Gioachino Antonio Rossini - Encyclopedia

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GIOACHINO ANTONIO ROSSINI (1792-1868), Italian musical composer, was born at Pesaro on the 29th of February 1792. His father was town trumpeter and inspector of slaughterhouses, his mother a baker's daughter. The elder Rossini's sympathies for the French became a source of trouble when, after the occupation of the papal state by the French in 1796, the Austrians restored the old regime. He was sent to prison, and his wife took Gioachino to Bologna, earning her living as a prima donna buffa at various theatres of the Romagna, where she was ultimately rejoined by her husband. Gioachino remained at Bologna in the care of a pork butcher, while his father played the horn in the bands of the theatres at which his mother sang. The boy had three years' instruction in the harpsichord from Prinetti of Novara, but Prinetti played the scale with two fingers only, combined his profession of a musician with the business of selling liquor, and fell asleep while he stood, so that he was a fit subject for ridicule with his critical pupil. Gioachino was taken from him and apprenticed to a smith. In Angelo Tesei he found a congenial master, and learned to read at sight, to play accompaniments on the pianoforte, and to sing well enough to take solo parts in the church when he was ten years of age. At thirteen he appeared at the theatre of the Commune in Paer's Camilla - his only appearance as a public singer (1805). He was also able to play the horn. In 1807 he was admitted to the counterpoint class of Padre P. S. Mattei, and soon after to that of Cavedagni for the 'cello at the Conservatorio of Bologna. He learned to play the 'cello with ease, but the pedantic severity of Mattei's views on counterpoint only served to accentuate the tendency of his genius towards a freer school of composition, and his insight into orchestral resources is to be ascribed rather to knowledge gained by scoring the quartets and symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, than to any prescribed rules for the composition of music. At Bologna he was known as "it Tedeschino" on account of his devotion to Mozart. Through the friendly interposition of the Marquis Cavalli, his first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, was produced at Venice when he was a youth of eighteen. But two years before this he had already received the prize at the Conservatorio of Bologna for his cantata Il pianto d'armonia per la morte d'Orfeo. Between 181o and 1813, at Bologna, Rome, Venice and Milan, Rossini produced operas of which the successes were varying. All memory of them is eclipsed in that of Tancredi. The libretto was an arrangement of Voltaire's tragedy by J. A. Rossi. Traces of Pair and Paisiello were undeniably present in fragments of the music. But all critical feeling on the part of the public was drowned in the effect of sweetness and clarity produced by such melodies as "Mi rivedrai, ti rivedro" and "Di tanti palpiti," the former of which became so popular that the Italians would sing it in crowds at the law courts until called upon by the judge to desist. Rossini continued to write operas for Venice and Milan during the next few years, but their reception was tame and in some cases unsatisfactory after the success of Tancredi. In 1815 he retired to his home at Bologna, where Barbaja, the impresario of the Naples theatre, who had once been a waiter in a coffee-house and now combined the business of theatrical management with that of farming the public gaming-tables, concluded an agreement with him by which he was to take the musical direction of the Teatro San Carlo and the Teatro Del Fondo at Naples, composing for each of them one opera a year. His payment was to be 200 ducats (about X35 or $175) per month; he was also to receive a share in the gaming-tables amounting to about 1000 ducats (175 or $875) per annum. The presence of Zingarelli and Paisiello in Naples was an incentive to intrigue against the success of the youthful composer, but all hostility was made futile by the enthusiasm which greeted the court performance of his Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra, in which Isabella Colbran, who subsequently became the composer's wife, took a leading part. The libretto of this opera by Schmidt was in many of its incidents an anticipation of those presented to the world a few years later in Scott's Kenilworth. The opera was the first in which Rossini wrote the ornaments of the airs instead of leaving them to the fancy of the singers, and also the first in which the recitative secco was replaced by a recitative accompanied by a quartet of strings. In Almaviva, produced in the beginning of the next year in Rome, the libretto, a version of Beaumarchais' Barbier de Seville by Sterbini, was the same as that already used by Paisiello in his Barbiere, an opera which had enjoyed European popularity for more than a quarter of a