Google Celebrates 220th Gioachino Rossini Birthday at February 29, 1792 — November 13, 1868
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 opera Tancredi.
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 heritage.
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.