Niccolò Piccinni


Born: January 16, 1728; Bari, Italy   Died: May 7, 1800; Passy, France  
Niccolò Piccinni was better known for his comic operas, though he was equally adept in the realm of opera seria. His most famous opera was La buona figliuola (1760), which established him as one of the leading composers of his day. Piccinni wrote nearly 120 operas (some claim 130 or more) and a smattering of other, less consequential vocal and instrumental compositions.

Piccinni was born in Bari, Italy, on January 16, 1728. He exhibited
Read more musical talent as a child, but until his early teens was planning for the priesthood. Though there is some confusion about details of his musical education, it appears Piccinni enrolled at Naples' San Onofrio Conservatory in 1742, where he studied for 12 years, first with Leonardo Leo (until 1744), then with Francesco Durante (until 1754).

In 1754 Piccinni turned to writing his first operas -- all comic operas -- and achieved reasonable success. 1756 was a pivotal year for the composer, both personally and professionally: he married one of his voice students, Vincenza Sibilla, and his first opera seria, Zenobia (1756), premiered in Naples to an enthusiastic reception. Prestigious commissions from Rome followed, and Piccinni filled them with Alessandro nelle Indie (1758) and the aforementioned La buona figliuola.

With a meteoric career in full ascendancy now Piccinni met numerous commissions with considerable ease, composing over 50 operas in the period 1758-1773, with more than 30 staged in Naples and the remainder in Rome. Piccinni's name was known throughout most of Europe by the mid-1770s and the French Court wooed him with a handsome offer. Piccinni accepted it and arrived in Paris at the end of 1776.

His Roland (1778) won over French audiences and critics and even found favor with the contentious Gluckists. While Piccinni had several further successes, including Didon (1783), he was soon rivaled by Sacchini, Salieri, and others. Because of his declining artistic fortunes (Pénélope [1785] was an abject failure) and the loss of a pension eradicated by the French Revolution, Piccinni returned to Naples in 1791. Though he was greeted warmly, he later got into political difficulties when his daughter married a French Jacobin sympathizer. The composer lived under house arrest for four years (1794-1798) and fell into poverty. He returned to Paris in 1798, but could make little financial headway. When things finally did improve, his health was in decline; he died on May 7, 1800. Read less

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