Gioachino Rossini

Biographical sketch and opera chronology

Rossini Experience


Rossini is born in Pesaro on 29th February, son of Giuseppe Rossini, known as “Vivazza”, and Anna Guidarini. His father, who comes from Lugo di Romagna, has been in Pesaro since the end of 1788, but he does not establish himself there permanently until 1790, following a brief residence in Ferrara. He plays the horn and trumpet in the town band and in the theatres.


At the beginning of February Napoleon’s armies occupy Pesaro during their first Italian campaign of 1796-1797. Giuseppe sides with the French, but when the papal government is restored he is forced to flee.


Giuseppe unsuccessfully tries to establish himself as a theatrical impresario, whilst Anna exploits her natural musical gifts, which until now she has only shown off in private performances to friends, singing in the theatres of the Marche and Emilia Romagna. Her career will last until 1808. During this period Gioachino follows his parents around from town to town.


Giuseppe is arrested in Bologna, taken back to Pesaro, tried as a revolutionary and sent to prison.


The Rossini family moves to Bologna. Gioachino is sent to Giuseppe Prinetti, who gives him his first lessons in music on a spinet.


In the Carnival Season the not yet nine year-old Gioachino takes his place in the viola section of the orchestra at the Teatro della Fortuna in Fano, on which occasion his mother is singing in the opera.


Yet another move takes the Rossini family to Lugo, where Gioachino is sent to the canon Don Giuseppe Malerbi, who teaches him figured bass and composition.


Whilst he is passing his summer holidays he was a guest of the landowner and amateur double bass player Agostino Triossi at Conventello, near Ravenna. Late in life he attributed the Sei sonate a quattro (actually in 1808) to this period. He also performed as a singer in Imola.


He plays the role of little Adolfo in Ferdinando Paër’s Camilla ossia il sotterraneo, performed during the Autumn Season at the Teatro del Corso, Bologna.


After having had some lessons from Padre Angelo Tesei, on the 14th April he is enrolled at the Liceo Musicale of Bologna, only recently founded (1804), both in the piano class and in Vincenzo Cavedagna’s ‘cello class, and subsequently in Padre Stanislao Mattei’s counterpoint class. He sings the contralto role of Mary Magdalen in Mattei’s oratorio La passione di Cristo when this is performed at the Liceo, and also sings in several private concerts. Later, Rossini dates the composition of his first opera, Demetrio e Polibio (commissioned by the Mombelli family) to this period, actually written in later years and not performed until 1812.
He is accepted into the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna as a cantor or singer, and there first meets Isabella Colbran, his future wife, who is also singing for the Accademia.


He is engaged as “maestro al cembalo” in the Spring Season at the theatre in Faenza, where his father is the first horn (“primo corno da caccia”). His name is missing from the registers of the ‘cello, piano and counterpoint classes at the Bologna Liceo from the middle of December until the middle of March 1808.


This is a year of intense work for the young composer who, besides writing the two Overtures known as Al Conventello and Obbligata a contrabasso, presents himself to the public for the first time with the cantata Il pianto di Armonia sulla morte di Orfeo, composed as an end of term exercise and performed at the Liceo Musicale on the 11th August. His Bologna years also bear witness to the birth of at least one sacred works: the Messa di Ravenna, whilst it has now been established that the so-called Rimini Mass is not authentic.


The teachers of the Liceo entrust him with the composition of a Sinfonia a più strumenti obbligati and a Sinfonia concertata for the annual end of year prize-giving at the Liceo, and these are performed on 28th August. He is engaged as “maestro al cembalo” for the Carnival Season of 1809-10 at the Teatro Comunale, Ferrara and the Teatro Comunale, Bologna.


In his capacity as “maestro al cembalo” he performs in two concerts at the Accademia dei Concordi at Bologna on 9th April and 25th May. On 3rd November 1810 his first one-act comic opera (or farsa) La cambiale di matrimonio, to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, is performed at the Teatro San Moisè, Venice. The success of the work earns him a contract to write a comic opera for the Teatro del Corso, Bologna.


