Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739) was born in Venice into a highly respected and influential Venetian aristocratic family. The exalted rank of the family decreed that the young Marcello -- like his younger brother Alessandro -- should receive a thorough education in music and the other arts, but that the only appropriate career for one of his social standing was in jurisprudence, while he could cultivate music as a 'nobile dilettante.'
As a child Marcello received violin lessons from his father and later studied counterpoint and composition under the then famous Francesco Gasparini. For a while the youth's musical enthusiasm must have been so excessive that his parents sent him to stay in the country, after which we hear of no further conflicts on that score. In 1707 Marcello entered the administrative service of his native city and for the next twenty years the respected lawyer occupied several important positions in the government of the Venetian Republic. From 1730 to 1737 he was the provveditore -- supervisor, or governor -- of the Istrian town of Pola and the last two years of his life were spent as camerlingo -- chancellor,or treasurer -- in Brescia, where he died in 1739.
The majority of Marcello's compositions date from the early years of his life. Besides several oratorios, operas and large-scale scenic Serenate, he wrote over 400 solo cantatas, published collections of chamber and orchestral music and left a number of instrumental works in manuscript. Since he was not dependent on the public success of his music. he was free to develop a totally individual, at times eccentric style which was not submissive to any of the fashionable trends of the time. Towards the end of his Venetian period -- at the age of about 40 -- Marcello seems to have virtually abandoned composing, and in his later years it was only occasionally that he returned to music, most probably for some particular occasion or event. Marcello's most ambitious undertaking, the setting of the Italian paraphrase of the first fifty Psalms by his friend Girolamo Ascanio Giustiniani, published in eight volumes between 1724 and 1726, was both the climax and the crowning conclusion of his musical career. The success of the series was unsurpassed. Marcello's Psalms were soon to be heard in concerts in Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig and London. In Rome the connoisseur Cardinal Ottobom decreed that henceforth every one of his accademie was to begin with a composition from the Estro poetico-armonico, and in Venice there were still amateur concerts in the 1770s devoted entirely to the works of Marcello. Innumerable reprintings of the Psalm settings continued to appear throughout Europe into the mid-19th century, and the words were even translated into Russian. When the figured bass went out of fashion it was replaced by a modern piano accompaniment.