Home page
Composer | Editor | Group | Instrumentation | Series |

The Consort

Penelope Cave

Volume 67, Summer 2011

Giovanni Paisiello Capriccio ('Favorite
Sonata for the Piano Forte') in D minor
Edition HH, HH267.SOL, Bicester, 2010
(pbk, £9.95)
ISMN 979 0 708092 16 2

Edition HH has produced another beautifully presented and easily readable score. The fifteen-page piece is clearly laid out and easy to read, and it is prefaced with facsimiles of the title page and opening of the score. Sadly, the introduction consists of only twelve lines of text, leaving a large white space beneath it which was, for me, filled with metaphorical question marks.

Do we classify this music as Italian or English, Viennese or even Russian? The choice of Adriano Cirillo as editor does point towards Italy, but I learnt from his tantalising introduction, that Paisiello wrote rondos and capriccios in St Petersburg for his pupil, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna; he subsequently offered them to Mozart and Clementi as competition pieces in Vienna, and two years later, in 1783, he donated them to King Ferdinand's eldest daughter, the Princess Maria Teresa. We are also told that Paisiello intended to add an ad lib. violin part and that in 1798, Harrison, Cluse & Co issued the Capriccio (R 8.14 no.36) as Favorite Sonata. Cirillo finishes rather enigmatically with the following: 'It is still unclear when and how the title the Grand Duchess's Farewell was added. The present edition is based on this earlier English publication.' You may well desire more background on this very cosmopolitan music, and be asking what the later publications were that prove this to be an earlier one, with its plate number, 231.

To make up for editorial brevity, I offer the following background information, and a few of my ideas as to why this piece became so popular. Paisiello (1740-1816) has an impressive CV: having made a name for himself with both comic and heroic operas composed for Ferdinando IV, King of Naples, he moved to St Petersburg as maestro di cappella to Empress Catherine II in 1776. She was not as keen on opera as were the Neapolitans, so he wrote piano pieces for the ladies of the court, including the aforementioned Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna, daughter-in-law of the Empress. He spent seven years at the Russian court before returning to Naples and the theatre, and then turned his attention to church music, later becoming Maître de chapelle to Napoleon, for whom he wrote a Coronation Mass in 1804. He continued to compose for Napoleon after returning to Naples once more.

Harrison, Cluse & Co published from Fleet Street between 1798 and 1802. The popularity of Paisiello's Capriccio must be based on the success and influence of his operas, as much in London, (where a significant quantity of his music was published and registered at Stationers' Hall) as elsewhere. That this piece borrows its main theme from the subject of Bach's Musical Offering may have a bearing on its appeal. Paisiello develops the theme melodically rather than contrapuntally; he demonstrates a declamatory brilliance which arrests the attention, but its impact is unfortunately diminished by some of the rather trite variations upon the theme. In his article on the composer in The New Grove Dictionary of Music, Michael F Robinson suggests that since 'Paisiello's keyboard music was for genteel, high-ranking ladies, it is not surprising that the keyboard parts require finger dexterity but offer no outstanding technical challenges.'

I think I would be failing in my duty as a reviewer, however, not to admit to finding the piece a little too shallow and repetitious to include in a programme of late 18th-century piano music. However, with some judicious editing, it might make very useful background music to a period novel. It contains sufficient 'silent movie' drama and flashy figuration to sit well in such a setting - so if anyone is considering serialising The Mysteries of Udolpho, this piece would be very suitable.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.
Add to shopping basket

How to order

Return to home page