century. The indignation of Paisiello's admirers expressed itself strongly on the production of the new setting, but in the thirteen days devoted to the composition of his Almaviva, Rossini had created such a masterpiece of musical comedy that the fame of Paisiello's opera was transferred to his, to which the title of Il Barbiere di Siviglia passed as an inalienable heritage. Between 1815 and 1823 Rossini produced twenty operas. Of these Otello formed the climax to his reform of serious opera, and offers a suggestive contrast with the treatment of the same subject at a similar point of artistic development by the composer Verdi. In Rossini's time the tragic close was so distasteful to the public of Rome that it was necessary to invent a happy conclusion to Otello; and there are still places in Italy in which the Shakespearian end of the story can never be performed without interruption from the audience, who warn Desdemona of Otello's deadly approach. Conditions of stage mechanism in 1817 are illustrated by Rossini's acceptance of the subject of Cinderella for a libretto only on the condition that the supernatural element should be omitted. The opera Cenerentola is to be ranked with the Barbiere. The absence of a similar precaution in the construction of his Mose in Egitto led to disaster in the scene depicting the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, when the defects in stage contrivance always raised a laugh, so that the composer was at length compelled to introduce the chorus "Dal tuo stellato Soglio" to divert attention from the dividing waves. In 1821, three years after the production of this work, Rossini married Isabella Colbran. In 1822 he directed his Cenerentola in Vienna, where Zelmira was also performed. After this he returned to Bologna; but an invitation from Prince Metternich to come to Verona and "assist in the general re-establish ment of harmony" was too tempting to be refused, and he arrived at the Congress in time for its opening on the 10th of October 1822. Here he made friends with Chateaubriand and Madame de Lieven. In 1823, at the suggestion of the manager of the King's Theatre, London, he came to England, being much feted on his way through Paris. In England he was given a generous welcome, which included an introduction to King George IV. and the receipt of 7000 after a residence of five months. In 1824 he became musical director of the Theatre Italien in Paris at a salary of 800 per annum, and when the agreement came. to' an end he was rewarded with the offices of chief composer to the king and inspector-general of singing in France, to which was attached the same income. The production of his Guillaume Tell in 1829 brought his career as a writer of opera to a close. The libretto was by Etienne Jouy and TIippolyte Bis, but their version was revised by Armand Marrast. The music is remarkable for its freedom from the conventions discovered and utilized by Rossini in his earlier works, and marks a transitional stage in the history of opera. In 1829 he returned to Bologna. His mother had died in 1827, and he was anxious to be with his father. Arrangements for his subsequent return to Paris on a new agreement were upset by the abdication of Charles X. and the July Revolution of 1830. Rossini, who had been considering the subject of Faust for a new opera, returned, however, to Paris in the November of that year. Six movements of his Stabat Mater were written in 1832 and the rest in 1839, the year of his father's death, and the success of the work bears comparison with his achievements in opera; but his comparative silence during the period from 1832 to 1868 makes his biography appear almost like the narrative of two lives - the life of swift triumph, and the long life of seclusion, of which the biographers give us pictures in stories of the composer's cynical wit, his speculations in fish culture, his mask of humility and indifference. His first wife died in 1845, and political disturbances in the Romagna compelled him to leave Bologna in 1847, the year of his second marriage with Olympe Pelissier, who had sat to Vernet for his picture of "Judith and Holofernes." After living for a time in Florence he settled in Paris in 1855, where his house was a centre of artistic society. He died -at his country house at Passy on the 13th of November 1868. He was a foreign associate of the Institute, grand officer of the Legion of Honour, and the recipient of innumerable orders. In his compositions Rossini plagiarized even more freely from himself than from other musicians, and few of his operas are without such admixtures frankly introduced in the form of arias or overtures. A characteristic mannerism in his musical writing earned for him the nickname of "Monsieur Crescendo." His music is associated with the names of the greatest singers in lyrical drama, such as Tamburini, Mario, Rubini, Delle Sedie, Albani, Grisi, Patti and Nilsson.

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