1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Piccinni, Niccola
PICCINNI, NICCOLA (1728-1800), Italian musical composer, was born at Bari on the 16th of January 1728. He was educated under Leo and Durante, at the Conservatorio di Sant' Onofrio in Naples. For this Piccinni had to thank the intervention of the bishop of Bari, his father, although himself a musician, being opposed to his son's following a musical career. His first opera, Le Donne dispettose, was produced in 1755, and in 1760 he composed, at Rome, the chef d'œuvre of his early life, La Cecchina, ossia la buona Figliuola, an opera buffa which attained a European success. Six years after this Piccinni was invited by Queen Marie Antoinette to Paris. He had married in 1756 his pupil Vincenza Sibilla, a singer, whom he never allowed after her marriage to appear on the stage. All his next works were successful; but, unhappily, the directors of the Grand Opéra conceived the mad idea of deliberately opposing him to Gluck, by persuading the two composers to treat the same subject — Iphigénie en Tauride — simultaneously. The Parisian public now divided itself into two rival parties, which, under the names of Gluckists and Piccinnists, carried on an unworthy and disgraceful war. Gluck's masterly Iphigénie was first produced on the 18th of May 1779. Piccinni's Iphigénie followed on the 23rd of January 1781, and, though performed seventeen times, was afterwards consigned to oblivion. The fury of the rival parties continued unabated, even after Gluck's departure from Paris in 1780; and an attempt was afterwards made to inaugurate a new rivalry with Sacchini. Still, Piccinni held a good position, and on the death of Gluck, in 1787, proposed that a public monument should be erected to his memory — a suggestion which the Gluckists themselves declined to support. In 1784 Piccinni was professor at the Royal School of Music, one of the institutions from which the Conservatoire was formed in 1794. On the breaking out of the Revolution in 1789 Piccinni returned to Naples, where he was at first well received by King Ferdinand IV.; but the marriage of his daughter to a French democrat brought him into irretrievable disgrace. For nine years after this he maintained a precarious existence in Venice, Naples and Rome; but he returned in 1798 to Paris, where the fickle public received him with enthusiasm, but left him to starve. He died at Passy, near Paris, on the 7th of May 1800. After his death a memorial tablet was set up in the house in which he was born at Bari.
The most complete list of his works is that given in the Rivista musicale italiana, viii. 75. He produced over eighty operas, but although his later work shows the influence of the French and German stage, he belongs to the conventional Italian school of the 18th century.
See also P. L. Ginguené, Notice sur la vie el les ouvrages de Niccolo Piccinni (Paris, 1801); E. Demoiresterres, La Musique française au 18e siècle Gluck et Piccinni 1774-1800 (Paris, 1872).