Antonio Rossini (February 29, 1792 — November 13, 1868) was an
Italian musical composer who wrote more than 30 operas as well as sacred
music and chamber music. His best known works include Il barbiere di
Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), and "Guillaume Tell" William
Tell (the overture of which is popularly known for being the theme song
for The Lone Ranger).
Rossini was born into a family of musicians in Pesaro, a small town
on the Adriatic coast of Italy. His father Giuseppe was town trumpeter
and inspector of slaughterhouses, his mother Anna a singer and baker's
daughter. Rossini's parents began his musical training early, and by
the age of six he was playing the triangle in his father's band.
Rossini's father was sympathetic to the French, and welcomed Napoleon's
troops when they arrived in Northern Italy. This became a problem when
in 1796, the Austrians restored the old regime. Rossini's father was
sent to prison, and his wife took Gioacchino to Bologna, earning her
living as lead singer at various theatres of the Romagna region, where
she was ultimately joined by her husband. During this time, Gioacchino
was frequently left in the care of his aging grandmother, who was unable
to effectively control the boy.
Gioacchino remained at Bologna in the care of a pork butcher, while
his father played the horn in the bands of the theatres at which his
mother sang. The boy had three years instruction in the harpsichord
from Prinetti of Novara, but Prinetti played the scale with two fingers
only, combined his profession of a musician with the business of selling
liquor, and fell asleep while he stood, so that he was a fit subject
for ridicule by his critical pupil.
Gioacchino was taken from Prinetti and apprenticed to a smith. In Angelo
Tesei he found a congenial master, and learned to sight-read, to play
accompaniments on the pianoforte, and to sing well enough to take solo
parts in the church when he was ten years of age. At thirteen he appeared
at the theatre of the Commune in Paër’s Camilla — his
only public appearance as a singer (1805). He was also a capable horn
player in the footsteps of his father.
In 1807 the young Rossini was admitted to the counterpoint class of
Padre P. S. Mattei, and soon after to that of Cavedagni for the cello
at the Conservatorio of Bologna. He learned to play the cello with ease,
but the pedantic severity of Mattei's views on counterpoint only served
to drive the young composer's views toward a freer school of composition.
His insight into orchestral resources is generally ascribed not to the
teaching strict compositional rules he learned from Mattei, but to knowledge
gained independently while scoring the quartets and symphonies of Haydn
and Mozart. At Bologna he was known as "il Tedeschino" on
account of his devotion to Mozart.
Through the friendly interposition of the Marquis Cavalli, his first
opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, was produced at Venice when he was
a youth of eighteen. But two years before this he had already received
the prize at the Conservatorio of Bologna for his cantata Il piantô
d'armonia per la morte d’Orfeo. Between 1810 and 1813, at Bologna,
Rome, Venice and Milan, Rossini produced operas of varying success.
All memory of these works is eclipsed by the enormous success of his
The libretto was an arrangement of Voltaire’s tragedy by A. Rossi.
Traces of Paër and Paisiello were undeniably present in fragments
of the music. But any critical feeling on the part of the public was
drowned by appreciation of such melodies as "Mi rivedrai, ti rivèdrô"
and "Di tanti palpiti," the former of which became so popular
that the Italians would sing it in crowds at the law courts until called
upon by the judge to desist.
Rossini continued to write operas for Venice and Milan during the next
few years, but their reception was tame and in some cases unsatisfactory
after the success of Tancredi. In 1815 he retired to his home at Bologna,
where Barbaja, the impresario of the Naples theatre, concluded an agreement
with him by which he was to take the musical direction of the Teatro
San Carlo and the Teatro Del Fondo at Naples, composing for each of
them one opera a year. His payment was to be 200 ducats per month; he
was also to receive a share of Barbaja's other business, popular gaming-tables,
amounting to about 1000 ducats per annum.
