Piccinni, (Vito) Niccolò (Marcello Antonio Giacomo)

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Piccinni, (Vito) Niccolò (Marcello Antonio Giacomo)

Piccinni, (Vito) Niccolò (Marcello Antonio Giacomo), significant Italian composer; b. Bari, Jan. 16,1728; d. Passy, near Paris, May 7,1800. His father was a violinist at Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola, and his maternal uncle was Gaetano Latilla . His precocity manifested itself at an early age; thanks to Muzio Gaeta, archbishop of Bari, he was able at 14 to enter Naples’s Cons, di S. Onofrio, where he studied with Leo and Durante. Upon graduation (1754), he commenced his career as a composer for the stage with his comic opera Le Donne dispettose (Naples, 1754). His theatrical instinct led him to select librettos rich in dramatic content; his melodic invention was fresh, and his arias were written in a pleasing style eminently suited to the voice; he elaborated the conventional climactic scenes so that dramatic interest was sustained to the end; he varied the tempos and the harmonies in the ensembles, which further contributed to the general effect. His Zenobia (Naples, Dec. 18,1756) was his first attempt at a serious opera. After several other operas for Naples, he received a commission to write an opera for Rome, Alessandro nelle Indie (Jan. 21, 1758); it was followed by his comic opera La Cecchina, ossia La buona figliuola (Rome, Feb. 6, 1760), which proved a great success at home and abroad. In subsequent years he wrote prolificacy for the stage, producing well over 100 operas for the major Italian theaters. Making his home in Naples, he served as 2nd maestro di cappella at the Cathedral, was active as an organist in convents, and taught singing. Piccin-ni’s fortunes in Rome declined with the rise of Anfossi, his former pupil and protégé, in 1773. However, he still found success in Naples with a 2ndAlessandro nelle Indie (Jan. 12, 1774) and I Viaggiatori (1775). In 1776 he was called to Paris by the French court, where his presence precipitated the “querelle célèbre” between the “Gluck-ists” and “Piccinnists.” Piccinni’s first French opera, Roland (Jan. 27, 1778), won considerable success. He then served as director of an Italian troupe in Paris (1778–79). Although he was promised by the Paris Opéra that his Iphigénie en Tauride would be produced before Gluck’s masterpiece on the same subject, it was not given until Jan. 23, 1781, some 2 years after the Gluck premiere. While it was fairly successful, he gained his only major success with the opera Didon (Fontainebleau, Oct. 16, 1783), the same year in which he finally was granted a pension by the French court. In 1784 he was appointed maître de chant at the École Royale de Chant et de Déclamation Lyrique in Paris. In spite of their rivalry, Piccinni held the highest regard for Gluck; indeed, he suggested that an annual memorial concert be given in Gluck’s memory, but financial support was not forthcoming. Upon the death of another rival, Sacchini, Piccinni spoke in homage at his funeral. With the coming of the French Revolution, Piccinni lost his post as maître de chant and his pension. In 1791 he returned to Naples; upon his daughter’s marriage to a French Jacobite, he was placed under house arrest in 1794; he finally gained freedom in 1798 and returned to Paris, where he obtained a partial restoration of his pension; his appointment as 6th inspector at the Cons, came when he was too ill to pursue an active life. Piccinni demonstrated a remarkable facility in writing both comic and serious operas. His historical importance rests upon his establishment of the Italian operatic style as the model for his French and German successors. His son Luigi (Lodovico) Piccinni (b. 1764; d. Passy, July 31, 1827) was also a composer; studied with his father and then wrote operas for Paris and several Italian cities; was Kapellmeister to the Swedish court in Stockholm (1796–1801); then taught singing. Piccinni had another son, who in turn sired an illegitimate son, Louis Alexandre (actually, Luigi Alessandro) Piccinni (b. Paris, Sept. 10, 1779; d. there, April 24, 1850), who also became a composer; studied piano with Haussmann and composition with Le Sueur; also received some instruction from his grandfather; was active as an accompanist and rehearsal pianist in several Parisian theaters, and was also active as a conductor; taught in various French cities, serving as director of the Toulouse music school (1840–44); wrote numerous works for the theater.


P. Girigliene, Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de Nicolas P. (Paris, 1801); G. le Brisoys Desnoiresterres, La Musique française au XVIIIe siècle: Gluck et P 1774–1800 (Paris, 1872); E. Thoinan, Notes bibliographiques sur la guerre musicale des Gluckistes et Pstes (Paris, 1878); H. de Curzon, Les Dernières Années de P. a Paris (Paris, 1890); J. Popovici, La buona figliuola von Nicola P. (Vienna, 1920); A. della Corte, P.: Settecento italiano (Bari, 1928); P. La Rotella, N. P: Commemorato nel II centenário della nascita (Bari, 1928); N. Pascazio, L’Uomo P. e la ’’Querelle célèbre” (Bari, 1951); W. Ensslin, N.P.: Catone in litica: Quellenüberlieferung, Aufführungsgeshichte und Analyse (Frankfurt am Main, 1996),

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Piccinni, (Vito) Niccolò (Marcello Antonio Giacomo)

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