Gioacchino Antonio Rossini
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Rossini, Gioacchino Antonio(jōäk-kē`nō äntô`nyō rōs-sē`nē), 1792–1868, Italian operatic composer, one of the great masters of the Italian opera buffa. His parents were both musicians, and he began his career in childhood as a singer. He received his first formal musical education at the Liceo Comunale of Bologna, where one of his early cantatas was performed. Rossini's first comic opera, La Cambiale de Matrimonio, was produced in Venice in 1810, and it was followed by a series of lively works, culminating in his masterpiece, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville, 1816). Based on the comedy by Beaumarchais, the opera resounds with Rossini's brilliant arias, ensemble numbers, and his famous crescendos. Among his many other operas are L'italiana in Algeri (1813), La Cenerentola (1817), and Semiramide (1823). In 1824, Rossini became the director of the Théâtre-Italien in Paris. After the production of his William Tell at the Paris Opéra in 1829, he stopped composing operas, and during the remaining 39 years of his life he wrote only songs, piano pieces, and a setting of the Stabat Mater (1842), in which his operatic style is still evident.
See biographies by Stendhal (1822, repr. 1982), F. Toye (1934, repr. 1987), and H. Weinstock (1968, 2d ed. 1987).
Rossini, Gioacchino Antonio
Born Feb. 29, 1792, in Pesaro; died Nov. 13, 1868, in Passy, near Paris. (Buried in Florence in 1887.) Italian composer.
Rossini’s parents were musicians. His father played the trumpet and French horn, and his mother was a singer. As a child Rossini studied voice, harpsichord, violin, and music theory. Endowed with a good voice, he sang in church choirs and performed as an accompanist and chorus conductor in opera theaters. He received a systematic education in music at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna (1806–10), where he studied cello with V. Cavedagni and counterpoint with S. Mattei. In 1806 he entered the Liceo Filarmonico, an academy of music in Bologna. He made his debut as an operatic composer in 1810, winning renown for the Venice production of Marriage by Promissory Note. Under contract to impresarios in Bologna, Venice, and other cities, he wrote several musical dramas a year. These operas, including La Scala di Seta (The Silk Ladder; 1812, Venice) and La Pietra del Peragone (The Touchstone; 1812, Milan), provide evidence of the development of Rossini’s creative individuality. Reformist tendencies emerged in the opera seria Tancredi and the opera buffa L’Italiana in Algeri (both 1813), to which Rossini imparted a contemporary heroic patriotic resonance and in which he made use of new expressive means. The innovations were enthusiastically welcomed by the public, which was caught up in the growing national liberation movement of the Italian people against Austrian oppression. In 1815, at the request of the patriots of Bologna, Rossini wrote the Hymn of Independence entitled “Rise, Italy, Your Time Has Come,” which was performed under his direction. For many years Rossini was under surveillance by the Austrian police.
Rossini’s predilection for an impassioned style, for the dramatization of the opera seria, and for its transformation into popular heroic music was revealed in a number of operas written between 1815 and 1820 for Neapolitan impresarios, primarily for the San Carlo theater—Othello (based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, 1816), Moses in Egypt (1818), Maometto II (based on Voltaire’s tragedy, 1820), and Zelmira (1822). The composer’s stylistic preferences, as revealed in these operas, explain the predominance of choral ensemble scenes, continuous musical development, and dramatic characterization in his work.
Rossini also transformed opera buffa, saturating works of this genre with realistic content. His talent for musical comedy was most brilliantly displayed in The Barber of Seville (1816, Rome), a masterpiece of Italian comic opera created in 19–20 days. Rossini strove for the dramaturgic and graphic renewal of comic opera, writing musical comedies of everyday life (the lyric comic opera Cinderella, 1817, Rome) and realistic musical dramas (the “semiserious” opera The Thieving Magpie, 1817, Milan). The interpenetration of genres was characteristic of Rossini’s work: dramatic and even tragic situations appear in comic operas, and episodes from everyday life appear in the opera seria. Rossini freely used the rhythms and intonation of Italian folk songs and dances, various everyday musical genres, and the richest possibilities of bel canto in his operas.
Semiramide, the last opera written by Rossini for the cause of Italy, was staged in Venice in 1823. In 1824 the composer settled in Paris, where he was musical director of the Théâtre-Italien and from 1826, royal composer and inspector-general of singing. After studying French operatic art, he revised Maometto II and Moses in Egypt, which were produced in Paris under new titles—The Siege of Corinth (1826) and Moses (1827). Rossini wrote several French comic operas, including Le ComteOry(1828). He assimilated a great deal of French musical culture, but he also greatly influenced French operatic composers.
In 1829, Rossini created his last opera, William Tell, inspired by the social upsurge on the eve of the July Revolution of 1830 in France. The work played a prominent role in the development of the grand opera. The best of Rossini’s popular heroic operas, William Tell treats the heroic spirit in a new way. The work was permeated with the spirit of patriotism sparked by the dream of liberating the homeland. Because the work was suppressed by censors in monarchist countries, it was necessary to change the title and libretto. In Russian it was staged as Charles the Bold.
Having composed about 40 operas, Rossini retired from operatic work after completing William Tell and turned to writing piano and vocal miniatures. Among his large-scale works of this period were the Stabat Mater (1842) and the Petite Messe solennelle (1864). From 1836 to 1855 he lived in Bologna and Florence, serving as director of the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. In 1855 he settled again in Paris, where his home became one of the most prestigious music salons.
Rossini had a decisive influence on the subsequent development of opera, especially the work of Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. He also influenced the evolution of 19th-century European operatic art. The inexhaustible melodic richness, lightness, sparkle, and expressiveness of Rossini’s music, as well as its brilliant theatrical effectiveness, have made his operas popular throughout the world.
REFERENCESSerov, A. N. “Rossini: Kriticheskii ocherk.” In his book Izbr. stat’i, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Bronfin, E. F. Dzhoakkino Rossini: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo ν materialakh i dokumentakh. Moscow, 1973.
Radiciotti, G. Gioacchino Rossini: Vita documentata, opere ed influenza su l’arte, vols. 1–3. Tivoli, 1927–29.
Weinstock, H. Rossini: A Biography. New York, 1968.
E. F. BRONFIN