Term Paper: Gioachino Antonio Rossini

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Rossini

Gioachino Antonio Rossini

The Italian composer, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) wrote thirty six operas, many of which are still performed and enjoyed today. These include the well-known the Barber of Seville (1816), La Cenerentola (1817), Semiramis (1823) and William Tell (1829). (Gioachino Rossini, a towering Italian composer of the Romantic era) He is also known for his sacred music, such as the Stabat Mater oratorio, as well as chamber music. Among the many aspects that characterize his music, commentators refer to his " melodies… humor" and "brilliant bravura pieces," as well as his feeling for the theater. (Gioachino Rossini, a towering Italian composer of the Romantic era )

Rossini's work had a profound effect not only on the music of his time but also on the development and trajectory of modern music and art to a certain extent.

Rossini was a part of the Romantic artistic and musical movement in the Western world, which was to initiate new views and techniques in the world of art.

One of the aspects that make his music so relevant today is the fact that it broke with classical structure and dogma and, in doing so, added to the impetus towards the expression of emotion and feeling that was to characterize the Romantic view of art, which was to extend into the twentieth century.

Rossini is often referred to in the context of the Romantic Movement in art and music; for example, "Gioachino Rossini, Italian composer, who, together with countrymen Donizetti and Bellini, created the Romantic style of Italian opera in the early 19th century…." (Gioachino Rossini Biography: Composer of Early 19th-Century Italian Romantic Opera). But what exactly does this reference to Romanticism mean in terms of his music and the times in which he lived; and how does this relate to our conception of his music today? These are central aspects that will be explored in this paper.

2. Rossini and Romanticism

In order to understand the music of Rossini one has to understand the mood and the ethos of the Romantic Movement in all the arts that began to emerge during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Rossini began writing music at the early age of twelve. At fourteen he entered Bologna's conservatory, "where he wrote mostly sacred music." (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Gioacchino Antonio Rossini ) However, his work from 1812 was prolific and for the next fifteen years he was to become a dominant force in Italian opera. What is perhaps even more significant is that the types of works that he produced were significantly different to the conventional norms of the time. As one commentator puts it; "Into the genteel atmosphere of lingering 18th-century operatic manners, Rossini brought genuine originality marked by rude wit and humour and a willingness to sacrifice all "rules" of musical and operatic decorum" (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Gioacchino Antonio Rossini ) This is a an insightful quotation as it refers to important aspects of Romanticism.

What is interesting about Rossini is that while he was not 'revolutionary' in a musical sense, he also did not adhere to the "genteel atmosphere of lingering 18th-century operatic manners." Rather he was innovative in both style and subject matter. He brought originality to the opera especially with regard to his robust sense of humor, which is evident in so many of his works. In other words, he disregarded the formal rules and was prepared to write and create music that expressed the emotions and feelings of the time, which was not merely a continuation of the ideals and ethos of the classical past. For example, his style in writing "…emphasized vocal agility and long, florid phrasing." (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Gioacchino Antonio Rossini )

Among the changes that Rossini brought to opera and music was the elevation of the comic opera form, known as opera buffa, to new heights. (Gioachino Rossini Biography) as one critic notes, "With his rich melodies and strong musical vitality, he left behind a body of work that will continue to be heard well into the future." Gioachino Rossini Biography) Many of these aspects can be related to the Romantic Movement.

The Romantic Movement that began in the 1800s and extended to the latter part of the 19th centuries was a period in art of experimentation and the search for new forms of experience and emotion in the arts; as well as ideals that were linked to a rejection of the classical and formal past. One definition of this period is as follows: "Resulting in part from the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movements had in common only a revolt against the prescribed rules of classicism." ("Romanticism") General characteristics of this movement that was reflected in all the arts was a return to nature, a new sense of humanism and a new faith in the artist as a creative and visionary individual. Other attributes also included "…the development of nationalistic pride; and the exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect. In addition, romanticism was a philosophical revolt against rationalism. ("Romanticism") in terms of music, the era of Romantic music is defined as the "…period of European classical music that runs roughly from 1820 to 1900, as well as music written according to the norms and styles of that period." (Romantic music) Furthermore, Romanticism is associated with a rejection or a questioning of classical notions of order, harmony and reason. In more historical terms it was a "… reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental." (Romanticism)

The music of Rossini and his theatrical form of opera can be seen to adhere to the ethos of the Romantic period described above. This becomes even more evident when we refer to definitions of music in the Romantic era. "Romanticism in music was characterized by an emphasis on emotion and great freedom of form." ("Romanticism") This atmosphere of the expression of feeling and emotion is obvious in opera buffa. (Pistone 6)

An example that is given of the Romanticism in Rossini's style is La Donna del Lago (1819). It is one of his most romantic operas, and is closely modeled on the romantic poem by Sir Walter Scott, the Lady of the Lake. The plot holds many romantic ideals, including intense love and the misty, ethereal atmosphere of Scotland. "All over Europe the literary world of "bonnie Scotland," with its mist, mysticism and mountains, had provided fuel for the new Romanticism, and Rossini in this charming, now neglected, opera lovingly embraced it." ("Rossini's la Donna del")

The development of Rossini's art can be seen to relate to the expressive and sentimental ideals of Romanticism. In La pietra del paragone ( 1812), we encounter a lyrical content which is accompanied by a deep feeling for nature -- a primary concern of the Romantics. It also combines feeling with comedy. (Warrack, and West 442)

It is also important to note the innovations that Rossini introduced with regard to the formal musical structure of opera. For example, "There is also a fresh approach to the handling of the orchestra, especially in the use of woodwind to add expressiveness to the vocal line." (Warrack, and West 442) His innovative style is also evident in the following example;

Rossini displays his assurance not only in the music's lyrical eloquence but in the virtuosity with which he both uses and disturbs convention to comic effect. Having mastered the conventions inherited from an earlier generation, and transformed them, he was able to establish and further develop a range of formal procedures which subsequently became known as the Code Rossini.

(Warrack, and West 442)

And in Armida ( 1817) "…there is an increased range and sophistication in the use of orchestral colour, something that preoccupied Rossini in his later Naples period." (Warrack, and West 442) Critics are also of the opinion that Rossini"…made the orchestra more colorful and gave it more to do." (Grout, and Weigel Williams 401)

However, it is also true that Rossini was not a Romantic in the full sense of the term. He still retained some classical aspirations. It is possibly more correct to say that he is a figure that stands on the fringes of Romanticism and he has been described as one of the architects of this movement in the arts. He describes himself as 'the last of the classicists'. (Gioachino Rossini Biography 2)

However, his comic operas can be seen to have inspired an important part of the impetus towards Romanticism in music. This is especially true of his influence on French opera.

… his masterly fusion of Italian and French styles in his Paris operas, and his transformation of the moribund mythological French tragedie lyrique into a series of compellingly relevant operas on historical themes, played an important part in the French Romanticism of the 1820s, while setting the standard against which all later grand opera… [END OF PREVIEW]

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