Some older composers in Naples, notably Zingarelli and Paisiello, were
inclined to intrigue against the success of the youthful composer; but
all hostility was made futile by the enthusiasm which greeted the court
performance of his Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra, in which Isabella
Colbran, who subsequently became the composer’s wife, took a leading
part. The libretto of this opera by Schmidt was in many of its incidents
an anticipation of those presented to the world a few years later in
Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth. The opera was the first in which
Rossini wrote the ornaments of the airs instead of leaving them to the
fancy of the singers, and also the first in which the recitativo secco
was replaced by a recitative accompanied by a string quartet.
In Il barbiere di Siviglia, produced in the beginning of the next year
in Rome, the libretto, a version of Beaumarchais' Barbier de Seville
by Sterbini, was the same as that already used by Giovanni Paisiello
in his own Barbiere, an opera which had enjoyed European popularity
for more than a quarter of a century. Paisiello’s admirers were
extremely indignant when the opera was produced, but the opera was so
successful that the fame of Paisiello's opera was transferred to his,
to which the title of Il barbiere di Siviglia passed as an inalienable
Between 1815 and 1823 Rossini produced twenty operas. Of these Otello
formed the climax to his reform of serious opera, and offers a suggestive
contrast with the treatment of the same subject at a similar point of
artistic development by the composer Giuseppe Verdi. In Rossini’s
time the tragic close was so distasteful to the public of Rome that
it was necessary to invent a happy conclusion to Otello.
Conditions of stage production in 1817 are illustrated by Rossini’s
acceptance of the subject of Cinderella for a libretto only on the condition
that the supernatural element should be omitted. The opera La Cenerentola
was as successful as Barbiere. The absence of a similar precaution in
the construction of his Mosè in Egitto led to disaster in the
scene depicting the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, when
the defects in stage contrivance always raised a laugh, so that the
composer was at length compelled to introduce the chorus "Dal tuo
stellato Soglio" to divert attention from the dividing waves.
In 1822, four years after the production of this work, Rossini married
singer Isabella Colbran. In the same year, he directed his Cenerentola
in Vienna, where Zelmira was also performed. After this he returned
to Bologna; but an invitation from Prince Metternich to come to Verona
and "assist in the general re-establishment of harmony" was
too tempting to be refused, and he arrived at the Congress in time for
its opening on October 20, 1822. Here he made friends with Chateaubriand
and Madame de Lieven.
In 1823, at the suggestion of the manager of the King’s Theatre,
London, he came to England, being much fêted on his way through
Paris. In England he was given a generous welcome, which included an
introduction to King George IV and the receipt of £7000 after
a residence of five months. In 1824 he became musical director of the
Théatre Italien in Paris at a salary of £800 per annum,
and when the agreement came to an end he was rewarded with the offices
of chief composer to the king and inspector-general of singing in France,
to which was attached the same income.
The production of his Guillaume Tell in 1829 brought his career as a
writer of opera to a close. The libretto was by Etienne Jouy and Hippolyte
Bis, but their version was revised by Armand Marrast. The music is remarkable
for its freedom from the conventions discovered and utilized by Rossini
in his earlier works, and marks a transitional stage in the history
In 1829 he returned to Bologna. His mother had died in 1827, and he
was anxious to be with his father. Arrangements for his subsequent return
to Paris on a new agreement were upset by the abdication of Charles
X and the July Revolution of 1830. Rossini, who had been considering
the subject of Faust for a new opera, returned, however, to Paris in
the November of that year.
Six movements of his Stabat Mater were written in 1832 and the rest
in 1839, the year of his father's death. The success of the work bears
comparison with his achievements in opera; but his comparative silence
during the period from 1832 to his death in 1868 makes his biography
appear almost like the narrative of two lives — the life of swift
triumph, and the long life of seclusion, of which biographers give us
pictures in stories of the composer's cynical wit, his speculations
in fish culture, his mask of humility and indifference.
His first wife died in 1845, and political disturbances in the Romagna
area compelled him to leave Bologna in 1847, the year of his second
marriage with Olympe Pelissier, who had sat to Vernet for his picture
of "Judith and Holofernes." After living for a time in Florence
he settled in Paris in 1855, where his house was a centre of artistic
society. He died at his country house at Passy on November 13, 1868
and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France. In 1887
his remains were moved to the church of Santa Croce in Florence, where
they now rest.
