in 1732, after that his second wife, Donna Eleonora from Cagli, had died in childbirth, with the son Pietro, in 1730.
Some symptoms of the illness that will burn his existence should have appeared to Pergolesi since his birth, considered that he was confirmed not at six years old, as usual, but when he was one year and half old. Maybe a poliomyelitis caused his left leg ankylosis (this physical imperfection has been cruelly underlined by Pier Leoni Ghezzi in a caricature made few years before Pergolesi’s death); it is true that phthisis inexorably sapped his physical constitution.
Without indulging in an abused sentimentalism, it is proved that the illness, the need, the incumbent sense of death, constitute the composer’s adolescence background, and in this context it can be recognized the deep existential roots of his tendency to an affected and thoughtful meditation and to a soft introversion, that constitute aspects of Pergolesi’s Art.
During the eighteenth Century Jesi was an active music centre. Even without a theatre, opera was represented every year in the Town Hall; sacred music, oratories and spiritual cantatas were performed in S. Giovanni Battista and in Confraternita della Morte churches, in the Augustinians and Dominicans’ Fathers’ ones, and in S. Anna and S. Chiara monasteries. Music education (and in particular violin practice) was widely diffused by all social classes, even the popular ones. Pergolesi started his musical studies in Jesi with local teachers: with Francesco Santi, Choirmaster in the Cathedral, he learned composition rudiments, and with Francesco Mondini he studied violin. He made fast progress in both subjects, especially violin, considered that his ability in this instrument emerged even from his lacking biographical information. Thanks to his father’s relationships and to his ability in violin, Giovanni Battista started soon a close and familiar relation with different local nobles: Giovan Battista Franciolini (that was his godfather for the baptism), Gabriele Ripanti, a music amateur that loved hosting the young musician in his palace to play with him, Pier Simone Ghislieri, and Cardolo Maria Pianetti, an enlightened and munificent intellectual. Probably, thanks to him, that was in a good relationship with the Vienna’s Court and the Austrian vice-reign in Naples, Pergolesi had been invited to improve his musical knowledge in one of the four Music Conservatories in Naples: the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo. Pianetti’s help is testified since 1779 by the erudite Giuseppe Santini from the Marche, but there are no documents to prove it. A Pianetti’s epistolary systematic examination attested that the marquis helped Pergolesi’s aunt, Cecilia Giorgi, after his death, with the sharing out of his modest inheritance and with the recovering of a credit from San Bartolomeo Theatre; however his patronage role does not appear from such letters. Here it emerges that he helped – from 1732 – another young from Ancona, Giuseppe Vantaggi, to move to Naples and study at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini, but in the related correspondence there is no mention of Pergolesi. It is possible that Pergolesi had been helped by another member of Pianetti family, Carlo Maria (1640-1725), Bishop of Larino and Governor at Santa Casa of Loreto, but this hypothesis is not supported at the moment. Documents attest that several local families took care of him. For example, Giovanni Battista Franciolini, his godfather, from whom he took the name, followed carefully his education in Jesi and his career in Naples . It had been in his house where, in 1736, the notarial act concerning the musician inheritance was signed. It is also meaningful that Pergolesi, after his parents’ death, in October 1733 entrusted, another eminent local patrician, Piersimone Ghislieri, with the task of cashing his parents’ death dowry and to bring it to him in Naples. In 1734 Marquees Francesca Albicini Ripanti organized in Jesi, at her own expenses, the Pergolesi’s intermezzo Livietta e Tracollo representations to honour his memory. Her husband, Gabriele Ripanti, is supposed to have been one of Pergolesi’s teachers of violin. It is probable that not only the Pianetti, but a group of local families, had been benefactors of the young Giovanni Battista.