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Rossini, Gioacchino

(February 29, 1792 - November 13, 1868)

Genius at an Early Age
Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy in 1792. The son of Giuseppe Rossini, a trumpet and horn player in the local municipal band, and the singer Anna Guidarini. He studied under Giuseppe Prinetti in Bologna, and under the priest Giuseppe Malerbi in Lugo (1802-1805). He then moved with his family back to Bologna, where he continued his musical studies under Angelo Tesei, a pupil of Stanislao Mattei. Already well known in Bolognese churches and private academies as a young virtuoso singer and player of the violin and harpsichord, in 1806 Rossini enrolled in the musical Liceo, where he first studied cello, and then moved on to counterpoint under Padre Mattei. He left the Liceo in 1810, after having in those years composed a pair of symphonies, arias, variations for wind instruments, the cantata Il pianto d'Armonia, and the opera Demetrio e Polibio, which would be performed in Rome in 1812. Rossini’s impassioned studies of the music of Mozart and Haydn (especially his quartets) earned him the nickname Tedeschino, or the “Little German”.

Headed for Success
Already in 1810 Rossini’s opera La cambiale di matrimonio was staged in Venice, where it was fairly well received. In 1811 L'equivoco stravagante premiered in Bologna. They were followed in rapid succession by L'inganno felice, Ciro in Babilonia (Ferrara, 1812), Rossini’s first serious opera, La scala di seta, La pietra del paragone (Milano, La Scala, 1812), whose success earned Rossini exemption from military service, and, the last in this cycle, L'occasione fa il ladro. From 1812 to 1815 Rossini divided his time between Venice and Milano, working on both serious operas and opere buffe, which had varying degrees of success (Il signor Bruschino, Tancredi, L'italiana in Algeri, Aureliano in Palmira, Il turco in Italia), and the cantata Egle e Irena (Milano, 1814). Thanks to Tancredi, but especially to the triumphant success of L'Italiana in Algeri, Rossini became a star and a darling of the critics – with Stendhal right there in the front row – who lavished praises on this extraordinary young talent. After Sigismondo, Rossini left Venice, and accepted an invitation to Naples by the impresario Domenico Barbaja. Thus began what is known as Rossini’s Neapolitan-Roman period, which continued until 1823. By this time Rossini’s works were known throughout Italy, and his massive output and the great speed with which he worked had become legendary. 

Feverish Work and a String of Masterpieces
Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra premiered in Naples in 1815, starring Isabella Colbran, a Spanish singer whom Rossini would marry in 1822. In December 1815, Torvaldo e Dorliska premiered in Rome. In February 1816 it was Il Barbiere di Siviglia making its debut – a performance which would go on to be considered one of the great flops in the history of opera. However, the performances that followed over the next few evenings garnered increasing admiration, and the opera eventually triumphed. Meanwhile, Rossini kept churning out operas: Otello (Naples, 1816), La Cenerentola (Rome, 1817), La gazza ladra (Milano, 1817), Mosè in Egitto (Naples, 1818), La donna del lago (Naples, 1819) Bianca e Falliero (Milano, 1819). Zelmira, which premiered in Naples in 1822, although it had been written to be performed first in Vienna, where Domenico Barbaja wanted to take his company. After Rossini married Isabella Colbran in Bologna on March 16, 1822, the couple set out for Vienna, where the Maestro conducted La Cenerentola and Zelmira. There, Rossini also had the chance to pay a visit to Beethoven, who praised Il Barbiere di Siviglia warmly.

Rossini the European
Shocked by the dire financial straits the composer of the 'Heroic Symphony' found himself in, Rossini began promoting a campaign to raise money for him, but it never got off the ground. By December 1822 he was back in Bologna, where he received an invitation from Metternich, the Chancellor of the Austrian Empire, to Verona, for the Congress of Nations, where Rossini presented four cantatas. The somewhat shaky premiere of Semiramide in Venice marked the end of Rossini’s Italian period in 1823. In December of that same year, Rossini landed in London, at the behest of the impresario of the King's Theatre. There he conducted Zelmira and the cantata Il pianto delle muse for the death of Lord Byron. He was acclaimed by the British nobility, and made a considerable amount of money thanks to numerous tour dates. In late 1824, Rossini moved to Paris to direct the Théâtre Italien. He would soon become a star on the Parisian music scene. He staged some of his previous operas, as well as reworked versions of Le Siège de Corinthe (1826) and Moïse (1827). At this time in Paris, Rossini also composed his last three operas: Il viaggio a Reims (1825), Le Comte Ory (1828) and Guillaume Tell (1829).

