As a musician Piccini was noticeable, according to the judgment of his best critics, for the purity and simplicity of his style. He always wished to preserve the supremacy of the voice, and, though he well knew how to make his instrumentation rich and effective, he was a resolute opponent to the florid and complex accompaniments which were coming into vogue in his day. His recorded opinion on this subject may have some interest for the musicians of the present day: “Were the employment which Nature herself assigns to the instruments of an orchestra preserved to them, a variety of effects and a series of infinitely diversified pictures would be produced. But they are all thrown in at once and used incessantly, and they thus overpower and indurate the ear, without presenting any picture to the mind, to which the ear is the passage. I should be glad to know how they will arouse it when it is accustomed to this uproar, which will soon happen, and of what new witchcraft they will avail themselves.... It is well known what occurs to palates blunted by the use of spirituous liquors. In a few months everything may be learned which is necessary to produce these exaggerated effects, but it requires much time and study to be able to excite genuine emotion.” Piccini followed strictly the canons of the Italian school; and, though far inferior in really great qualities to his rival Gluck, his compositions had in them so much of fluent grace and beauty as to place him at the head of his predecessors. Some curious critics have indeed gone so far as to charge that many of the finest arias of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini owe their paternity to this composer, an indictment not uncommon in music, for most of the great composers have rifled the sweets of their predecessors without scruple.
Paisiello and Cimarosa, in their style and processes of work, seem to have more nearly caught the mantle of Piccini than any others, though they were contemporaries as well as successors. Giovanni Paisiello, born in 1741, was educated, like many other great musicians, at the conservatory of San Onofrio. During his early life he produced a great number of pieces for the Italian theatres, and in 1776 accepted the invitation of Catherine to became the court composer at St. Petersburgh, where he remained nine years and produced several of his best operas, chief among them, “Il Barbiere di Seviglia” (a different version of Beaumarchais’s celebrated comedy from that afterward used by Rossini).
The empress was devotedly attached to him and showed her esteem in many signal ways. On one occasion, while Paisiello was accompanying her in a song, she observed that he shuddered with the bitter cold. On this Catherine took off her splendid ermine cloak, decorated with clasps of brilliants, and threw it over her tutor’s shoulders. In a quarrel which Paisiello had with Marshal Beloseloky, the temporary