«Don Nicola Ceva, was a former child of the Poveri di Gesù Cristo (note: the Conservatory of Poor of Jesus Christ, founded as an orphanage). We can read his name among those of 56 children who in July of 1688 were given the “calzata”, which means they were supplied with shoes. His school mate that year was Ottavio Campanile, who later also became a priest, ad who before Ceva, from 1700 to 1706, was Greco’s assistant. Ceva was admitted to the conservatory between 1685 and 1686 together with his brother Domenico (Archive of the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo – Supplies: Shoes and Covers*) and therefore together with Campanile he started his studies as acolyte.
Nothing more is known of Campanile immediately after 1706, when he completed his task as Greco’s assistant: he was swallowed into the copious multitude of music teachers of those years who did not composed, neither did conquer any notoriety and were content to remain in mediocrity.
The same cannot be said of Ceva. He produced compositions, became famous, and was esteemed. Before receiving the appointment as head chapel master at the conservatory of Poveri di Gesù Cristo, in 1701 he was already chapel master of the Congregazione de’ Mercanti (note: Congregation of Merchants) in the collegium of the Compagnia di Gesù (note: Jesuit Fathers) and indeed in that year he set a cantata to music for the above mentioned congregation.
Later on, in 1703, he was called by the Head Deacon of the Wardens of the Congregation of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims to set in music a sacred drama by Abbot Don Niccolò Maria Fusco, a member of Accademici Spensierati.
In one of the miscellaneous collections that belonged to the library of the Jesuits (later on transferred to the National Library of Naples) we find the libretto by Fusco: Il Tiranno pietoso (the merciful tyrant), a sacred melodrama by mister Abbot Nicolò Maria Fusco Accademico Spensierato etc. to be represented in the Oratory of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims and convalescents of this most faithful City – Music by mister Don Nicolò Ceva – dedicated to the Most Excellent mister Don Giovanni Emanuele Fernandes Pacecco, Duke of Ascalona, Marquis of Vigliena, Viceroy and Captain General of the Kingdom of Naples, printed by Carlo Porsile, Royal Engraver, 1703.
In 1706, while he assumed the charge of music director at the Poveri di Gesù Cristo, Ceva did not neglect to make this known. Another libretto included in that mescellaneous collection is the following: The Triumph of Mary in the Assumption into Heaven, a sacred melodrama by Abbot Niccolò Giuvo … music by reverend mister Nicolò Ceva chapel master of the venerable Conservatory of the Poor of Jesus Christ – Naples, (printed by) Michele Luigi Mutio, 1706.
In 1709, while Ceva left the teaching position at the conservatory, we find this other title: the triumph of grace, sacred melodrama of Abbot Don Leone Ambizuniga, set in music by mister Don Nicolò Ceva, to be sung in the Congregation of the Doctors under the chapter of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Neapolitan collegium of the Company of Jesus. (Printed) in Naples in 1709, in the printing works of Felice Mosca.
We have not found any printed or manuscript music by this noteworthy composer – evidently a pupil of Don Gennaro Ursino – in the Archives of the Filippini Fathers or in that of San Pietro a Majella, or by Del Caggi and by Infantes, who were specifically singing teachers during the last years of the conservatory, and of whom we cannot find documents.»
from: Salvatore Di Giacomo, I quattro antichi conservatorii di Napoli*, vol. II, pp. 163-164.
*The four ancient conservatories of Naples
- The work of redemption
A dialogue of consultation between Divine Providence and Omnipotence. Carried on by Love and received by the World. Cantata for two voices for the night of Christmas, (to be sung) in the Congregation of the Merchants [sic] under the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the collegium of the Company of Jesus. Set in music by the Most Reverend mister Don Nicolò Ceva, chapel master of such venerable congregation, on the day of December 25, 1701. Dedicated to the most serene Queen of the World. Naples, Michele Luigi Mutio 1701.
- Flowers and tender herbs
- Born out of season around the Grotto of Bethlehem and gathered in three cantatas set in music by mister Don Nicolò Ceva, and recited on the holy night of Christmas in the Congregation of the Merchants under the chapter of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin in the Collegium of the Company of Jesus on December 25, 1705. Naples, Lionardo Sellitto, 1705.
- The triumphs of Divine Love in the Grotto of Bethlehem, cradle of the God Child
Canzonette to be recited on the holy night of Christmas in the Congregation of the Merchants, under the chapter of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin in the collegium of the Company of Jesus on December 25, 1707. Music by the most reverend mister Don Nicolò Ceva, chapel master of the venerable Conservatory of the Poor of Jesus Christ. Dedicated to the Great Virgin Mother. Dedication of the Brothers of the Congregation. Naples Giovanni Roselli, 1707.