1902 Encyclopedia > Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini
Italian operatic composer

VINCENZO BELLINI, one of the most celebrated operatic composers of the modern Italian school, was born at Catania in Sicily, November 3, 1802. He was descended from a family of musicians, both his father and grandfather having been composers of some reputation. After having received his preparatory musical education at home, he entered the conservatoire of Naples, where he studied singing and composition under Tritto and Zingarelli. He soon began to write pieces for various instruments, as well as a cantata and several masses and other sacred compositions. His first opera, Adelson e Savina, was performed in 1824 at a small theatre of Naples ; his second dramatic work, Bianca e Fernando, saw the light two years later at the San Carlo theatre of the same city, and made his name known in Italy. His next work, II Pirata, was written for the celebrated Scala theatre in Milan, to words by Felice Romano, with whom Bellini formed a union of friendship to be severed only by his death. The splendid rendering of the music by Tamburini, Rubini, and other great Italian singers, contributed greatly to the success of the work, which at once established the European reputation of its composer. Almost every year of the short remainder of his life witnessed the production of a new operatic work, each of which was received with rapture by the audiences of France, Italy, Germany, and England, and some of which retain their place on the stage up to the present day. We mention the names and dates of four of Bellini's operas familiar to most lovers of modern Italian music, viz. :—I Montecchi e Capuleti (1829), in which the part of Romeo has been a favourite with all the great contraltos of the last seventy years; La Sonnambula (1831); Norma, Bellini's best and most popular creation (1832), and I Purltani (1834), written for the Italian opera in Paris, and to some extent under the influence of French music. In 1833 Bellini had left his country to accompany to England the great singer Pasta, who had created the part of his Sonnambula. In 1834 he accepted an invitation to write an opera for the national Grand Opera in Paris. While he was carefully studying the French language and the cadence of French verse for the purpose, he was seized with a sudden illness and died at his villa in Puteaux near Paris, September 21, 1835. This unexpected interruption of a career so brilliant sheds, as it were, a gloom of sadness over the whole of Bellini's life, a sadness which, moreover, was foreshadowed by the character of his works. His operatic creations are throughout replete with a spirit of gentle melancholy, frequently monotonous and almost always undramatic, but at the same time irresistibly sweet, and almost disarming the stern demands of higher criticism which otherwise would be compelled to reprove the absence of both dramatic vigour and musical depth. To the feature just mentioned^ combined with a rich flow of cantilena, Bellini's operas owe their popularity, and will owe it as long as the audiences of our large theatres are willing to tolerate outrages on rhyme and reason if sung by a beautiful voice to a pleasing tune. In so far, however, as the defects of Bellini's style are characteristic of the school to which he belongs, they fall to be considered in a general treatment of the whole subject. See MUSIC.

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