Paer, Ferdinando



Italian operatic composer; born at Parma, where he studied composition under Ghiretti, and in 1789 wrote his first opera, La locanda de vagabondi, in which he displayed his talent for comedy. I pretendenti burlati followed the next year, and in 1791 he went to Venice on being offered the mastership of a chapel. Beginning with Circe in 1791, he wrote busily for Italian theatres until 1797, not a year passing but that at least one and usually several of his operas came out. His patron, the Duke of Parma, having given him a pension, he went to Vienna, where his style, formerly in imitation of Paisiello and Cimaroso, grew richer and stronger in harmony and instrumentation under the influence of Mozart. Here in 1801 he wrote Camilla, ossia il sotterraneo, perhaps his best work, and, receiving an invitation from the Elector of Saxony to take a place as chapelmaster, he went to Dresden about 1802, where three of his best known pieces, Sargino, ossia 1'allievo dell' amore; Eleonora, or Lenora,  which gave rise to Beethoven's Fidelio; and Achille, appeared. In 1806 he was engaged by Napoleon, whom he followed to Posen and Warsaw, and in 1807 he settled in Paris as chapelmaster and conductor of the Opera Comique. In 1812 he received the baton of the Theatre des Italiens. Through the troubled period of Catalani's management, and a period of joint authority with Rossini, from 1824 to 1826, he retained his position, but the next year he was obliged to resign on account of the poor financial condition of the house, for which he received the blame. Although he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1828, and became a member of the Academic in 1831 and was also a director of chamber-music to the King from 1832 until his death, his success at Paris was not great, owing to his inability to write French Opera and the much greater genius of Rossini in the Italian. Agnese, however, was quite popular during 1811, and Le maitre de chapelle, played in 1821, is the best known of his works, which are long since forgotten. Paer, the man, was too dissolute to be admired, but Paer the composer, with his pleasing melody, comic genius, and mastery of the simple forms, though he lacked depth and seriousness, holds an important place in the history of the Eighteenth Century Italian Opera. He also wrote two oratorios, II San Sepolcro and II trionfo della Chisea; set the Passion; composed ten  cantatas; also numerous duets, arias, motets and other vocal pieces; besides the Symphonic bacchante, and Vive Henri Quatre, for grand orchestra; four military inarches; six waltzes; a fantasie, Sweet Victory; sonatas; and themes with variations.