Out of the Blue… Silence
Meanwhile, Rossini had been appointed as the King’s first composer and inspector general of song for all of France, roles he would cover until the July Revolution of 1830. But at the age of 37, Guglielmo Tell would be Rossini’s final opera. He gave up working for the theater. His hectic pace dwindled to near total silence. In vain, historians have sought a reason for this. In 1832 Rossini composed the first part of Stabat Mater (which he would complete in 1842, and Donizetti would conduct the premiere in Bologna). In 1835 he published Soirées musicales. In 1836 Rossini returned to Italy, where he attained legal separation from Isabella Colbran. In 1839 he became an ongoing consultant for the musical Liceo in Bologna, and headed a complete overhaul of the school. But political chaos in 1848 caused him to leave Bologna for Florence. He eventually wound up in France, with his second wife, Olimpie Pélissier. Isabella Colbran died in 1845.

Silence... Not Exactly
In May 1855 Rossini moved into his villa in the Passy area of Paris.  It soon became a hub of activity and a focus for artists of all sorts. He would live there for the rest of his life, honored and courted. Rossini serenely slipped into old age, but when inspiration grabbed hold, he’d reply, with compositions like Le Chant de Titans (1859), Petite Messe Solennelle (1863), Hymne à Napoléon III (1867), and various chamber music pieces, including Péchés de Vieillesse. Rossini died suddenly on November 13, 1868. He was interred at Père Lachaise in Paris, but in 1887 his remains were transferred to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence. Giuseppe Verdi was among those who promoted a mass there in his memory. 


       La scala di seta (G.M. Foppa – Venice, Teatro San Moisè)
       La pietra del paragone (L. Romanelli – Milan, La Scala)
       L'occasione fa il ladro ossia Il cambio della valigia (L.Prividali – Venice, Teatro San Moisè)
       Il signor Bruschino o Il figlio per azzardo (G.M. Foppa – Venice, Teatro San Moisè)
       Tancredi (G. Rossi – Venice, La Fenice)
       L'italiana in Algeri (A. Anelli – Venice, Teatro San Benedetto)
       Aureliano in Palmira (F. Romani – Milan, La Scala)
       Il turco in Italia (F. Romani – Milan, La Scala)
       Il barbiere di Siviglia – original title Almaviva ossia L'inutile precauzione – (C. Sterbini, Rome, Teatro Argentina)
       Otello ossia Il Moro di Venezia (F. Berio – Naples, Teatro Fondo)
       La Cenerentola o La bontà in trionfo (J. Ferretti – Rome, Teatro Valle)
       La gazza ladra (G. Gherardini – Milan, La Scala)
       Mosè in Egitto (A.L. Tottola – Naples, San Carlo)
       La donna del lago (A.L. Tottola – Naples, San Carlo)
       Bianca e Falliero o Il consiglio dei tre (F. Romani – Milan, La Scala)
       Maometto II (C. Della Valle – Naples, San Carlo)
       Matilde di Shabran o Bellezza e cuor di ferro (J. Ferretti – Rome,Teatro Apollo)
       Zelmira (A.L. Tottola – Naples, San Carlo)
       Semiramide (G. Rossi – Venice, La Fenice)
       Il viaggio a Reims o L'albergo del Giglio d'oro (L. Balocchi –Paris, Théâtre Italien)
       Le Siège de Corinthe (Balocchi and A. Soumet – Paris, Opéra)
       Moïse (Balocchi and E. De Jouy – Paris, Opéra)
       Le Comte Ory (E. Scribe and Delestre-Poirson – Paris, Opéra)
       Guillaume Tell (H. Bis and De Jouy – Paris, Opéra)
And also:
        sacred music, cantatas, hymns, instrumental pieces, and chamber music