Rossini, Gioachino Antonio

At the French Opera, Rossini produced some revisions of earlier Italian operas in French versions and finally, in 1829, was given his masterpiece, William Tell, written to the libretto taken from Schiller's drama of the same name. To many it represents still the ideal of French grand opera, and was hailed then as the greatest musical event of the Nineteenth Century and the date of a new era. It was the culminating work of the composer's career. The overture, with its great storm picture, its trumpet call to freedom and the great melodic beauty of its music, is one of the most impressive ever written. The opera is usually classed among French operas, because it was written for the French stage and was a deliberate attempt to follow the French style. With it Rossini closed his career of operatic composer at the age of thirty-seven. Although he lived to be a very old man, he never wrote another opera. After writing William Tell he did nothing for thirty-nine years, except to write his Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe Solennelle. He is the only composer who ever quit work in the prime of life. The Stabat Mater was written when the composer was forty-five, 1832, but was not produced until 1842. It is a very beautiful composition, composed in cantata form, and is the only work worthy of remembrance that came from the pen of the composer, after the production of William Tell.

It is not at all religious in character, but its music is brilliant and it is strong and individual. Rossini has been more severely criticized for this work than for any other, because the composition lacks dignity and earnestness. Nevertheless it has always retained its popularity. The Cujus Animam in the work is popular because of its fluency and it, at least, exhibits true devotional feeling. After the Stabat Mater came a cantata on Joan of Arc; three choruses on Faith, Hope and Charity for female voices, several piano-pieces, and the Petite Messe Solennelle, all inferior to anything that had gone before.

Rossini's first wife, who had been Isabella Colbron, the singer, died in 1845, and two years later he married Olympe Pelissier, a French woman, who had been a resident of the Parisian half-world for many years. They lived for a time in Florence, later took up their residence in the French capital and finally Rossini bought a villa at Passy, near Paris, where he received and entertained his friends and where he died in 1868. He literally idled and trifled away the last years of his life, became a voluptuary and gourmand, who was prouder of the excellence of his macaroni than of the fact that he had written perhaps the greatest operatic work of the century; yet withal was liked by everyone who knew him for his lovable, generous nature and his universal good humor. He was buried with great honors from the Church of the Trinity, Paris, and at his funeral the beautiful music from his Stabat Mater was sung by Mme. Patti, Mme. Christine Nilsson and Mme. Albani.

Rossini's life may be divided into three parts: the first period, from his birth to 1823 when he made his greatest success with Semiramide, and began to be recognized; the second period, from 1823, when he visited London and Paris, until 1829, when he produced his great masterpiece, William Tell, and laid down his pen forever when he had made his fortune, and his third period, from 1829, the year of the production of William Tell, until 1868 the year of his death. Rossini wrote altogether over forty operas, and of these only The Barber of Seville, Othello, La Gazza Ladra, Semiramide, Cenerentola and William Tell have "kept the stage." Some of his operas were serious, others comic, still others farcical. His masterpiece in serious style is William Tell; his masterpiece in lighter style, The Barber. Of the remaining operas, the best known are Tancredi, Othello and Semiramide. Besides his operatic works he wrote the Stabat Mater and Messe Solennelle, previously referred to; seventeen works of large proportion, but now obsolete; vocal and instrumental music, including duets, ariettas and about forty songs, besides piano-music and five string quartets. Various opinions were and are held concerning Rossini's music. Many dismissed him as a composer with a natural gift for melody, who dashed off a few trifles, not worthy to be taken seriously. Others, while criticizing his sensational climaxes, his pandering to the low tastes of his audiences, and his reveling in "a veritable debauch of vocal ormentation," agreed that he had a real genius for writing music, a contagious humor, and was gifted with great facility. The most conservative of critics have said that Rossini was the greatest musical genius that Italy has produced since Alessandro Scarlatti, it may be said that he revolutionized the music of Italy and of the civilized world and thus established the school of Italian Opera as it was then known. The history of Rossini's career is the history of the opera in Italy during the first half of the Nineteenth Century.