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Summary Article: Rossini, Gioacchino Antonio
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Italian composer. His first success was the opera Tancredi in 1813. In 1816 his opera buffa (comic opera) Il barbiere di Siviglia/The Barber of Seville was produced in Rome. He was the most successful opera composer of his time, producing 20 operas in the period 1815–23. He also created (with Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini) the 19th-century Italian operatic style.

After Guillaume Tell/William Tell (1829), Rossini gave up writing opera and his later years were spent in Bologna and Paris. Among the works of this period are the Stabat Mater (1842) and the piano music arranged for ballet by Ottorino Respighi as La boutique fantasque/The Fantastic Toyshop (1919).

Rossini was born in Pesaro; his father was a horn and trumpet player, his mother an occasional singer. He learnt piano, singing, and harmony at an early age and sang in churches and theatres; at 13 he was employed as an accompanist at the theatre; at 14, when he had already tried his hand at an opera and other works, he entered the Bologna Liceo Musicale, studying counterpoint and cello. In 1808 he won a prize with a cantata and in 1810 had his first comic opera, La cambiale di matrimonio, produced at Venice. From that time he went from success to success, beginning with Tancredi at Venice in 1813. However, Il barbiere di Siviglia was initially a failure when first performed in Rome in 1816. The two sides of Rossini's creative genius were now well established: the wit, liveliness, and elaborate vocal writing of his comic operas and the considerable dramatic power of his serious works, each in its own distinctive musical ‘colour’. His huge popular following was consolidated by Otello (1816), La Cenerentola in 1817 and Mosè in Egitto in 1818 (later revised for Paris). Mosè was premiered in Naples and was one of six remarkable serious operas produced there in only five years, the others being Armida, Ermione, La donna del lago, Maometto II, and Zelmira; each of these works has only recently been revived.

His first great foreign success came during a visit to Vienna in 1822; he met Beethoven and saw his own operas achieve greater acclaim with the Viennese than any Austrian work. In the same year he married the Portuguese singer Isabella Colbran; she had already created leading roles in Elisabetta, Otello, Mosè in Egitto, and Armida. At Venice in 1823 she sang the title role in Rossini's last opera written for the Italian stage, Semiramide. Rossini and his wife went to Paris and to London that year, remaining in England until July 1824 and being well received at court. He wrote a lament for eight voices on the death of the poet Byron.

On returning to Paris, Rossini was appointed director of the Théâtre Italien, where he produced one new work and two revised works, followed by a French comic opera, Le Comte Ory, and finally Guillaume Tell (1829) at the Opéra. The strain of composing Guillaume Tell brought on a prolonged period of ill health; thereafter, although aged only 37, he gave up opera and lived alternately at Bologna and Paris. In the early 1830s he met Olympe Pélissier and entered into a liaison with her. His separation from Isabella was made legal in 1837 and she died in 1845. He married Olympe in August 1846. Serious illness affected him during this period, but he completed the Stabat Mater (1832–42). In 1839 he was commissioned to reform the Liceo Musicale at Bologna, where he had once been a pupil. He worked there at intervals until 1848, when he left for Florence, to remain until 1855, leaving Italy for the last time for Paris that year. In his retirement he wrote many small pieces for the entertainment of his friends and in 1863 the Petite Messe solennelle; his musical soirées were much sought after by fashionable society and contemporary musicians.

For many years Rossini's comic operas have overshadowed his serious works, but recent productions have helped to produce a more balanced view of his output.

WorksOperaTancredi (1813), L'Italiana in Algeri (1813), Il barbiere di Siviglia/The Barber of Seville (after Beaumarchais, 1816), Otello (last act after Shakespeare, 1816), La Cenerentola (1817), La gazza ladra (1817), Armida (1818), Mosè in Egitto (1818), Semiramide (1823), Il viaggio a Reims (1825), Le Comte Ory (1828), Guillaume Tell (after Schiller, 1829).

Church musicMessa di Gloria (1820), Stabat Mater (1842), Petite Messe solennelle (1863), and some shorter sacred pieces.

OtherPéchés de vieillesse/Sins of Old Age, small piano pieces, songs, and six string quartets.


Rossini, Gioacchino Antonio


Rossini, Gioacchino William Tell Overture

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