In May he conducts Haydn’s Seasons at the Liceo. In the Autumn Season at the Teatro del Corso he is engaged as “maestro al cembalo e direttore dei cori” for Pavesi’s Ser Marcantonio (21 September), whilst his “dramma giocoso” L’equivoco stravagante is produced without success on 26th October, then withdrawn after the third performance because of censorship problems. During this same season he also conducts Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia and Domenico Puccini’s Quinto Fabio, into which he inserts an aria that he has composed for Maria Marcolini. During the dress rehearsal of the latter (8 November) he gets into an altercation with the choristers, whom he threatens with his stick, and is led off to prison.


During the course of this year five operas see the light of day (six, if we include Demetrio e Polibio, performed in Rome at the Teatro Valle on the 18th May): three one-act comic operas given at the Teatro San Moisè, Venice, L’inganno felice (8th January), La scala di seta (9th May) and L’occasione fa il ladro (24th November). He also composes his first opera seria, Ciro in Babilonia, ossia La caduta di Baldassarre (Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, Lent Season); and has an opera performed for the first time at La Scala, Milan, a great two-act comic opera entitled La pietra del paragone, libretto by Luigi Romanelli (26 September), whose success – it seems – earned him exemption from military service. Between this year and the next, he wrote the Messa di Milano.


Rossini’s career continues busily in northern Italy: the clamorous fiasco of Il signor Bruschino, ossia Il figlio per azzardo (Teatro San Moisè, Venice, 27th January) is more than made up for shortly after by the triumphs of Tancredi (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 6th February) and L’Italiana in Algeri (Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, 22nd May); on 26th December Aureliano in Palmira, Rossini’s first collaboration with the librettist Giuseppe Felice Romani, flops at La Scala.


Il Turco in Italia, another setting of a Romani libretto, is coldly received by the La Scala audience on 14th August because they suspect that this dramma buffo is merely a re-working of L’ItalianaSigismondo fares no better (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 26th December).


On 5th April at the Teatro Contavalli, Bologna he conducts the Inno dell’indipendenza to words by Giambattista Giusti to celebrate Joachim Murat’s entrance into the city. He begins to compose the incidental music to Giusti’s translation of the Oedipus at Colonus (Edipo Coloneo) of Sophocles. In the summer he moves to Naples, engaged by Domenico Barbaja, impresario of the Royal Theatres, and on the 4th October he makes his bow at the San Carlo with the drama Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra with Isabella Colbran in the title role. The clamorous success obtained by the opera opens the gates to a new vein of creativity that he will exploit to the full in Naples. On the other hand his opera semiseria, Torvaldo e Dorliska, is coldly received at the Teatro Valle, Rome (26 December).


This year marks the production of Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (later known as Il barbiere di Siviglia), first heard at the Teatro Argentina, Rome on 20th February. The fiasco of the opening night is turned into a clamorous success at subsequent performances. On the 29th he signs a contract for La Cenerentola. He continues his duties in Naples with an opera seria, Otello, ossia Il moro di Venezia (Teatro del Fondo, 4th December), which, however, was preceded by two works that had been contracted for: the cantata Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo, composed for the wedding of the Duc de Berry (Teatro del Fondo, 24th April) and the comic opera La gazzetta (Teatro dei Fiorentini, 26 September).


This year sees Rossini commuting between Naples, Rome and Milan to produce three varied masterpieces: La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo is staged in Rome (Teatro Valle, 25th January), La gazza ladra, a major semiseria opera, in Milan (La Scala, 31st May), Armida in Naples (San Carlo, 9 November) with Colbran once more in the title role. Rome also hears the first performance of Adelaide di Borgogna (Teatro Argentina, 27th December). 


Back in Naples for the sacred opera Mosè in Egitto (San Carlo, 5th March) which is enormously successful. Whilst staying in Bologna the composer accepts the invitation of an unknown client to write the one-act comic opera Adina. The opera will not be performed until the 12th June 1826 (Sao Carlos Theatre, Lisbon). On the 3rd December Ricciardo e Zoraide is staged at the San Carlo, Naples.


