Little is known about the life of Giuseppe Riva apart from a series of letters that have survived. He served as the Modenese diplomatic representative in London from 1715 to 1729, when he moved to Vienna. In London he was a prominent member of an Italian circle that included Giovanni Bononcini, the castrato Francesco Bernardi (known as Senesino), the librettist Paolo Rolli, and others associated with the Royal Academy of Music.
In 1724 he resided with Bononcini in Suffolk Street. From 1719 to 1734 he corresponded with Rolli and from 1720 to 1738 with the London-based merchant, diplomat and harpsichordist Giovanni Giacomo Zamboni. The contralto Anastasia Robinson consulted him in 1722/3 for advice on how to approach Handel with a request for revisions to the part of Matilda in his opera Ottone, and between 1720 and 1728 he discussed with various correspondents the planned establishment of Italian opera in Paris.
His short treatise entitled Advice to the Composers and Performers of Vocal Musick and its Italian version Avviso ai compositori, ed ai cantanti were published in London by Thomas Edlin in 1727 and 1728 respectively.