Paisiello, Giovanni



Sometimes spelled Paesiello. Celebrated Italian operatic composer; born at Tarento. His father, a veterinary surgeon, wishing his son to be a lawyer, put him in the Jesuit School of his native place, at the age of five. There his musical talent was discovered by Carducci, chapelmaster of the Capuchins, who urged the boy's parents to send him to Naples. After long hesitation they decided to let him go, and, in preparation, he was taught the rudiments of music by the priest, Resta. In 1754 he entered the Conservatory of San Onofrio, and there studied under Durante, Cotumacci and Abos, and later taught and composed sacred music. In 1763 he ventured on a comic intermezzo, for the Conservatory Theatre, which called attention to its author and obtained him a contract for an opera for the Bologna Theatre. The opera, La Pupilla, and another, II Mondo a Rovescio, were produced in 1764. In 1772 he married Cecile Pallini, and his married life proved a happy one. Until 1776 he composed a long list of operas for the theatres of Modena, Venice, Naples, Rome and other Italian cities, of which II marchese di Tulipano, L'idolo Cinese, and La Serva Padrona are the best known. His name having now won a European celebrity, he was called to Russia in 1776 as composer to Empress Catherine II. There he wrote two books of sonatas; caprices; and piano-music; and one of his best operas, II Barbiere di Siviglia,   which became so popular that Rossini was considered most presumptuous when he wrote new music for the same text.


In 1784 Paisiello left St. Petersburg for Warsaw, where he set Metastasio's Passion, and proceeding to Vienna, composed II re Teodore, one of his best opera bouffes, and twelve symphonies for Emperor Joseph. The next year he was back in Italy, returning to Naples to become chapelmaster to King Ferdinand IV. Offers from St. Petersburg, where he had been so royally treated, also Berlin and London, were refused, and he remained in the service of the Bourbons at Naples But when, by a revolution, Naples became a republic, Paisiello became a republican, and was appointed director of music in 1799. On the restoration of the King this action was considered an offense, and it was two years before the composer was taken back into royal favor.


In 1802, Napoleon, First Consul, who had in 1797 chosen Paisiello's funeral symphony for General Hoche, in preference to Cherubini's, requested the King to send him to France. Permission was granted, and on his arrival at Paris he was lavishly provided for, and offered numerous high offices, accepting only the mastership of the Royal Chapel. For it he wrote much sacred music, and for the Royal Academy of Music he composed an unsuccessful opera, Proserpine. Disappointed at its failure, but with the pretext of his wife's ill health, he returned to Naples after two years and a half in Paris. When the Bonaparte family became rulers of Naples, they not only left Paisiello his positions, but gave him the badges of the Legion of Honor and the Two Sicilies, and made him a member of the Accademia Napoleone at Lucca, the Italian Academy at Leghorn, the Sons of Apollo at Paris, and finally in 1809 of the Institute. But with the fall of that family he lost all his appointments except that of Royal chapelmaster, and so, deprived oi favor, he spent the last few years of his life, dying at the age of seventy-five in the city that had so long been his home. His funeral was publicly celebrated; a requiem of his own was sung for him; and the performance of his opera, Nina, which took place that night, was attended by the King and court. Of his nearly one hundred operas, both serious and comic, there may be mentioned, besides those already spoken of, La Francatana; La Molinara; I zingari in fiera; Nina, La Pazza par Amore; and L'Elfrida; all given at Naples. He also wrote intermezzos; a great many cantatas; oratorios; masses; symphonies; piano concertos; and quartets for piano and strings and strings alone. He made a number of improvements in orchestral composition, and brought the viola, clarinet and bassoon into use in Italian theatres. His music is natural and very simple, with no attempt at elaboration, and though not intensely dramatic, it is delicate and charming. The accompaniments are also simple and are now considered thin, but in spite of the disuse into which his works have fallen, they are generally considered of much merit.