He was born at Naples. No authentic account of Astorga’s life can be successfully constructed from the obscure and confusing evidence that has been until now handed down, although historians have not failed to indulge many pleasant conjectures. According to some of these, his father, a baron of Sicily, took an active part in the attempt to throw off the Spanish yoke, but was betrayed by his own soldiers and publicly executed. His wife and son were compelled to be spectators of his fate; and such was the effect upon them that his mother died on the spot, and Emanuele fell into a state of gloomy despondency, which threatened to deprive him of reason.
By the kindness of the princess Ursini, the unfortunate young man was placed in a convent at Astorga, in León, where he completed a musical education which is said to have been begun in Palermo under Francesco Scarlatti. Here he recovered his health, and his admirable musical talents were cultivated under the best masters. On the details of this account no reliance can safely be placed, nor is there any certainty that in 1703 he entered the service of the duke of Parma.
Equally untrustworthy is the story that the duke, suspecting an attachment between his niece Elizabeth Farnese and Astorga, dismissed the musician. The established facts concerning Astorga are indeed few enough. They are: that the opera Dafne was written and conducted by the composer in Barcelona in 1709; that he visited London, where he wrote his Stabat Mater, possibly for the society of “Antient Musick”; that it was performed in Oxford in 1713; that in 1712 he was in Vienna, and that he retired at an uncertain date to Bohemia, where he died on the 21st of August 1736, in a castle which had been given to him in the domains of Prince Lobkowitz, in Raudnitz.
Astorga deserves remembrance for his dignified and pathetic Stabat Mater, and for his numerous chamber-cantatas for one or two voices. He was probably the last composer to carry on the traditions of this form of chamber music as perfected by Alessandro Scarlatti.