Gioachino Rossini

Gioachino Rossini

(born Pesaro 29 February 1792; died Passy 13 November 1868)

Rossini was the most significant Italian composer of the first half of the nineteenth century. Born to working musicians – his father was a horn player, his mother an opera singer – between 1813 and 1822 his operas, both comic and serious, conquered Italy, Naples especially. His Parisian seasons between 1822 and 1829 consolidated his achievements at home with spectacularly grand works such as Le Comte Ory and William Tell. After 39 operas in 19 years, Rossini felt with Tell he had reached not only the culmination of his career but also a natural resting point, and therefore retired from operatic composition. He did not stop composing altogether – one of the delights of his retirement years is his Petite messe solenelle, an ironic title for a sacred work that is neither small nor solemn.

Rossini's Musical Style

Celebrated for his comic operas such as The Barber of Seville, which are full of music that is sensuous, brilliant and rhythmically vital, a typical example of Rossini at his best can be found in the barber Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’. But Rossini’s opera seria (serious operas) are equally important (though less frequently performed) and were a formative influence on Verdi in the second half of the 19th century and figures as diverse as Meyerbeer, Offenbach and even Wagner. Rossini undoubtedly transformed the form and content of Italian opera, establishing a new set of musical procedures that would invigorate and develop the genre long after he stopped composing.

Though most of Rossini’s stage works (especially the opera seria) fell out of the repertoire after his death, they were re-established in the twentieth century and occupy a key position today. Even the status of his opera seria has now been widely accepted, and performances of William Tell or The Lady of the Lake are no longer the rarities they once were.

Notable Operas

  • La Cenerentola [Cinderella] (1817)
  • Mosè in Egitto [Moses in Egypt] (1818)
  • La donna del lago [The Lady of the Lake] (1819), after Walter Scott
  • Le Comte Ory (1828)
  • Guillaume Tell [William Tell] (1829) – the final part of the overture is familiar as the theme music to the Lone Ranger television series of the 1950s, and was also used in the 2012 feature movie starring Johnny Depp as the Lone Ranger’s faithful companion, Tonto.