GIOACHINO ROSSINI – LIFE AND WORKS
Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro on 29 February 1792 to Giuseppe, known as “Vivazza”, a horn and trumpet player in the town band and theatres, and Anna Guidarini, a singer, who had a brief career (1798-1808) in the theatres of the Marche and Emilia-Romagna. As a child, Gioachino followed his parents around on their tours. The family moved to Bologna, and in 1800, Giuseppe Prinetti began to give music lessons to Gioachino on a spinet.
Two years later, the Rossini family moved to Lugo where Gioachino studied under Canon don Giuseppe Malerbi who gave him lessons in the basso continuo form of musical accompaniment and composition. He introduced Gioachino to the work of Mozart and Haydn as the “Sei sonate a quattro” (six sonatas for four stringed instruments), composed in 1804, would appear to indicate.
His musical training continued with Father Angelo Tesei and in 1806 he enrolled at the Philharmonic Lyceum in Bologna and took classes in cello and piano. Later he took counterpoint lessons with Father Stanislao Mattei. Written at the request of the Mombelli family, the composition of his first opera “Demetrio e Polibio” (Demetrius and Polybius) seems to date back to this period, even though it was not performed until 1812. He became a member the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna as a “cantor” and met his future wife, Isabella Colbran there for the first time. While in Bologna, he composed the musical compositions “Al Conventello” and “Obbligata” a contrabasso, the song “Il pianto di Armonia sulla morte di Orfeo” (dating to 1808), and two sacred works, the Ravenna Mass and Milan Mass, followed by Sinfonia a più strumenti obbligati and a Sinfonia concertata the following year.
1810 marked the year of Rossini’s dazzling theatrical debut. Rossini put on over thirty works including serious operas, semiseria operas and comic operas, completely dominating the scene between 3 November 1810, the date his one-act comic opera “La cambiale di matrimonio” (The Bill of Marriage) opened at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice, and February 1823 when “Semiramide” ended the Italian stage of his career at the Teatro La Fenice.
His career takes off
Five operas (six, if we include “Demetrio e Polibio”, performed in Rome) were composed in 1812: three one-act comic operas at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice, “L’inganno felice” (the fortunate deception), La scala di seta (the silken ladder), and “L’occasione fa il ladro” (opportunity makes a thief); the first opera seria “Ciro in Babilonia, ossia La caduta di Baldassarre” (Cyrus in Babylon) (Ferrara, Teatro Comunale), and a great two-act comic opera “La pietra del paragone” (the touchstone) debuting at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Rossini’s career continued full steam ahead in Northern Italy: in Venice in 1813, after the terrible fiasco of “Il signor Bruschino, ossia Il figlio per azzardo” (Signor Bruschino), he redeemed himself with the triumphs “Tancredi” and “L’Italiana in Algeri” (the Italian girl in Algiers); however “Aureliano in Palmira” flopped at La Scala, “Il Turco in Italia” (the Turk in Italy) was received poorly in 1814 and “Sigismondo” was not a success in Venice.
The Neapolitan period and trips
He moved to Naples in summer 1815, where he had been engaged by Domenico Barbaja, impresario of the Royal Theatres. “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” (Elizabeth, Queen of England), with Isabella Colbran in the title role was a resounding success, paving the way for a new Neapolitan creative season. On the other hand, “Torvaldo e Dorliska” (Torvaldo and Dorliska), an opera semiseria, was poorly received in Rome. The Neapolitan period was underpinned by the ‘Roman leaves of absence’ when Rossini composed two comic masterpieces for the two main theatres, the Argentina and the Valle. “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (title of the libretto: Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione) (The Barber of Seville) was staged at the Argentina in 1816 and “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella) at the Valle in 1817. He also composed “Adelaide di Borgogna” (Adelaide of Burgundy) for Rome.
