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Gioachino Rossini, 1820.
Gioachino Antonio Rossini (February 29, 1792 – November 13, 1868) was a popular Italian composer who wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music and chamber music. His best known works include Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), La Cenerentola, La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) and Guillaume Tell (William Tell). A tendency for inspired, songlike melodies is evident throughout his scores, which led to the nickname "The Italian Mozart". Until his retirement in 1829, Rossini had been the most popular opera composer in history.


Gioachino Rossini (Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin).
Gioachino Antonio Rossini was born into a family of musicians in Pesaromarker, a town on the Adriaticmarker coast of Italy. His father, Giuseppe, was a horn player and inspector of slaughterhouses. His mother, Anna, was a singer and a baker's daughter. Rossini's parents began his musical training early, and by the age of six he was playing the triangle in his father's musical group.

Rossini's father was sympathetic to the French Revolution and welcomed Napoleon Bonaparte's troops when they arrived in northern Italy. When Austria restored the old regime in 1796, Rossini's father was sent to prison and his mother took him to Bolognamarker, making a living as a leading singer at various theatres of the Romagnamarker region. She was ultimately rejoined by her husband. During this time, Rossini was frequently left in the care of his aging grandmother, who had difficulty supervising the boy.

He remained at Bologna in the care of a pork butcher while his father played the horn in the orchestras of the theatres at which his wife sang. The boy had three years of instruction in the harpsichord from Giuseppe Prinetti of Novaramarker, who played the scale with two fingers only; the master also ran a business of selling beer and had a propensity to fall asleep while standing. These qualities made him a fit subject for ridicule in the eyes of his student.


He was taken from Prinetti and apprenticed to a blacksmith. In Angelo Tesei he found a congenial master, and learned to sight-read, to play accompaniments on the piano, and to sing well enough to take solo parts in the church when he was ten years of age. Important from this period are six sonate a quattro, or string sonatas, composed in three days, unusually scored for two violins, cello and double bass. The original scores were found in the Library of Congress in Washington DC after World War II, dated from 1804 when the composer was twelve. Often transcribed for string orchestra, these sonatas reveal the young composer's affinity for Haydn and Mozart, already showing signs of operatic tendencies, punctuated by frequent rhythm changes and dominated by clear, songlike melodies.

In 1805 he appeared at the theatre of the Commune in Ferdinando Paer's Camilla at age thirteen—his only public appearance as a singer. He was also a capable horn player in the footsteps of his father. Around this time, he composed individual numbers to a libretto by Vincenza Mombelli called Demetrio e Polibio, which was handed to the boy in pieces. Though it was Rossini's first opera, written when he was thirteen or fourteen, the work was not staged until the composer was twenty years old, premiering as his sixth official opera.

In 1806, at the age of fourteen, Rossini became a cello student under Cavedagni at the Conservatorio of Bologna. In 1807 he was admitted to the counterpoint class of Padre Stanislao Mattei (1750–1825). He learned to play the cello with ease, but the pedantic severity of Mattei's views on counterpoint only served to drive the young composer's views toward a freer school of composition. His insight into orchestral resources is generally ascribed not to the strict compositional rules he learned from Mattei, but to knowledge gained independently while scoring the quartets and symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. At Bologna he was known as "il Tedeschino" ("the Little German") on account of his devotion to Mozart.

Early career

Through the friendly interposition of the Marquis Cavalli, his first opera, La cambiale di matrimonio, was produced at Venice when he was a youth of eighteen. But two years before this he had already received the prize at the Conservatorio of Bologna for his cantata Il pianto d'Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo. Between 1810 and 1813, at Bologna, Rome, Venice, and Milan, Rossini produced operas of varying success, most notably Il Signor Bruschino (1813), with its brilliant and unique overture. However, all memory of these works was eclipsed by the enormous successes of his operas Tancredi and L'Italiana in Algeri.

The libretto for Tancredi was an arrangement by Gaetano Rossi of Voltaire's tragedy Tancrède. Traces of Ferdinando Paer and Giovanni Paisiello were undeniably present in fragments of the music. But any critical feeling on the part of the public was drowned by appreciation of such melodies as "Di tanti palpiti... Mi rivedrai, ti rivedrò", which became so popular that the Italians would sing it in crowds at the law courts until called upon by the judge to desist.

Rossini continued to write operas for Venice and Milan during the next few years, but their reception was tame and in some cases unsatisfactory after the success of Tancredi. In 1815 he retired to his home at Bologna, where Domenico Barbaia, the impresario of the Naplesmarker theatre, concluded an agreement with him by which he was to take the musical direction of the Teatro San Carlomarker and the Teatro Del Fondo at Naples, composing for each of them one opera a year. His payment was to be 200 ducats per month; he was also to receive a share from the gambling tables set in the theatre's "ridotto", amounting to about 1000 ducats per annum. This was an extraordinarily lucrative arrangement for any professional musician at that time.