He was a foreign associate of the Institute, grand officer of the Legion
of Honour, and the recipient of innumerable orders.
In his compositions Rossini plagiarized even more freely from himself
than from other musicians, and few of his operas are without such admixtures
frankly introduced in the form of arias or overtures.
A characteristic mannerism in his musical writing earned for him the
nickname of "Monsieur Crescendo."
Rossini is also well known for some personal qualities, which gave origin
to several anecdotes. For example, he was supposed to have composed
his best known opera, "Barbiere", in a very short time, because
as usual he was late in respecting the delivery date. Some say he did
it in seven days; others, like Lodovico Settimo Silvestri, suggest in
fourteen. Whatever the precise length, it was in any case very little
time for such masterpieces. He worked in his bedroom, wearing his dressing-gown.
A friend pointed out that it was undoubtedly funny that he had composed
the "Barber" without shaving himself for such a long time.
Rossini promptly replied that if he had to get shaved, he would have
had to get out of his house, and he therefore would never had completed
Another story of Rossini composing in the comfort of his bed: One day
an impresario went visiting him and found him writing music in his bed.
Rossini, without even looking at him, begged him to collect a sheet
that had fallen from the bed to the floor. When the impresario picked
it, Rossini gave him the other sheet he was writing and asked him: "Which
one do you think is the better?" "But... they are completely
alike..." said the embarrassed impresario. "Well... you know...
it was easier for me to write another one than to get off the bed and
search and pick the first one and then come back to bed..."
Rossini himself was very happy to describe his virtues: here is what
he told about his way of composing overtures:
Wait until the evening before opening night. Nothing primes inspiration
more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting
for your work or the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair. In
my time, all the impresarios of Italy were bald at 30. . . .
I wrote the overture of Otello in a small room of the Palazzo Barbaja,
where the baldest and rudest of directors had shut me in.
I wrote the overture of the Gazza Ladra the day before the opening night
under the roof of the Scala Theatre, where I had been imprisoned by
the director and secured by four stagehands.
For the Barbiere, I did better: I did not even compose an overture,
I just took one already destined for an opera called Elisabetta. Public
was very pleased.
His music is associated with the names of the greatest singers in lyrical
drama, such as Tamburini, Mario, Rubini, Delle Sedie, Albani, Grisi,
Patti and Christina Nilsson. Marietta Alboni was one of his pupils.
Shortly after Rossini's death, Giuseppe Verdi suggested that all Italian
musicians should assemble a Requiem in honor of the master opera composer
and conductor and began the effort by submitting the "Libera me."
Until the next year a Requiem for Rossini was compiled; however, this
work was never performed at Verdi's lifetime. Helmuth Rilling premiered
the complete Messa per Rossini 1988 in Stuttgart.
was one of the lucky few composers to receive fame and fortune for his
work during his lifetime. Today, well over a hundred years after his
death, his operas are still among the favorites of opera lovers everywhere.
Rossini was a leap year baby. He was born on February 29, 1792, in Pesaro,
Italy. His father, Giuseppe, played trumpet and French horn, first for
the military and later in orchestras. Rossini’s mother, Anna,
was a singer. She kept up her performing career after her son was born.
In 1801, young Gioacchino
started playing the viola in a carnival orchestra. He also studied French
horn, singing, and composition. When the family moved to Bologna, he
studied harpsichord, violin, viola, cello, and composition. He also
began singing professionally.
In 1806, Rossini
began writing arias (songs) to be added to other composers’ operas.
In 1810, a theater in Venice commissioned him to write a one-act comic
opera after the original composer had backed out.
seven operas in sixteen months between 1811 and 1813. In 1812, he had
the opportunity to compose for La Scala, Italy’s most famous opera
house. In 1814, the artistic director of the opera house Teatro S Carlo
in Naples offered Rossini a contract to compose operas for the company.