Apart from the comic opera “La gazzetta” (The newspaper) in 1816, his Neapolitan oeuvre continued with opera seria “Otello, ossia Il moro di Venezia” (1816), (Othello) “Armida” (1817), “Mosè in Egitto” (Moses in Egypt) and “Ricciardo e Zoraide” (Ricciardo and Zoraide) in 1818, the year he wrote the one-act comic opera “Adina” for Lisbon. Three more serious operas were added to the Rossini canon in 1819: “Ermione”, “La donna del lago” (the lady of the lake) for Naples and “Bianca e Falliero” (Bianca and Falliero) shown at La Scala in Milan. The pastiche “Eduardo e Cristina” was performed in Venice (San Benedetto, 24 April). The Messa di Gloria (Gloria Mass) was performed at the San Ferdinando Church in 1820, and the same year, “Maometto II” was poorly received at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples. After his last stay in Rome, where “Matilde di Shabran, ossia Bellezza e cuor di ferro” (Matilde of Shabran) was shown in 1821, Rossini took leave of Naples with “Zelmira” (San Carlo Theatre, 16 February 1822). A month later he married Isabella Colbran in Castenaso, and went with her to Vienna along with the San Carlo theatre company headed by Barbaja; “Zelmira” was staged there and a number of his other works were revived. Rossini’s Italian career was brought to a triumphant conclusion with “Semiramide” (Venice, La Fenice, 3 February 1823). Having left Italy, after a brief sojourn in Paris, the composer went to London and then back to Paris where he would live for the rest of his life apart from a few trips to Italy.
The French period
Rossini’s French period began in 1825 with “Il viaggio a Reims, ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro” (The journey to Reims), written to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. It was followed by “Le siège de Corinthe” (the siege of Corinth), a radical reworking of “Maometto II”, “Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le passage de la Mer Rouge” (Moses in Egypt) (1827) and “Le Comte Ory”, where he re-used most of the music from “Il viaggio a Reims”. His mother died in 1827 and he was deeply affected by her death. He began work on what would be his last big work in musical theatre, “Guillaume Tell” (William Tell) (1829), which was enthusiastically acclaimed by critics and musicians but not a popular success. Charles X conferred him with the Légion d’honneur.
He went to Spain at the beginning of February 1831 with his friend, the banker Aguado. While in Spain, Rossini accepted a request to compose a “Stabat Mater”. He only composed six out of the ten movements and asked Tadolini to complete the work. This version of the Stabat was performed in 1833 in Madrid, while the version completed by Rossini in 1841 was performed in 1842 in Paris, followed by a performance in Bologna conducted by Gaetano Donizetti two months later.
The first symptoms of a nervous breakdown became manifest in 1832, which hit him hard; Olympe Pélissier, to whom he was now attached, cared for him like a mother. His married her on 16 August 1846.
He published his “Soirées Musicales” – composed between 1830 and 1835 – in 1835, along with other short works. His separation from Isabella Colbran was finalised in 1837, but he was with her in her villa in Castenaso near Bologna when she died in 1845, upsetting him greatly.
In his better periods, he composed the “Péchés de vieillesse” (Sins of old age), an ironic title for a collection of his final compositions.
The villa in Passy
In Spring 1859, he had a villa built in Passy, near Paris, where he spent time with Olympe when they weren’t at 2 della Chaussée d’Antin, home of the musical academies. Passy soon became a renowned meeting place for the international musical community. This is where he composed the “Petite Messe solennelle” in 1863, for soloists, choir, two pianos and a harmonium. On 14 March 1864, it was performed privately at the Paris home of Countess Louise Pillett-Will to whom the mass was dedicated. Rossini scored the work for a large orchestra in 1867 but this version was only played on 24 February 1869, after his death. On his name day, 21 May 1864, the town of Pesaro held a solemn celebration in his honour by unveiling a statue dedicated to him.
He died after a long illness in his villa in Passy on 13 November 1868 as Paris was preparing to pay homage to him for his upcoming seventy-seventh birthday. He was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery. Rossini’s body was exhumed and taken to Santa Croce Basilica in Florence where it was interred on 3 May 1887. On 13 June 1902, the sculptor Cassioli’s sepulchre monument of Rossini was unveiled at the Santa Croce Basilica.