1902 Encyclopedia > Gioacchino Antonio Rossini

Gioacchino Antonio Rossini
Italian operatic composer

GIOACHINO ANTONIO ROSSINI (1792-1868), Italian dramatic composer, was born at Pesaro, February 29, 1792. He first studied music under Angelo Tesei, and that so successfully that he was able to sing solos in church when only ten years old, and three years later to appear at the opera house as Adolfo, in Paer's Camilla. He was next placed under a retired tenor, named Babbini, and on the breaking of his voice he entered the Liceo at Bologna for the purpose of studying counterpoint under Mattei. On his departure from the school, Mattei, who was not pleased with his progress, told him that he knew enough counter-point to enable him to write in the free style, but that he was quite unfit for the composition of church music. "Do I know enough to write operas?" asked Rossini. " Quite enough," was the reply. " Then," said the boy, "I care to know no more." But in truth his wonderful instinct had taught him a great deal more than either he or Mattei suspected. Rossini's first opera, La Cambiale di matrimonio, was produced with success at the Teatro San Mosè at Venice in 1810. In 1811 he produced L'Equivoco stravagante, at Bologna; but his first real triumph was achieved at Venice in 1812, in L'Inganno felice, a work in which his genius unmistakably asserted itself. In the same year he produced La Pietra del Paragone, with equal applause, at Milan, besides four other operas in other places. These pieces were all successful, but Tancredi, written for the Teatro San Fenice at Venice, in 1813, produced a veritable furore. The name of the young maestro was now famous ; yet, strange to say, his greatest comic opera was hissed on its first performance at Borne in 1816. This delightful inspiration, first entitled Alma-viva, but now known as II Barbiere di Siviglia, was founded on a libretto which Paisiello had already treated with success, and hence the refusal of the Eoman audience to tolerate it. But the beauty of the music overcame the scruples of the most prejudiced listeners, and, by the time the Barbiere reached its third representation, Rossini was openly accepted as the greatest dramatic composer in Italy. Between 1815 and 1823 Bossini composed no less than twenty operas, including his masterpieces Elisabetta (1815), 11 Barbiere (1816), Otello (1816), La Cenerentola (1817), La Gazza Ladra (1817), Mosè in Egitto (1818), Le Donna del Lago (1819), and Semiramide (1823), the last of which has lately been revived, with so great success, by Madame Adelina Patti.

Rossini visited England in 1823, and in 1824 accepted an engagement as musical director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris, where, in 1829, he produced his last great masterpiece, Guillaume Tell. After completing this beautiful work, he composed no more until 1832, when he wrote the first six movements of the Stabat Mater for private performance only. He completed this lovely composition in 1839, and it was first publicly performed at the Salle Ventadour in 1842. In 1855 he settled permanently in Paris, at 2 Bue Chaussée dAntin, where he composed his last work, the Petite Messe Solennelle, which was first privately performed at the house of M. Pillet Will, March 16, 1864, and posthumously produced at the Théâtre Italien February 28, 1869. Rossini was twice married—to Isabella Colbran in 1821, and in 1847 to Olympe Pelissier. After his final return to Paris he spent a part of every year in a suburban villa in the Avenue Ingres, at Passy, and here he died of a very painful illness, November 13, 1868. He was buried at the church of the Trinité, November 21, with every possible honour. He was a foreign associate of the Institute, " grand officer of the Legion of Honour," the recipient of innumerable orders, and a member of innumerable musical institutions. Honour was justly lavished upon him ; and, though his career was not free from temporary misfortunes, probably no man of genius ever lived a happier life, or enjoyed more fully the appreciation both of brother artists and the general public.

Rossini effected a complete revolution in the style of Italian opera. His accompaniments were richer than any that had ever been previously heard in Italy, and in their masterly instrumentation rivalled some of the most notable achievements of German art. His use of the crescendo and the "cabaletta," though sometimes carried to excess, gave a brilliancy to his music which added greatly to the excellence of its effect. He first accompanied his recitatives with the stringed orchestra in Elisabetta, and with stringed and wind instruments combined in Otello. And his overtures are by far the most masterly and complete compositions of the kind that the Italian school has ever produced.

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