Rossini was delighted with the prospect of financial security and readily
accepted. The Barber of Seville, Rossini’s most beloved opera,
was first performed in 1816. Its premiere in Rome, however, had many
problems. There were mishaps onstage, and the audience was disruptive
because they didn’t like Rossini’s new treatment of a familiar
story. Rossini was the conductor at that performance, and he was so
affected by the negative response that he never conducted The Barber
of Seville again.
Cinderella (La Cenerentola
in Italian), another popular opera, was written by Rossini in about
three weeks in 1817. It is unusual because Cinderella is played by a
contralto (low-voiced woman) rather than a soprano (high-voiced woman).
Rossini cleverly changed the type of song Cinderella sings to show her
rise from serving girl to princess. Her first aria is simple, but after
she tries on the glass slipper, she sings a much fancier aria.
In 1824, Rossini
moved to Paris. With government support, he composed operas, directed
the Théâtre Italien, and mastered the French language.
William Tell, Rossini’s
last opera, was written in 1829. He had written thirty-nine operas in
nineteen years! After the premiere, when the French government was becoming
increasingly unstable, Rossini returned to Bologna.
Although he lived
almost another 40 years, he never wrote another opera. Nobody knows
exactly why he stopped, but the combination of mental fatigue and poor
health could have contributed to the years of quiet. In 1855, he and
his wife moved back to France. There his health improved and he started
enjoying life more among other interesting people in the arts in Paris.
He even began to compose again, but mostly he just enjoyed his retirement.
Rossini died on Friday, November 13, 1868.
Of necessity the
change in musical taste has pushed the old Italian masters of opera
into the background. But they are by no means totally neglected. Wagner
has not captured all the opera-goers! There are still a vast number
who recognise charm of melody and clearness of musical form, and prefer
an opera in which voices and orchestra are used with discrimination
and taste, neither striving for mastery over the other. In spite of
great advances, many still take the view that Haydn took when he wrote:
"Let your air
be good, and your composition, whatever it be, will be so likewise,
and will assuredly delight. It is the soul of music, the life, the spirit,
the essence of a composition. Without it theorists may succeed in discovering
and using the most singular chords and combinations, but nothing is
heard after all but a laboured sound, which, though it may not vex the
ear, leaves the head empty and the heart cold and unaffected by it."
To those who agree
with Haydn the Rossini school is always welcome. Its chief exponents,
besides Rossini himself, were Donizetti and Bellini, and the surviving
operas of the three may now be considered.
Rossini was born at Pesaro on February 29, 1792, the son of a horn-player.
The leap-year advent took his humorous fancy. He counted his birthday
only once in four years, and, when he was seventy-two, he facetiously
invited his friends to celebrate his eighteenth birthday. He made his
stage debut with an opera when he was eighteen, and had written five
operas before he was twenty. When twenty-one, his "Tancredi"
was produced at Venice, to achieve an instant success, and when he followed
with "L’Italiana in Algeri," the Italians hailed him
as their greatest living opera composer. Then, in 1816, came his triumph
with "Il Barbiere di Seviglia," the crown of all Italian buffo
Various other works
succeeded this masterpiece, including "La Gazzas Ladra" and
"Semiramide" (a work of broad and noble dimensions, unjustly
neglected); but it was not until 1829 that he produced "William
Tell," the second of his operas which have lived. He had taken
up his residence in Paris by this time, and had become "quite a
Frenchman." But he had amasssed a fortune by his operas (he made
£7000 during a single visit to London), and though he was only
thirty-seven when he wrote "Tell," he grew lazy, and for the
remaining years of his life wrote nothing of any importance but his
famous "Stabat Mater." He spoke of himself as having "a
passion for idleness." After 1836 he withdrew to Italy. The insurrection
of 1848 troubled him, and he had to escape from the insurgents to Florence.
In 1853 he returned to Paris, where he lived till his death in 1868.
Rossini was a great
humorist, and his bon mots are legion. Like Ruskin, he hated railways,
and used a caravan. He was fat as Falstaff, a prodigious snuffer, and
wore a wig. Amateur composers constantly worried him, and he did not
bear them gladly. One such sent him the MS. of his latest composition,
accompanied by a Stilton cheese, of which he knew Rossini to be fond.