He visited the Naples conservatory, and although less than four years senior to Mercadante said to the Director, Niccolò Zingarelli, "My compliments Maestro - your young pupil Mercadante begins where we finish".

Some older composers in Naples, notably Zingarelli and Paisiello, were inclined to intrigue against the success of the youthful composer; but all hostility was made futile by the enthusiasm which greeted the court performance of his Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, in which Isabella Colbran, who subsequently became the composer's wife, took a leading part. The libretto of this opera by Giovanni Schmidt was in many of its incidents an anticipation of those presented to the world a few years later in Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth. The opera was the first in which Rossini wrote the ornaments of the airs instead of leaving them to the fancy of the singers, and also the first in which the recitativo secco was replaced by a recitative accompanied by a string quartet.

The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia)

Isabella Colbran.
Rossini's most famous opera was produced on February 20, 1816 at the Teatro Argentinamarker in Rome. The libretto, a version of Pierre Beaumarchais' stage play Le Barbier de SĂ©ville, was newly written by Cesare Sterbini and not the same as that already used by Giovanni Paisiello in his own Barbiere, an opera which had enjoyed European popularity for more than a quarter of a century. Much is made of how quickly Rossini's opera was written, scholarship generally agreeing upon two or three weeks. Later in life, Rossini claimed to have written the opera in only twelve days. It was a colossal failure when it premiered as Almaviva; Paisiello's admirers were extremely indignant, sabotaging the production by whistling and shouting during the entire first act. However, not long after the second performance, the opera became so successful that the fame of Paisiello's opera was transferred to Rossini's, to which the title The Barber of Seville passed as an inalienable heritage. The most famous "aria" from this opera is Largo al Factotum, sung by Figaro (baritone).

Marriage and mid-career

Caricature by H.
Mailly on the cover of Le Hanneton, July 4, 1867.
Between 1815 and 1823 Rossini produced 20 operas. Of these Otello formed the climax to his reform of serious opera, and offers a suggestive contrast with the treatment of the same subject at a similar point of artistic development by the composer Giuseppe Verdi. In Rossini's time the tragic close was so distasteful to the public of Rome that it was necessary to invent a happy conclusion to Otello.

Conditions of stage production in 1817 are illustrated by Rossini's acceptance of the subject of Cinderella for a libretto only on the condition that the supernatural element should be omitted. The opera La Cenerentola was as successful as Barbiere. The absence of a similar precaution in construction of his Mosè in Egitto led to disaster in the scene depicting the passage of the Israelites through the Red Seamarker, when the defects in stage contrivance always raised a laugh, so that the composer was at length compelled to introduce the chorus "Dal tuo stellato soglio" to divert attention from the dividing waves.

In 1822, four years after the production of this work, Rossini married the renowned opera singer Isabella Colbran. In the same year, he directed his Cenerentola in Viennamarker, where Zelmira was also performed. After this he returned to Bologna; but an invitation from Prince Metternich to come to Veronamarker and "assist in the general re-establishment of harmony" was too tempting to be refused, and he arrived at the Congress in time for its opening on October 20, 1822. Here he made friends with Chateaubriand and Dorothea Lieven.

In 1823, at the suggestion of the manager of the King's Theatremarker, London, he came to England, being much fêted on his way through Paris. In England he was given a generous welcome, which included an introduction to King George IV and the receipt of £7000 after a residence of five months. In 1824 he became musical director of the Théâtre-Italien in Paris at a salary of £800 per annum, and when the agreement came to an end he was rewarded with the offices of Chief Composer to the King and Inspector-General of Singing in France, to which was attached the same income. At the age of 32, Rossini was able to go into semi-retirement with essentially financial independence.

End of career

The production of his Guillaume Tell in 1829 brought his career as a writer of opera to a close. The libretto was by Étienne Jouy and Hippolyte Bis, but their version was revised by Armand Marrast. The music is remarkable for its freedom from the conventions discovered and utilized by Rossini in his earlier works, and marks a transitional stage in the history of opera, the overture serving as a model for romantic overtures throughout the 19th century. Though an excellent opera, it is rarely heard uncut today, as the original score runs more than four hours in performance. The overture is one of the most famous and frequently recorded works in the classical repertoire.

In 1829 he returned to Bologna. His mother had died in 1827, and he was anxious to be with his father. Arrangements for his subsequent return to Paris on a new agreement were temporarily upset by the abdication of Charles X and the July Revolution of 1830. Rossini, who had been considering the subject of Faust for a new opera, did return, however, to Paris in November of that year.

