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Rossini, Gioachino (29th February 1792-13th November 1868)

He was a composer born Gioachino Antonio Rossini in Pesaro, Italy.  He came from a musical family where his father was a horn player and his mother was a singer.

He received his musical education from his parents when he was very young and by the time he was just six years old he was allowed to be the triangle player with his father’s ensemble.  However, this would change by the time he was seven as his father was imprisoned in 1799 for being a French Revolution sympathiser.  His mother moved the family to Bologna where she sang in theatres to earn money and he would often be left being cared for by his grandmother.  However, by 1800 his father was granted his release and went to join them.  He was then cared for by a pork butcher while both his parents performed in the theatre as well as being given further musical education as a harpsichord student for three years.

He went on to become a blacksmith’s apprentice and received music lessons in piano accompaniment, reading music on sight and singing to a level where he became a soloist in church when he was ten.  Thanks to his father’s influence he was also a competent horn player.

His work as a composer also started while still young and in 1804, when he was twelve, he wrote six string sonatas in three days.  The following year he sang in a production of Camilla by Ferdinando Paer.  Within the next year he wrote individual music pieces for Vincenza Mombelli’s libretto Demetrio e Polibio.  Although this would officially be his first opera it premiered as his sixth after five others had already been staged when he was twenty.

He entered the Conservatorio di Bologna in 1806 to study cello.  The next year he also entered a class in counterpoint which he didn’t enjoy so much and the strict rules of his teacher pushed him towards the idea of composition in a freer style.  While at Bologna his work in writing scores for Haydn and Mozart’s works found him being nicknamed “Il Tedeschino” or “The Little German”.  He also won a prize for a cantata at the Conservatorio which was entitled Il Pianto d’Armonia Sulla Morte d’Orfeo.

When he was eighteen in 1810 he travelled to various areas in Italy and wrote the operas La Cambiale di Matrimonio, Il Signor Bruschino and La Pietra del Paragone in Venice, Romeand Milan.  By 1813 his L’Italiana in Algeri and Tancredi were attracting so much attention that he became internationally known and an operatic idol in Italy.

In 1815 he returned home to Bologna and then was given a lucrative contract to write an opera a year and made musical director of both the Teatro del Fondo and Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. His ElisabettaRegina d’Inghilterra was favourably received and the singer Isabella Colbran who appeared in it would later become his wife in 1822.

The following year, in 1816 he wrote what would become possibly his most famous opera.  It was unsuccessful on its first showing in Rome when it was entitled Almaviva and likened to Barbiere by Giovanni Paisello.  It only took another two or three performances, however, to be renamed The Barber of Seville and became a massive hit with the audience of the time and still performed today.   Just a few years later in 1822 he met Ludwig van Beethoven who congratulated him on this opera.  That same year he married Isabella Colbran and after spending some time in Vienna, Austria, he returned to his hometown of Bologna.  In October 1822 he appeared at the Congress of Verona by invitation.

By 1823 he had composed 20 operas including La Cenerentola (Cinderella) and Mose in Egitto and was recognised for being a pioneer of adapting serious literary works where he turned the opera into a musical drama with an example being Otello. This is the same year he performed in Paris and was introduced to King George IV after being invited to Britainto perform at the King’s Theatre in London.

In 1824 he returned to France and joined Paris’s Theatre des Italiens as its musical director, where he stayed until 1829.  His success there brought him a contract from Charles X to write five new operas in the space of a year, after which he would receive a lifelong pension.

The final opera he wrote while in Paris was Guillame Tell (William Tell) was over four hours long and it now rarely performed in its complete state.  However, it is very well known for its overture which has been used many times over the years as theme music and in commercials.

By 1829 he was aged 37 and had written 38 operas and it was then that he had decided to return to Bologna to be with his father after his mother had passed away in 1827. He briefly returned to Paris in 1830 but by that time Charles X had abdicated after the July Revolution.

In 1832, with his opera writing day behind him, he became relatively secluded but he did compose six movements of his Stabat Mater with a further six written by Giovanni Tadoliniat Rossini’s request.  After a period of nine years, however, he did eventually complete the score in 1841.

In 1845 his wife, Isabella, died after they had been separated for several years and the next year he got married to the artist’s model Olympe Pelissier. He and his wife left Bologna in 1848 and after residing in Florence for a while they moved to Paris, where they settled in 1855.

His time in Paris saw him almost completely retiring as a composer and moving onto his love of food as a chef and a gourmand.  Indeed, there are several dishes that were created for him including the steak course Tournedos Rossini which is still served today.

He did, however, continue to write small pieces of music for private use over the last years of his life, often for solo piano.  Some of these were published in the collection Peches de Viellesse (Sins of Old Age).  He also wrote the choral work Petite Messe Solennelle and a cantata for the Exhibition Universelle.

After several years of physical and mental health problems he passed away in Passy, France, on November 1868 suffering from pneumonia.  He was buried in Paris but later returned to Italy by request of the government where he has now been laid to rest in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.  Aside from leaving individual bequests to his family he left the rest of his fortune to the town of Pesaro where he was born.  The town used it to establish a music conservatory which became the Conservatorio Statale di Musica“Gioachino Rossini” in 1940.  It was an original sponsor of the Rossini Opera Festival, which it still supports today.  The Prix Rossini is also a bequest provided by his estate and has been given exclusively to young French librettists and composers since the death of his widow in 1878.

Glen Campbell recordings
The William Tell Overture (Gioachino Rossini)
Capital 4376 (S93526) (US 45)