When Sacchini died, of vexation and disappointment, Piccinni pronounced his funeral oration, full of delicate and discriminating praise of all that was best in his works. When Gluck died, in 1787, Piccinni was anxious to found, by subscription, an annual concert in memory of the great man 'to whom,' he wrote, 'the lyrical theatre is as much indebted as is the French stage to the great Corneille.' From lack of support, the proposal was not carried out.
'Clytemnestra,' a serious opera, failed to obtain a representation, and when the Revolution broke out in 1789, and he lost his pension, he returned to Naples. Here he was well received by the king, who gave him another pension. Some of his old works were performed, as well as an oratorio, 'Jonathan' and a new buffo opera, 'La Serva onorata.' But he got into trouble owing to the marriage of one of his daughters with a young Frenchman of avowed Liberal opinions, was denounced as a Jacobin, disgraced at Court, and his next opera purposely hooted down. An engagement to compose two operas at Venice gave him the opportunity of absenting himself, but when, at the end of some months, he was foolish enough to return to Naples, he was immediately placed by the first minister, Acton, in a kind of arrest, and forbidden to leave his house. There he remained, in misery and indigence, for four years. He had previously heard that all the property he had left in France was lost, that a friend for whom he had become security was bankrupt, and that all his scores had been sold to pay this man's debts. He now supported himself, and beguiled the time by composing music to several Psalms, translated into Italian by Saverio Mattei. The convents and churches for which these were written became possessors of the original scores, as he was too poor to have them copied.
The treaty of peace with the French Republic brought hope for him. The ambassador, Canclaux, procured for him the means of communicating with his friends in Paris, and David, the famous singer, got him an offer of an engagement at Venice. With some difficulty a passport was procured for him by Garet, successor to Canclaux, and Lachèze, secretary of legation, who also furnished him with the means of going, he being absolutely penniless. At Rome he was fÊted by the French Fine Arts Commission, and persuaded to go direct to Paris, where he arrived on Dec. 3, 1798. The annual distribution of prizes in the Conservatoire occurred next day, and Piccinni was invited to be present. He was conducted on to the stage and presented to the public amid deafening applause. 5000 fr. were granted him for his immediate necessities, as well as a small pension. This was, however, most irregularly paid, and when some months later his family arrived, in utter destitution, from Naples, whence they had had to fly in the wake of the French army, poor Piccinni found himself again in almost desperate circumstances. His troubles brought on an attack of paralysis, from which he did not recover for some months. Many melancholy MS. letters of his are extant, showing to what a miserable state he was reduced. Some are addressed to Bonaparte, praying that his pension might be paid, for the sake of the many dependent on him. Bonaparte showed him kindness, and paid him 25 louis for a military march. A sixth inspector's place was created for him in the Conservatoire, but he was now again prostrated by severe illness, aggravated by the treatment of surgeons who bled him recklessly. He rallied, however, and went to Passy, in the hope of recovering his strength, but fresh domestic anxieties pursued him, and he succumbed on May 7, 1800. He was buried in the common cemetery (which has since been sold), and a stone was placed over him by friends.
His place in the Conservatoire was given to Monsigny, on condition that half the salary attached to it should be paid to Mme. Piccinni during her life, she, in return, instructing four pupils of the Conservatoire in singing.
Piccinni was a good husband and father, and a man of most mild and amiable temper. Where art was concerned, he could be firm. Unlike many other composers he would never yield to the caprices of imperious prime donne, by altering his music to suit their fancies.
His Paris scores are much more fully orchestrated than those of his earlier Italian works, and show in this the influence both of the French and the German spirit. He was, however, opposed to innovation. It is interesting to read, in Ginguené's life of him, his views on this question. His strictures on elaborate accompaniments, over- orchestration, profuse modulation, etc., are, with a mere difference of degree, the very same as those we hear at this day from writers who represent the conservative side of Art.
That he should ever have been opposed, on equal terms, to Gluck, seems now incredible. Yet by numbers of contemporaries—critical and cultivated—he was reckoned Gluck's equal, and his superior by not a few. But his art was of kind that adapts itself to its age; Gluck's the art to which the age has, in time, to adapt itself. Novelty brings such an unavoidable shock, that originality may find itself, for the time, in opposition to 'good taste,' and the vero be less readily accepted than the ben trovato. Piccinni was no discoverer, but an accomplished and successful cultivator in the field of Art.
A complete list of his very numerous works is to be found in Fétis's 'Biographie des Musiciens.' They compris 80 operas—Guinguené says 133—several oratorios, and many long pieces of church music.
Piccinni left two sons, the second of whom, Ludovico, born at Naples in 1766, learned music from his father and followed it as a career. He followed his father to Paris in 1782, and after a long and checkered life died there on July 31, 1827. He wrote many operas, but they are dismissed by Fétis as works of no value. Certainly none of them have survived. The elder son,