Six movements of his Stabat Mater were written in 1832 by Rossini himself, and the other six by Giovanni Tadolini, a good musician who was asked by Rossini to complete the work. However, Rossini composed the rest in 1841. The success of the work bears comparison with his achievements in opera; but his comparative silence during the period from 1832 to his death in 1868 makes his biography appear almost like the narrative of two lives—the life of swift triumph, and the long life of seclusion, of which biographers give us pictures in stories of the composer's cynical wit, his speculations in fish culture, his mask of humility and indifference.

Later years

Gioachino Rossini, photograph by Étienne Carjat, 1865.
His first wife died in 1845, and on August 16, 1846 he married Olympe PĂ©lissier, who had sat for Vernet for his picture of Judith and Holofernes. Political disturbances compelled Rossini to leave Bologna in 1848. After living for a time in Florencemarker he settled in Paris in 1855, where his house was a centre of artistic society. Rossini had been a well-known gourmand and an excellent amateur chef his entire life, but he indulged these two passions fully once he retired from composing, and today there are a number of dishes with the appendage "alla Rossini" to their names that were either created by him or specifically for him. Probably the most famous of these is Tournedos Rossini, still served by many restaurants today. In the meantime, after years of various physical and mental illnesses, he had slowly returned to music, composing obscure little trifles intended for private performance. These PĂ©chĂ©s de vieillesse ("Sins of Old Age") are grouped into 14 volumes, mostly for solo piano, occasionally for voice and various chamber ensembles. Often whimsical, these pieces display Rossini’s natural ease of composition and gift for melody, showing obvious influences of Chopin and Beethoven, with many flashes of the composer’s long buried desire for serious, academic composition. He died at his country house at Passymarker on Friday November 13, 1868 and was buried in Père Lachaisemarker Cemetery, Paris, France. In 1887 his remains were moved to the Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenzemarker, in Florence, where they now rest.

Honors and tributes

He was a foreign associate of the Institute, grand officer of the Legion of Honour, and the recipient of innumerable orders.

Immediately after Rossini's death, Giuseppe Verdi proposed to collaborate with 12 other Italian composers on a "Requiem for Rossini", to be performed on the first anniversary of his death, conducted by Angelo Mariani. The music was written, but the performance was abandoned shortly before its scheduled premiere. Verdi re-used the Libera me, Domine he had written for the Rossini Requiem in his 1872 Requiem for Manzoni. In 1989, the conductor Helmuth Rilling recorded the original "Requiem for Rossini" in the world premiere.


In his compositions Rossini plagiarized freely from himself, a common practice among deadline-pressed opera composers of the time. Few of his operas are without such admixtures, frankly introduced in the form of arias or overtures. For example, in Il Barbiere there is an aria for the Count (often omitted) 'Cessa di piu resistere', which Rossini used (with minor changes) in the cantata Le Nozze di Teti e di Peleo and in La Cenerentola (the cabaletta for Angelina's Rondo is almost unchanged). Four of his best known overtures (La cambiale di matrimonio, Tancredi, La Cenerentola and The Barber of Seville) share operas apart from which they became famous.

A characteristic mannerism in his orchestral scoring, a long, steady build of sound over an ostinato figure, creating "tempests in teapots by beginning in a whisper and rising to a flashing, glittering storm" earned him the nickname of "Signor Crescendo".


See List of operas by Rossini and List of compositions by Gioachino Rossini.



  1. Rossini's first name is often spelled "Gioacchino". Rossini himself spelled it with either one "c" or two early in life, but eventually settled on "Gioachino". Baker's, Grove, and most Rossini scholars (including the Fondazione G. Rossini and the Center for Italian Opera Studies at the University of Chicago) use "Gioachino".
  2. Michael Rose, "Mercadante: Flute Concertos", booklet accompanying the 2004 RCA CD recording with James Galway and I Solisti Veneti under Claudio Scimone.
  3. See Les aventures militaires, littéraires et autres d'Etienne de Jouy by Michel Faul pp.139–141(Editions Seguier, France, March 2009, ISBN 978-2-8404-9556-7)
  4. Faddis, H., 2003, Program Notes for the Overture to La scala di seta, Cape Anne Symphony (accessed 2 May 2007); See also Rossini Overtures, Liner Notes, Chandos (Chan 9753)

External links

Texts, Books

  • Memoirs of Rossini by Marie Henri Beyle, Gioacchino Rossini, published in 1824
  • Books with "Rossini" as author (at Google Books)
  • Books with occurrences of "Rossini" (at Google Books)
  • Texts with occurrences of "Rossini" (at

Scores (Sheetmusic)

Historical Recordings



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