He hoped, of course, for a letter praising the work. The letter came,
but all it said was: "Thanks, I like the cheese very much."
Rossini had a fastidious palate, and declared that he could himself
cook rice and macaroni better than any one he knew. It was his joke
to say that he and Meyerbeer could never agree because Meyerbeer liked
sauerkraut better than macaroni.
He had scant respect
for most of his brother composers. He seldom went to the Opera, but
he went once to hear "Tannhauser," and when asked his opinion
of it, said: "It is too important and elaborate to be judged after
a single hearing, but I shall not give it a second." Somebody once
handed him the score of another Wagner music-drama, and presently remarked
that he was holding the music upside down. "Well," he replied,
"I have already read it the other way, and am trying this, as I
can make nothing of it." He conceived the idea that Meyerbeer did
not like him, and meeting his brother composer one day, he laid off
a long catalogue of his (Rossini’s) physical ills, declaring he
felt sure he had not long to live. After they parted, a friend who had
been with Rossini remonstrated with him for his levity. "Well,"
he said, "it is every good man’s duty to contribute to the
peace and comfort of his fellow-man; and you know nothing would delight
Meyerbeer more than to hear of my early decease."
Such was the composer
of "The Barber" and "Tell." He had a tremendous
vogue at one period, and even overshadowed Beethoven. The number of
his operas, mostly forgotten now, is prodigious. But the fever long
raged. Of thirteen operas performed at the King’s Theatre, London,
in 1826, eight were by Rossini. All over Europe Rossini was conqueror
-- in popularity the Wagner of his time.
born Feb. 29, 1792,
Pesaro, Papal States [Italy]
died Nov. 13, 1868, Passy, near Paris, France
noted for his operas, particularly his comic operas, of which The Barber
of Seville (1816), Cinderella (1817), and Semiramide (1823) are among
the best known. Of his later, larger scale dramatic operas, the most
widely heard is William Tell (1829).
Gioacchino Rossini was the son of Giuseppe Rossini, an impoverished
trumpeter who played in miscellaneous bands and orchestras, and Anna
Guidarini, a singer of secondary roles. Thus Rossini spent his entire
childhood in the theatre. Though a lazy student, the young Rossini found
it easy to learn to sing and play. At the age of 14 he entered Bologna's
Philharmonic School (now the G.B. Martini State Conservatory of Music)
and composed his first opera seria—Demetrio e Polibio (1806; staged
in 1812)—for the Mombelli, a family of singers. At 15 he had learned
the violin, horn, and harpsichord and had often sung in public, even
in the theatre, to earn some money.
When his voice broke and he was unable to continue singing, Rossini
became an accompanist and then a conductor. He had already realized
the importance of the German school of composition, perceiving the new
elements by which Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had enriched
music. These influences can be found in the early cantata he wrote for
the Philharmonic School, performed there in 1808. During the next 20
years (from 1808) this genial lazybones was to compose more than 40
By taste, and soon by obligation, Rossini threw himself into the genre
then fashionable: opera buffa (comic opera). His first opera buffa,
La cambiale di matrimonio (1810; The Bill of Marriage), was performed
in Venice and had a certain success, although his unusual orchestration
made the singers indignant. Back in Bologna again, he gave the cantata
La morte di Didone (1811; The Death of Dido) in homage to the Mombelli
family, who had helped him so much, and he scored a triumph with the
two-act opera buffa L'equivoca stravagante (1811; The Extravagant Misunderstanding).
The following year, two more of his comic operas were produced in Venice.
Rossini had already broken the traditional form of opera buffa: he embellished
his melodies (he was the true creator of bel canto, a florid style of
singing), animated his ensembles and finales, used unusual rhythms,
restored to the orchestra its rightful place, and put the singer at
the service of the music. In 1812 Rossini wrote the oratorio Ciro in
Babilonia (Cyrus in Babylon) and La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder),
another comic opera.
