Gioachino Rossini: Quelques Riens pour Album

Rossini Critical Edition

Edited by Marvin Track (1982)

One-volume set: score + critical commentary pp. XXI, 223
GR 03
Softcover volume
NR 135153

The last decade of Rossini’s life marked his return to regular compositional activity after retiring from the theater in 1829. Having performed Guillaume Tell, he had composed the Stabat Mater and a few other pieces. Illness and related severe nervous disorders had long prevented him from any practical activity. Returning permanently to Paris in 1855 with his wife, Olympe Pélissier, the composer managed, thanks to the care of Parisian doctors, to make an almost perfect recovery. This marked the beginning of the last phase of his production comprising a large number of pieces that he later gathered and rearranged into a series of Albums called «Sins of Old Age» or, more commonly, «Péchés de vieillesse». All the works from that period were jealously guarded by Rossini and not intended for publication, but rather for private performances that took place mostly in the composer’s living room in Passy, or in the homes of friends.

Among the albums comprising exclusively piano music is one entitled Quelques Riens pour Album. As always in the case of the Péchés, the title has an ironic and falsely reductive intention. These are in fact twenty-four pieces of ample size and complex writing, and of which we have very little information about the genesis and eventual performances, living the author.

The study of the autographs allows some hypotheses about the general conception of the work. Rossini was among the subscribers to the complete edition of Bach’s works initiated by the Bach Gesellschaft in Leipzig, and he undoubtedly knew the Well-Tempered Clavier. It is almost impossible to think that, despite his ostentatious detachment from official musical life and the Conservatoire, he did not know Chopin’s 24 Preludes. It is easily guessed that he originally intended to write an organic collection divided into the twelve major and minor keys. Examining the first twelve pieces we find eleven different tonalities. Beginning with the thirteenth, however, this unified pattern seems to disappear. There are other elements that may support the hypothesis that Rossini, having lost interest in an organic work, completed the Album with miscellaneous pieces that were waiting for placement. The second part appears more troubled in its progressive ordering and titles, with obvious traces of afterthoughts. It can therefore be concluded that the Riens originally responded to an ambitious plan that was not fully realized, perhaps due to the composer’s advanced age. For the final organization Rossini may have resorted to pieces left out of the other Albums. A critical edition of these will further clarify the relationships between the various collections.

This first critical edition of a volume of the Péchés de vieillesse paves the way for a comprehensive re-examination of Rossini’s last production. In Quelques Riens pour Album Rossini, as in all his later works, is very meticulous in indicating his own interactions. The editorial principle of this edition is to preserve, as much as possible without change, Rossini’s way of writing and his many directions for performance. Even seemingly eccentric graphic details have been preserved.

However, this edition is not a ‘diplomatic’ transcription of the manuscript. For many reasons (explained from time to time in the Notes) interventions by the editor were necessary. Not all passages are clear and explicit. Rossini’s meticulousness – especially evident at the beginning of each individual piece – is sometimes lost as the work proceeds, especially in the repeated passages, where several indications of articulation are implied. In less obvious cases or when an initial pattern no longer reappears in the autograph, the edition respects the paucity of Rossini’s indications. The editor’s intention has been never to go beyond the minimum of additions that imply strict taste and respect for the author’s intentions.

The result of these choices is an edition that is visually unusual, but certainly clearer and more ready to be performed than a facsimile of the autograph or a diplomatic transcription can be.