Discovering Rossini

Wednesday, 30 October, 2019

Give me a laundry list and I will set it to music

Gioacchino Rossini was one of the most prolific and well respected opera composers...read on to discover more about the man behind the music.

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Early Life

Rossini was born in 1792 in Pesaro, Italy, to a musical family. His father, the town trumpeter, was imprisoned at least twice in his life, less than an admirable role model, but undoubtedly responsible in part for Rossini’s musical education. His mother, an opera singer of moderate success, was also an important musical influence.

An Operatic Career

Rossini was destined for a career in opera from an early age. As a student, he spent much time in the opera house, working both as a singer and as a répétiteur. He wrote his first opera Demetrio e Polibio aged 18 and his parents soon decided this was to be his future. Off he went to Venice, the home of Italian opera at the time, to pursue a career that, while relatively short, would yield no less than 39 operas. He composed some of the classical period’s most popular works including The Barber of Seville, Cinderella and the grand opera William Tell. Cinderella, composed just one year after The Barber of Seville, offers some of his finest writing for solo voice and ensembles. Immediately popular after its premiere in 1817 the opera surpassed the success Rossini achieved with The Barber of Seville and became a favourite of opera houses throughout the nineteenth century. Shortly after the premiere of William Tell in 1829, Rossini, just 37 years old, chose to, abruptly and with little explanation, withdraw from opera and would compose only a few more works for the rest of his life.

Musical Style

Rossini is best known for his opera buffa (comic operas), including The Barber of Seville and The Italian Girl in Algiers. Here, he excelled at presenting everyday characters with music that charms and excites. He was heavily influenced by Mozart and Haydn, earning the nickname ‘The Little German’ while studying in Bologna. On his musical influences he declared “I take Beethoven twice a week, Haydn four times, but Mozart every day… Mozart is always adorable.” His operatic output was not limited to the comedic however and his final opera William Tell, an opera seria, would become one of his most celebrated works. The William Tell Overture is one of the most recognised and utilised pieces of classical music today.

Success

Rossini was the original operatic celebrity, admired by audiences and peers alike. His opera buffa in particular impressed even his most highly-regarded contemporaries. Speaking of The Barber of Seville, Verdi exclaimed ‘I cannot help thinking that Il barbiere di Siviglia, for the abundance of true musical ideas, for its comic verve and the accuracy of its declamation, is the most beautiful opera buffa there is’. Beethoven too was impressed by Rossini’s golden touch. During a meeting between the pair he is reported to have said, ‘Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.’

Lust for Life

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Rossini approached his personal life with the same vigour he brought to his compositions. With a passion for food, he was an expert chef and took as much enjoyment in the preparing as in the eating. Rich ingredients like truffles and foie gras were a firm favourite. One of only three times he cried was when at ‘a boating party, a truffled turkey fell into the water’. Rossini’s love of food has been honoured by chefs around the world with numerous dishes titled ‘alla Rossini’ after the great gastronome – Tournedos alla Rossini, being perhaps the most famous of all.