The same year, Marietta Marcolini, who had already sung in Rossini's
operas and who was interested in the young composer, recommended Rossini
to the committee of La Scala opera house in Milan. It was under contract
to them that he wrote La pietra del paragone (1812; The Touchstone),
a touchstone of his budding genius. In its finale, Rossini—for
the first time—made use of the crescendo effect that he was later
to use and abuse indiscriminately.
By this time Rossini's experience in writing seven operas and several
cantatas and his intimate contact with the theatre had given him a profound
knowledge of his profession. Singers no longer held terrors for him.
He was now ready for his major works. Venice, the most refined city
in Italy, was to offer him his true glory. After the comic opera Il
signor Bruschino (1813), written for the San Moisè Theatre, he
next wrote—for La Fenice—his first serious opera, Tancredi
(1813), in which he tried to reform opera seria (the formula-ridden,
serious operas of the 18th century), and he composed an authentically
dramatic score. This work, spirited and melodious, was an instant success.
Tancredi's famous song, “Di tanti palpiti,” was whistled
all over town. The success of L'Italiana in Algeri (1813; The Italian
Girl in Algiers) followed, showing further refinements in his reforms
of opera buffa. These two successes opened wide the doors of La Scala.
With Aureliano in Palmira (1814) the composer affirmed his authority
over the singers; he decided to prescribe and write the ornaments for
his arias, but the work was not a success. After L'Italiana he wrote
Il Turco in Italia (1814; The Turk in Italy) for the Milanese and a
cantata for Princess Belgioioso, “one of the most likeable of
protectresses,” as the French novelist Stendhal referred to her.
His next work, Sigismundo (1814), was a failure.
Rossini's fame soon spread to Naples, where the reigning impresario
was Domenico Barbaia, an ambitious former coffeehouse waiter, who by
gambling and running a gaming house had amassed a fortune and was now
in charge of the two great Neapolitan theatres. Barbaia realized Rossini's
growing fame and went to Bologna to offer him a contract. Impressed
by the terms of this contract—security, two operas a year—as
well as by Barbaia, a millionaire rather than the customary fourth-rate
impresario on the verge of bankruptcy, Rossini did not hesitate to accept.
How could anyone refuse a tempting impresario whose favourite was none
other than the imposing diva Isabella Colbran?
Colbran's first Rossini opera, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra (1815;
Elizabeth, Queen of England), was a triumphant success. Rossini admired
Colbran very much and soon fell in love with her. The brilliant success
of Elisabetta prompted an invitation from Rome to spend the carnival
season of 1816. The first of Rossini's Rome operas was unsuccessful.
So was the second, Almaviva, soon to become Il barbiere di Siviglia
(1816; The Barber of Seville). The Romans, who knew and loved Giovanni
Paisiello's version of Eugène de Beaumarchais's play, took a
dislike to this new setting, but when it was given elsewhere in Italy
it was received with unbounded success. Written in 16 days, the work
is a piece of inspired inventiveness that has delighted opera lovers
ever since. There followed La cenerentola (1817; Cinderella). As with
The Barber, this work uses a contralto for the heroine's role (though
both roles are often sung by sopranos); it proved no less successful.
In between these two comedies came Otello (1816; Othello), a setting
of William Shakespeare's play that held the stage until superseded by
Giuseppe Verdi's greater opera of the same name. La gazza ladra (1817;
The Thieving Magpie), a semiserious work, was a triumph in Milan.
Armida, a grand opera requiring a trio of tenors and a dramatic soprano
(Colbran), appeared in 1817. Rossini was now finding interpreters that
suited his music. Colbran, the tenor Manuel Garcia, the bass Filippo
Galli (“the most beautiful voice in Italy”), and the contralto
Benedetta Pisaroni (whose art had no equal in depth) were his usual
exponents and carried forward his art of bel canto.
La donna del lago (based on Sir Walter Scott's poem “The Lady
of the Lake”) failed at its premiere in 1819 but soon came into
favour. After several more-or-less successful works, he left Naples
for Vienna, along with Colbran (whom he had just married), anxious to
meet Ludwig van Beethoven. Disappointed by the economic situation of
the composer of Fidelio, he returned to Venice, where he attempted to
crown his Italian career with Semiramide (1823). The old-fashioned Venetians,
however, did not understand the astonishing work, his longest and most
ambitious, and so he resolved not to write another note for his countrymen.
