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8.572065 - PAISIELLO, G.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 3 and 5 (Nicolosi, Campania Chamber Orchestra, Piovano)
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Giovanni Paisiello (1740–1816)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 3 and 5

 

Giovanni Paisiello enjoyed a very considerable international reputation during much of his career, winning the favour of rulers including Catherine the Great in St Petersburg, Joseph II in Vienna and later Napoleon in Paris, testimony to his musical prowess and his skill in dealing with those who held power. Born in 1740 in Taranto, he had his schooling there with the Jesuits, before moving to Naples to study at the Conservatorio di San Onofrio and embarking on his first professional employment in 1763 with the impresario Carafa di Colobrano. 1764 brought his first operas, Le virtuose ridicole, with a libretto by Goldoni, for Parma, La moglie in calzoni for Modena, Il ciarlone for the Teatro Marsigli Rossi in Bologna, and I francesci brillanti for the same theatre, each of the four works described as dramma giocoso. He went on to write further works for Venice and Modena, also taking on the task of arranging operas by other composers for performances there. In 1766 his Le finte contesse was staged in Rome for Carnival and by spring that year he was back in Naples for the first of many operas he was to write for staging there, first at the Teatro Novo and other smaller houses. L’idolo cinese, a work that some years later was a favourite of Lady Hamilton, whose husband was British ambassador in Naples from 1764 until 1800, made a favourable impression on King Ferdinand IV, when it was staged at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in spring 1767. This success was followed by Lucio Papirio dittatore, with a libretto by Apostolo Zeno, at the Teatro San Carlo, in the summer of the same year, and Olimpia there in January 1768. What seems to have been a case of breach of promise led to the temporary forfeiture of royal favour and imprisonment, from which he was soon released when he made good his proposal and married. He only regained the favour of the King in 1774 with his Il divertimento de’ numi, described as a scherzo rappresentativo in musica, staged in the Palazzo Reale. His career as a composer of opera continued, however, with a series of works for the smaller opera houses in Naples, while he did his best to cultivate influential supporters.

The year 1776 brought Paisiello to the second phase of his career, when he was recommended to Catherine II of Russia as a successor to Traetta as maestro di cappella at the Russian court in St Petersburg. His duties would involve dealing with the orchestra and singers of the court establishment and the composition of operas for the court theatre, more particularly opera seria, which at first suited the intentions of the Empress. He also provided a more varied operatic repertoire for some of the smaller theatres of the capital. His first contract of three years was renewed and a third contract was offered and accepted by Paisiello, before his return to Naples, for which he pleaded his wife’s health as an excuse. His period in Russia brought about some modifications in his style. The Empress placed restrictions on the length of works to be performed at the court theatre and the fact that the language of the libretti would not have been readily intelligible to audiences led to a greater emphasis on musical characterization. At the same time Paisiello made attempts to reform opera, endeavours that had their contemporary parallel in Vienna and then in Paris.

In 1783 Paisiello was appointed compositore della musica de’ drammi to the court in Naples, a position that enabled him to give up any idea of returning to Russia. His return allowed him, on the way back, to spend time in Vienna, where his opera Il re Teodoro in Venezia was performed at the Burgtheater in August 1784. He reached Naples in September, working on a new opera commissioned by King Ferdinand, Antigono, on a libretto by Metastasio, staged in January 1785 at the Teatro San Carlo. The same year brought him an exclusive contract from the court that obliged him to write one opera seria a year for the Teatro San Carlo, in addition to other possible royal commissions. The new contract bound Paisiello to Naples and brought a return to his earlier, lighter style. In 1787 he became maestro della real camera and continued as the leading composer of his time in Naples, permitted eventually to write for theatres abroad, with operas staged in Padua, London and Venice. In 1792 he collaborated with Calzabigi in a new opera, Elfrida, at the Teatro San Carlo, but in the following years wrote rather less, giving time rather to administrative and practical changes in musical institutions in Naples and to the composition of sacred music, in 1796 becoming maestro di cappella at the Cathedral. At the same time it was increasingly necessary to confront the various political challenges of the time, in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, sister of the Queen of Naples. In January 1799 the royal family were exiled, taking refuge with their followers in Palermo. Paisiello chose to remain in Naples in the service of the new republican regime as maestro di cappella nazionale. On the return of the royal family in July of the same year he was deprived of his various positions. Napoleon, who admired Paisiello’s music, saw in him one who might help in the process of musical reform in France. In 1801 Paisiello was reinstated in Naples, and was able in 1802, with the permission of King Ferdinand, to travel to Paris, where he became maître de chapelle to Napoleon, commissioned to write two operas a year and a march every month. His only opera for Paris, staged there in 1803, Proserpine, was not successful. In 1804 he returned to Naples, continuing to write sacred music for Napoleon and his family, for which he received continued payment. He was in the service of Joseph Bonaparte, after the expulsion of the King again from Naples in 1806, and of Napoleon’s brother-in-law Murat, and it was under the French that he wrote his last opera, I pittagorici, in 1806. When the Bourbons were restored to the throne in 1814 Paisiello benefited from a general amnesty and kept his earlier positions until his death in 1816.

Paisiello’s very considerable contemporary reputation rested on his eighty or more operas, works that presented a challenge to Mozart in Vienna. His orchestral works include eight keyboard concertos, the first two of which belong to his years in St Petersburg, the second of the three periods of his creative life that he distinguished in his autobiographical note of 1811 for Choron and Fayolle’s Dictionnaire historiqe des musiciens. These works seem to have been written for patrons, rather than as vehicles of display for his own keyboard prowess. The Concerto No. 1 in C major, written between 1780 and 1783 and designed for the harpsichord, is dedicated to a Lady-in-Waiting to the Russian Empress, described as Her Excellency Signora de Sinnavine. It includes a first movement in broadly sonata-allegro form, an F major Larghetto and a final Rondo.

Concerto No. 3 in A major and Concerto No. 5 in D major were specifically intended for the fortepiano and were written before 1788 and intended for the entertainment of Princess Maria Louisa of Parma, who became Queen of Spain in December that year, when her husband ascended the throne as Charles IV. The first of the two concertos starts with an orchestral exposition, echoed by the soloist at his entry. The sonata-form movement leads without a break to a Largoin the same key of A major and the work ends with a movement in the style of a Minuet that allows the soloist episodes in contrast to the principal theme. Concerto No. 5, scored for keyboard, two horns and strings, follows a similar pattern. The slow movement, in D minor, is opened by the soloist who bears the melodic burden, only lightly accompanied by violins. The horns and lower strings return for the final Allegro, which, as elsewhere in these two concertos, also finds a place for improvised cadenzas.


Keith Anderson


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