Gioachino Rossini: Sinfonie giovanili

Rossini Critical Edition

Edited by Paolo Fabbri (1998)

One-volume set: score + critical commentary pp. XXXVIII, 180
GR 20

Of none of the symphonies in this critical edition has the autograph been found so far: however authoritative (for bio-bibliographical reasons), the manuscript sources that hand them down to us are not without problems.

It is unclear, for example in the Sinfonia del Conventello, what the behavior of the cello should be in certain passages of the Allegro: that is, whether during its solos the other cellos, if any, temporarily joined the double basses, or whether no other cellos were planned at all, given that the piece was written for a small group of friends and acquaintances who gathered occasionally in the summer in a country house without large reception rooms.

In the other Symphony written for the same entourage, the title mentions an “obbligo” for the double bass that is not fully respected in the course of the piece: the instrument in fact never has real solos (by no means comparable to those reserved for it in, for example, the Sonate a quattro, which were born for the same environment and the same performer), but in its concertante interventions it is always duplicated by Bassoon and Trombone. Was this a choice implemented from the beginning to reinforce a voice that was too weak, or was it doubling motivated by a subsequently expanded ensemble (even if only with instrumentalists in a row), in performances that were more enlarged than the original formation?

In the case of the Bolognese symphonies, primary witnesses turn out to be even more typologically ‘open’ and less structured sources such as two collections of orchestral parts, placed in scores in the second half of the 19th century. For the Sinfonia in Re maggiore, the relevant materials lack certain parts (Oboe II, the Horns) that instead appear (as far as the Horns are concerned, limited, however, to the opening pages of the piece) in the late nineteenth-century score that was derived from them. We know that that set of orchestral materials was deficient as early as the mid-nineteenth century, when the score in question was drafted: in that case, was the gap filled thanks to sources now unknown? Or did those who dealt with it proceed empirically and by sense? It should be added that another source for this piece, a score presumably closer to the autograph chronologically and drafted in environments that had direct dealings with Rossini, features the pair of Horns, but not Oboe II nor Clarinet II.

As for the Sinfonia in Mib maggiore, the related orchestral materials reveal a stratification that corresponds to the intense use made of them throughout the course of the nineteenth century: in addition to 1809, we have evidence of their use probably in 1820 in Bologna, and with certainty in 1869, 1877 in Florence, 1896 in Pesaro (twice: in February and August), and 1898 in Ferrara.

In the symphonic production of Italian composers or composers active in Italy in the late 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th century, the coexistence of symphonies in three movements (Allegro-Adagio-Allegro) and in a single movement (Allegro, with possible slow introduction) seems clear until around 1790, and then the prevalence of the latter scheme. The young Rossini would stick to the ‘modern’ Italian scheme, structuring it variously within it.

In addition to serving as a testing ground for fine-tuning morphological models and trying his hand at technical experiments, once he embarked on a theatrical career Rossini sometimes made use of these acerbic non-operatic symphonies of his: either massively, as in the case of the Sinfonia in Mib maggiore, which was prepositioned by him (with modifications that were by no means marginal) for La cambiale di matrimonio (November 1810); or as a reserve from which to draw individual musical ideas. Indeed, the Sinfonia del Conventello provides the first motif of the Allegro to that of Il signor Bruschino (January 1813), and the Sinfonia in Re maggiore the second motif (retouched in the attack) to that of L’inganno felice (January 1812).