Following his resolution, he decided to leave Italy.
Rich, married, unstable, and by nature an epicurean, Rossini wanted
to travel. He arrived in Paris in November 1823 and was enthusiastically
welcomed in the French capital. The Academy in Paris received him; all
of the town fawned upon him. At the end of the year, he visited London,
where he conducted and sang in concerts with his wife and met King George
IV. Back in Paris, he embarrassed the old musicians. “Rossini,”
wrote the Escudier brothers, Paris music publishers,
was then 31 years old and in his prime. His countenance revealed a lofty
and congenial expression. His subtle, quick penetrating eye held one
magnetically before him. His smile, benevolent and caustic at the same
time, reflected his whole disposition. The clear line of his aquiline
nose, his vast and prominent brow, which his prematurely receding hairline
entirely revealed, the even oval of his face enclosed in jet-black sideburns,
all formed a kind of virile and fascinating beauty. He has a marvelously
shaped hand, which he displayed somewhat coquettishly through his cuff.
He dressed in a simple manner, and, under his clothes, which were more
proper than elegant, the appearance of a newly disembarked provincial
into the capital.
If the old nicknamed
him “Monsieur Crescendo,” the young very quickly paraded
their admiration for him. Paris was then the centre of the world and
Rossini knew it. After some of his works had been staged, he composed
Il viaggio a Reims (“The Journey to Reims”), a cantata improvised
for the coronation of Charles X.
For a long while Rossini hoped to modify his style: to replace the comparative
artificiality and coldness of florid opera coloratura with declamatory
and lofty singing—that is, with truth and intensity. In order
to do that, he also had to reform the orchestra and give more importance
to the chorus. Thus appeared Le Siège de Corinthe (The Siege
of Corinth, 1826), a revision of the earlier Maometto II (1820), which
was saluted by the prominent composer Hector Berlioz. Le Siège
was followed by Moïse (Moses, 1827) and Le Comte Ory (Count Ory,
1828), an adaptation of opera buffa style to French opera.
Rossini's final opera, Guillaume Tell (William Tell), is on the noble
themes of nationalism and liberty, and his music is worthy of the elevated
subject. The Parisian public gave him an ovation, and, in a single work,
he had responded to all the critics in the most elegant manner. Then
he decided, at the age of 37, not to write again for the theatre. Tell
was to have been the first of five operas for the Opéra, but
the new government following the Revolution of 1830 set aside Rossini's
The reasons for his musical silence remain only suppositions. Some cite
his legendary laziness as the cause, while others point to the Parisian
hostility to his work and Rossini's resulting sulkiness. Another cause
might have been his jealousy over the Parisian success of the opera
composer Giacomo Meyerbeer.
In 1845, Colbran died. In 1847 Rossini married Olympe Pélissier.
During his retirement he had written, returning to his first love, some
religious pieces: the Stabat Mater (1832) and Petite messe solennelle
(1864). He also wrote a few songs and piano pieces but never agreed
to their publication.
After a period in Italy, he returned to Paris in 1855, never again to
leave it. His parents being deceased, his new wife less demanding than
the preceding one, and he himself a wealthy man whose retirement was
assured, Rossini gave way to the sweetness of life and to being a wise
man who permitted himself to shine in society with a few clever expressions
and witticisms. His bons mots, in fact, are legendary, as were his caustic
wit and low humour. At his Paris home and later at his villa in Passy,
Rossini gave superb gourmet dinners attended by many of the greats of
the musical and literary world of the mid-19th century. In 1860 the
renowned German composer Richard Wagner visited him, and their fascinating
conversation was recorded by Wagner in his essay “Eine Erinnerung
an Rossini” (“A Memory of Rossini”).
For years Rossini was known virtually only by the omnipresent Barber
of Seville and an occasional revival of William Tell. From the 1950s
more and more of his operas were revived, particularly at festivals,
and nearly always with public and critical acclaim.