Giovanni Battista Vitali (18 February 1632 – 12 October 1692) was an Italian composer and violone player.
Vitali was born in Bologna and spent all of his life in the Emilian region, moving to Modena in 1674. His teacher in his early years was probably Maurizio Cazzati (1616–1678), maestro di cappella at the main church in Bologna, San Petronio Basilica from 1657 to 1671.
The first documented evidence of Vitali’s musical activities appears in the records of the San Petronio orchestra for 1658, when he is listed under the title ‘Violoni’, referring to the cello/bass instrument that he played (to be discussed below).
Vitali remained in the orchestra until 1673, when he took up an appointment as maestro di cappella at the chapel of the Confraternità del Rosario, Bologna. His first publication, Opus 1 (1666), tells us that he was a member of the Accademia dei Filaschisi. This musical institution, which had been established in 1633, disbanded in 1666 when most of its members joined the Accademia Filarmonica. Vitali is also listed as a member of the Accademia Filarmonica in 1666, the year of its founding. The academy archives record various details of its members, including where they came from (if not from Bologna) and their dates of birth and death. Vitali’s death date is here recorded as 12 October 1692.
Vitali never reached a higher position in Bologna than that of maestro di cappella at the Santissimo Rosario. There may be several reasons for this. By the time he left Bologna and moved to Modena he had not published any vocal music and is known to have composed only two vocal works, the oratorios Agare and Il Gefte. He was also, significantly, not an organist – unlike the vast majority of maestri di cappella in Bologna during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is unlikely, therefore, that even if Vitali had stayed longer in Bologna he would have been offered the job of maestro di cappella at San Petronio, the most important musical position in the city.
In 1674 Vitali attained the position of one of two vice-maestri di cappella at the secular court of the Este family in Modena. Unlike Modena, Bologna was part of the Papal States, under the administration of Rome. The Church’s influence was strong (around one hundred and fifty religious institutions at the end of the seventeenth century). Music and the theatre were evidently strongly supported and patronised by the court under Duke Francesco II (1660–1694). Here, Vitali must have witnessed a greater diversity of musical styles and genres than he had been exposed to in Bologna. The period between 1680 and 1685 saw his most productive time: he published six collections of music and was promoted to maestro di cappella in 1684. He was succeeded in this position by the opera composer Antonio Giannettini (1648–1721) in 1686. His last two publications, Artificii musicali, Opus 13 (1689), and the posthumously published Sonate da camera, Opus 14 (1692), make no mention of Vitali holding any official position, although the fact that both publications are dedicated to members of the Este family implies that he maintained links with the court.