51 Facts About Rossini


Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music.

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Rossini set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.

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Rossini composed opera seria works such as Otello, Tancredi and Semiramide.

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Rossini was born in 1792 in Pesaro, a town on the Adriatic coast of Italy that was then part of the Papal States.

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Rossini was the only child of Giuseppe Rossini, a trumpeter and horn player, and his wife Anna, nee Guidarini, a seamstress by trade, daughter of a baker.

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Giuseppe Rossini was charming but impetuous and feckless; the burden of supporting the family and raising the child fell mainly on Anna, with some help from her mother and mother-in-law.

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In 1798, when Rossini was aged six, his mother began a career as a professional singer in comic opera, and for a little over a decade was a considerable success in cities including Trieste and Bologna, before her untrained voice began to fail.

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In 1802 the family moved to Lugo, near Ravenna, where Rossini received a good basic education in Italian, Latin and arithmetic as well as music.

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Rossini studied the horn with his father and other music with a priest, Giuseppe Malerbe, whose extensive library contained works by Haydn and Mozart, both little known in Italy at the time, but inspirational to the young Rossini.

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Rossini was a quick learner, and by the age of twelve he had composed a set of six sonatas for four stringed instruments, which were performed under the aegis of a rich patron in 1804.

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Rossini wrote some substantial works while a student, including a mass and a cantata, and after two years he was invited to continue his studies.

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Rossini declined the offer: the strict academic regime of the Liceo had given him a solid compositional technique, but as his biographer Richard Osborne puts it, "his instinct to continue his education in the real world finally asserted itself".

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The piece was a great success, and Rossini received what then seemed to him a considerable sum: "forty scudi – an amount I had never seen brought together".

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Rossini later described the San Moise as an ideal theatre for a young composer learning his craft – "everything tended to facilitate the debut of a novice composer": it had no chorus, and a small company of principals; its main repertoire consisted of one-act comic operas, staged with modest scenery and minimal rehearsal.

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Rossini followed the success of his first piece with three more farse for the house: L'inganno felice, La scala di seta, and Il signor Bruschino .

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Rossini maintained his links with Bologna, where in 1811 he had a success directing Haydn's The Seasons, and a failure with his first full-length opera, L'equivoco stravagante.

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The success of Tancredi made Rossini's name known internationally; productions of the opera followed in London and New York .

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Musical establishment of Naples was not immediately welcoming to Rossini, who was seen as an intruder into its cherished operatic traditions.

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Rossini's first work for the San Carlo, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra was a dramma per musica in two acts, in which he reused substantial sections of his earlier works, unfamiliar to the local public.

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Rossini kept his personal life as private as possible, but he was known for his susceptibility to singers in the companies he worked with.

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Rossini had heard her sing in Bologna in 1807, and when he moved to Naples he wrote a succession of important roles for her in opere serie.

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Rossini travelled with Colbran, in March 1822, breaking their journey at Bologna, where they were married in the presence of his parents in a small church in Castenaso a few miles from the city.

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Rossini was therefore happy to permit the San Carlo company to perform the composer's operas.

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Rossini finally managed to do so, and later described the encounter to many people, including Eduard Hanslick and Richard Wagner.

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Rossini was prostrated by the Channel crossing, and was unlikely to be enthused by the English weather or English cooking.

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Rossini was to help run the latter theatre and revise one of his earlier works for revival there.

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Rossini permitted only four performances of the piece, intending to reuse the best of the music in a less ephemeral opera.

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Rossini's consoled herself with what Servadio describes as "a new pleasure in shopping"; for Rossini, Paris offered continual gourmet delights, as his increasingly rotund shape began to reflect.

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Rossini took great care before beginning work on the first, learning to speak French and familiarising himself with traditional French operatic ways of declaiming the language.

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In 1828 Rossini wrote Le comte Ory, his only French-language comic opera.

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Rossini's determination to reuse music from Il viaggio a Reims caused problems for his librettists, who had to adapt their original plot and write French words to fit existing Italian numbers, but the opera was a success, and was seen in London within six months of the Paris premiere, and in New York in 1831.

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The following year Rossini wrote his long-awaited French grand opera, Guillaume Tell, based on Friedrich Schiller's 1804 play which drew on the William Tell legend.

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Rossini left Colbran in Castenaso; she never returned to Paris and they never lived together again.

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From about this time, Rossini had intermittent bad health, both physical and mental.

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Rossini had contracted gonorrhoea in earlier years, which later led to painful side-effects, from urethritis to arthritis; he suffered from bouts of debilitating depression, which commentators have linked to several possible causes: cyclothymia, or bipolar disorder, or reaction to his mother's death.

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The events of the Year of Revolution in 1848 led Rossini to move away from the Bologna area, where he felt threatened by insurrection, and to make Florence his base, which it remained until 1855.

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Rossini returned to Paris aged sixty-three and made it his home for the rest of his life.

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Rossini referred to them as his Peches de vieillesse – "sins of old age".

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Rossini liked to call himself a fourth-class pianist, but the many famous pianists who attended the samedi soirs were dazzled by his playing.

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Rossini left Olympe a life interest in his estate, which after her death, ten years later, passed to the Commune of Pesaro for the establishment of a Liceo Musicale, and funded a home for retired opera singers in Paris.

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Rossini's handling of arias in cavatina style marked a development from the eighteenth-century commonplace of recitative and aria.

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Arsace in Aureliano was sung by the castrato Giambattista Velluti; this was the last opera role Rossini wrote for a castrato singer as the norm became to use contralto voices – another sign of change in operatic taste.

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Rumour had it that Rossini was displeased by Velluti's ornamentation of his music; but in fact throughout his Italian period, up to Semiramide, Rossini's written vocal lines become increasingly florid, and this is more appropriately credited to the composer's own changing style.

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Growth of Rossini's style from Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra to Zelmira and, ultimately, Semiramide, is a direct consequence of th[e] continuity [he experienced in Naples].

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Not only did Rossini compose some of his finest operas for Naples, but these operas profoundly affected operatic composition in Italy and made possible the developments that were to lead to Verdi.

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Rossini provided for the Opera a shorter, three-act version, which incorporated the pas redouble final section of the overture in its finale; it was first performed in 1831 and became the basis of the Opera's future productions.

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Rossini's contract required him to provide five new works for the Opera over 10 years.

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Not until Rossini returned to Paris in 1855 were there signs of a revival of his musical spirits.

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Popularity of Rossini's melodies led many contemporary virtuosi to create piano transcriptions or fantasies based on them.

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Operas comiques showing a debt to Rossini's style include Francois-Adrien Boieldieu's La dame blanche and Daniel Auber's Fra Diavolo, as well as works by Ferdinand Herold, Adolphe Adam and Fromental Halevy.

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Critical of Rossini's style was Hector Berlioz, who wrote of his "melodic cynicism, his contempt for dramatic and good sense, his endless repetition of a single form of cadence, his eternal puerile crescendo and his brutal bass drum".

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