The Music Plays On

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Giovanni Paisello

I’m fascinated by artists who reach the absolute pinnacle of their craft, even become famous for it, then fall back into obscurity after their death. There can be many contributing factors as to why this rise and decline and this space isn’t the place for that sort of grand conjecture. In the case of Giovanni Paisiello, it’s doubly perplexing as he truly was the most popular opera composer of the late 18th century — far more popular than Mozart, for instance — and his music is excellent.

The reason I decided to write about Paisiello is because a friend posted a very nice video of her son playing Beethoven’s Six Variations on ‘Nel cor piu non mi sento’, WoO 70. “Nel cor piu non mi sento” is a duet from Paisello’s most famous opera, La Molinara, written in 1788. By 1795, when these variations were written, this opera had been performed in Vienna many times that Beethoven was wise to compose a piece that utilized such a well known tune. Here’s the original duet.

And here Beethoven’s wonderful set of variations.

But Beethoven wasn’t the only composer who was inspired by this very agreeable melody. Paganini composed an insanely difficult piece for violin based on the same melody.

Fernando Sor, Fantasia №5, Op. 16, for guitar.

Mauro Giuliani’s Variations on a Theme by Paisiello, Op. 4 for guitar.

Giovanni Bottesini’s Variazoni Sul Tema Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento for doublebass.

Paisiello wrote 94 operas, many concertos, choral and chamber music. His opera, Il Barbiere de Siviglia, was incredibly popular during its day, yet it has been completely eclipsed by Rossini’s eponymous opera.

This is a fantastic collection of some of his piano concertos.

And his Flute Quartets Op. 23 are excellent.