On 7th March Mosè in Egitto is revived at the San Carlo with the addition of the prayer «Dal tuo stellato soglio» in the third act.
Four other new serious operas are added to the Rossini canon: Ermione (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 27th March), La donna del lago (San Carlo, Naples, 24th October), Bianca e Falliero, ossia Il consiglio dei tre (La Scala, Milan, 26th December). In Venice he produces Eduardo e Cristina (Teatro San Benedetto, 24th April).


On the 24th March the Messa di Gloria is performed in the church of San Ferdinando. Despite the long period Rossini devoted to its composition, Maometto II does not meet with success (San Carlo, Naples, 3rd December).


Rossini’s last visit to Rome is marked by the first performance of Matilde di Shabran, ossia Bellezza e cuor di ferro (Teatro Apollo, 24 February). In fact, his protracted negotiations with the Deputazione dei Teatri di Roma for a new comic opera for the Carnival Season of 1821-22 are inconclusive.


One month after the production of Zelmira (Teatro San Carlo, 16 February), the opera that brings his Neapolitan period to an end, Rossini marries Isabella Colbran at Castenaso. He travels to Vienna with her and the San Carlo opera company under the aegis of Barbaja, and on the 13th April Zelmira is produced there at the Kärntnertortheater, followed by revivals of other operas of his. After a short stay in Bologna, in December he is invited by Prince Metternich to Verona on the occasion of the Congress of Nations to write two cantatas (La santa alleanzaIl vero omaggio).


Semiramide, to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, his “father among poets” (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 3rd February), brings Rossini’s Italian career to a triumphant conclusion. After a short visit to Paris, he is invited to London by Giovanni Battista Benelli, impresario of the King’s Theatre, to conduct some of his operas and compose a new one. This should have been Ugo, re d’Italia, one act of which he may have completed, but the bankruptcy of the management in 1824 forces him to give up the project. No trace of this opera remains.


On 9th June in London he sings the tenor part of Apollo in his cantata Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron. On 26th November he is nominated “Directeur de la musique et de la scène” of the Théâtre Italien, Paris.


Rossini’s French period opens with the cantata Il viaggio a Reims, ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro (Théâtre Italien, Paris, 19th June), written expressly for the coronation of Charles X.


It seems that he is working on a La figlia dell’aria for Giuditta Pasta, but to date no music for this has been found. On 9th October he presents, at the Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique (l’Opéra), Le siège de Corinthe, a radical revision of Maometto II, which is enthusiastically received.


Just before the triumphant first performance of Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le passage de la Mer Rouge (Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, 26th March) he is deeply affected by news of his mother’s death.


In the spring Rossini is all ready to set to work on a new opera, and has already chosen his subject: William Tell. However, wanting to save and re-cycle some parts of the music he had composed for Il viaggio a Reims, he proposes Le Comte Ory (Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, 20 August), to a libretto by Scribe and Delestre-Poirson.


Guillaume Tell is Rossini’s last work for the operatic stage. The opera is produced at the Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, on the 3rd August, only obtaining a “succès d’estime” from the audience, whereas it is highly praised by critics and musicians (including Bellini who considers the opera his “musical bible”). The opera is produced all over Europe in versions suffering various degrees of cutting. On the 7th August Charles X confers the Légion d’honneur on the composer. Later in August he leaves for Bologna accompanied by his wife.


On his return to Paris, a city now turned upside-down by the July revolution that had been the downfall of Charles X, Rossini sues the new government of Louis Philippe d’Orléans, which has not recognized the contract that he had signed with the previous administration. Isabella stays in Bologna.


Early in February he travels to Spain with his friend the banker Aguado. During his stay in Spain Rossini accepts the invitation of the Archdeacon of Madrid, Don Fernandez Varela, to compose a Stabat Mater. Back in Paris, he only set to work in March 1832, composing six pieces and commissioning Tadolini for the rest. The Stabat in this version was performed on Good Friday 1833 in the chapel of San Felipe el Real in Madrid.


Meanwhile the first symptoms have appeared of the serious nervous breakdown that will affect the composer, who by this time has formed a union with Olympe Pélissier. He dedicates his cantata for soprano and piano Giovanna d’Arco to her.


