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Born in Livorno, it is likely that Cambini studied violin with Filippo Manfredi; the only evidence for this is however Cambini's own unreliable account, which also claims inaccurately that he worked with Luigi Boccherini and Pietro Nardini, and was a friend of Joseph Haydn. Another legend about Cambini, circulated by François-Joseph Fétis, claimed that Cambini and his fiancée had been kidnapped by Barbary pirates and ransomed by a music-lover.
Cambini arrived in Paris some time before or in 1773, and after one of his symphonies was played at a Concert Spirituel, his music began to be published, quickly building up an oeuvre of much instrumental music and fourteen operas, only two of which survive complete. He was extremely prolific, writing 82 symphonies concertantes, nine symphonies, seventeen concertos and over 100 string quintets.
When Mozart was in Paris, a Concert Spirituel with Mozart's Symphonie Concertante, K. 297b, was cancelled, and Mozart blamed Cambini for sabotaging his performance. Gluck on the other hand estimated Cambini as an honest fellow.
During the French Revolution, Cambini wrote hymns for the revolutionaries, but after 1810, Cambini wrote less music and more essays about music, and the popularity of his music quickly declined. From this point, Cambini's biography is very sketchy: he might have stayed in Paris to his death in 1825, as stated by Fétis, or he may have gone to the Netherlands and died in the late 1810s.
The large number of string quartets written by Cambini have led some commentators to assert that he had a major role in the development of this form in France.
The following musical examples were performed by the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet in 1970.
Trois Quintetti Concertans ("Three Wind Quintets", c.1802)
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