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In the audience at that performance in April 1709, and much impressed by the music he had heard, was Charles III, the Habsburg claimant to the Spanish throne. Within months Astorga was summoned to Charles’s court at Barcelona. When Charles became Emperor (or maybe just before), Astorga moved with the court to Vienna where he was granted a large pension. The Venetian composer Antonio Caldara was also working in Vienna at the time, and Astorga became godfather to one of his daughters. He also ran up some large debts, which may have contributed to his sudden departure from Austria in 1714. By siding with the Austrians during the War of the Spanish Succession, he forfeited the estates and title that he would have inherited from his father (his brother also having died), but his mother and sister reclaimed them and made them over to him. Marrying a fifteen-year-old girl in 1717, Emanuele lived for another four years in Sicily, had three daughters but then deserted them, moved to Lisbon and never again returned to his family or homeland. The remainder of his life is a mystery: there are unconfirmed reports (from the often embroidering pen of the English historian John Hawkins) that Astorga ‘passed a winter or two in London, from where he went to Bohemia’, but little else is known. His last manuscript is dated 1731, and by 1744 the family estates in Sicily had been sold by his wife and sister, now heavily in debt.
In his day, Astorga was best known for his chamber cantatas, of which more than one hundred and fifty survive. These are well written, tuneful and were thoroughly popular. Only the first Act of the opera Dafni now survives. But by far his most enduring work has proved to be a setting of the Stabat mater, his only surviving sacred composition. Whether it was the apparent romance of his adventurous life that attracted people, or the allure of a wild nobleman who wrote good music, a veritable cult for Astorga grew up during the nineteenth century. Epics, dramas and novellas were written and, in the absence of much fact, legends were invented, colourfully describing the gruesome death of his father on the scaffold. Johann Joseph Abert wrote an opera in 1866 in which Astorga becomes deranged, only being brought back to sanity when his wife plays a few bars of his Stabat mater setting. The work appeared in many manuscript copies, was published several times and performed with considerable frequency.
from notes by Robert King © 1999