He publishes his Soirées Musicales, composed between 1830 and 1835, and writes some other short works.


He successfully brings to an end his case against the French government, who award him a life-long pension. Before returning to Italy he goes on a journey to Belgium and Germany with the banker Rothschild.


In September his separation from Isabella Colbran is made legal.


In April he accepts the nomination of permanent consultant to the Liceo Musicale of Bologna. On the 29th of the same month his father, Giuseppe, dies. He makes a short visit to Naples.


Spurred on by the danger that the French publisher Aulagnier might print the Stabat Mater as finished by Tadolini, he sets out to compose the missing numbers.


The Stabat Mater, completed with the addition of four pieces to replace the seven written by Tadolini, was performed in Paris on 7th January. Gaetano Donizetti conducts the subsequent performance in Bologna on 18th March.


After a brief stay in Paris, where he has gone for medical attention to his ureteritis, by the beginning of October he is back in Bologna.


On 7th October Isabella Colbran dies at the villa in Castenaso, near Bologna.


On 16th August Rossini takes Olympe Pélissier as his second wife.


On 1st January his Cantata in onore del Sommo Pontefice Pio IX (Cantata in honour of Pope Pius IX), an adaptation by the composer of themes from his operas, is performed in Rome (Senato del Campidoglio) to celebrate Cardinal Giovanni Mastai Ferretti’s elevation to the papacy on the preceding 16th June.


Rossini is not known to be sympathetic toward liberal ideas. On the evening of 24th April in Bologna he becomes the object of a hostile demonstration whilst he is showing himself on the balcony of his house to thank the voluntary conscripts’ military band, which has been serenading him beneath his windows. Deeply upset, he sets off for Firenze two days after. Ugo Bassi immediately designates himself the bearer of apologies from all the citizens of Bologna and invites him to compose a hymn, which will materialize as the Coro della Guardia Civica di Bologna, of which Rossini composes only the vocal parts and a sketch of the accompaniment, entrusting Domenico Liverani with the task of completing the music. The performance takes place in Piazza Maggiore on the evening of the 21st June.


He returns to Bologna about the middle of September, but only to put his affairs in order and prepare for a permanent residence in Firenze.


At the end of April he leaves Firenze for Paris. During these years his health, aggravated by nervous ailments and other physical disturbances, has not got any better. On the other hand, his health begins to improve right from his first days of residence in the French capital.


On the 15th April he makes a present to his wife Olympe of the Musique Anodine, an album belonging to his Péchés de vieillesse, an ironical title under which Rossini grouped his last compositions.


He is visited by Richard Wagner in March. On the 9th July Sémiramis is revived in a sumptuous production at the Opéra for the sisters Barbara and Carlotta Marchisio.


In Spring, the villa in Passy (now destroyed) is ready. The Rossinis alternated their stay in Paris at No. 2 Chaussée d’Antin, where they gave musical academies, with their stay in Passy, which had become a meeting place for international musical society.


He composes the Petite Messe Solennelle.


On 14th March the Petite Messe Solennelle for solo voices, chorus, two pianos and harmonium is privately performed in the Paris home of the countess Louise Pillett-Will, the dedicatee of the Mass. Rossini will score it for full orchestra in 1867, but this version will not be performed until 28th February 1869, after his death.
On 21st August the town of Pesaro honours him by ceremoniously unveiling his statue.


The first performance of the Hymne à Napoleon III et à son vaillant peuple is given on 1st July at the Palais de L’Industrie, Paris.


After a serious illness he dies at his villa in Passy on the 13th November and he is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery.


On 30th April Rossini’s body is exhumed and carried to Santa Croce, Firenze, where he is re-buried on the 3rd May.


On 23th June the monument to Rossini by the sculptor Cassioli is unveiled in Santa Croce. An illustrious participator is Pietro Mascagni, who conducts the orchestra of the Liceo Musicale Rossini of Pesaro in the prayer «Dal tuo stellato soglio» from Mosè in Egitto in Paganini’s string transcription.