A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Paer, Ferdinando

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PAER, Ferdinando, Italian opera composer and maestro di capella, born June 1, 1771, at Parma, where he studied under a violinist named Ghizetti. At 20 he became maestro di capella at Venice, and there composed industriously, though leading a gay and dissolute life. His operas were not all equally successful, but they made his name known beyond Italy, and in 1797 he received an invitation to Vienna, whither he went with his wife, a singer named Riccardi, who was engaged at the Italian Opera. The most celebrated of the operas which he composed for the national theatre, and indeed his best work, was 'Camilla, ossia il Sotteraneo' (1799 [App. p.738 "1801"]). In 1801 he went to Dresden as capellmeister, remaining, except for occasional tours and visits to Vienna and Italy, till 1806. Here he composed 'Sargino, ossia l' Allievo dell' amore' (1803), and 'Eleonora, ossia l' Amore conjugale' (1804), the same subject which Beethoven has immortalised in 'Fidelio.' In 1806 Paer accompanied Napoleon to Warsaw and Posen, and in 1807 was formally installed as his maître de chapelle, and took up his abode in Paris. In 1812 he succeeded Spontini at the Italian Opera, to which he remained attached until 1827, in spite of many changes and disputes, and of the pecuniary embarrassments which beset the theatre. He and Rossini were temporarily associated from 1824 to 26. During this period he produced but 8 operas, including 'Agnese' (1811), and 'Le Maître de Chapelle' (1822), none of which were marked successes. In 1831 he became a member of the Académie, and in 1832 director of the king's chamber-music, as then reconstituted. He died on May 3, 1839. As a man Paer was not beloved; self-interest and egotism, servility to his superiors, and petty intrigues against his professional brethren, being faults commonly attributed to him. But as a composer he is one of the most important representatives of the Italian operatic school at the close of the last century. His invention is flowing, his melody suave and pleasing, his form correct, and in simple compositions finished, although not developed to the fullest extent; where he fails, both in melody and harmony, is in depth of expression. Like all the other Italian composers of his time, he had the gift of true comedy, so common among his lively countrymen. In lyric expression he was also successful, as here his Italian love of sweet sounds stood him in good stead; but he was completely wanting in the force and depth necessary for passionate, pathetic, or heroic music, and when such was required, he fell back upon common opera phrases and stock passages. This is perhaps most apparent in the operas composed after he left Italy, when his acquaintance with German music, especially that of Mozart, may have influenced his style. His treatment of the orchestra was original and remarkable, and his instrumentation very effective. The partial success only of the operas composed during his stay in Paris is easily explained; he had not sufficient means of expression to attempt French opera, and in Italian opera he could not contend with Rossini, whose genius, with its indifference to the trammels of form, and its exuberant melody, fairly captivated the public. Paer also composed much for church and chamber—oratorios, motets, cantatas for one and more voices; also instrumental music, a Bacchanalian symphony, etc., now of historical interest only.

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