While Beethoven was becoming the most Daring Young Man in the German-speaking musical world, Gioachino Rossini was sipping the finest champagne and chatting up the most eligible ladies as Italy's most successful young opera composer. It's hard to believe that his opera-writing career didn't even last 20 years (his final opera, Guillaume Tell, premiered in Paris in 1829,when he was 37, yet the composer lived on for another 39 years).
There are many reasons for choosing something else like La cenerentola (Cinderella), but I'll stick with Il baribiere di Siviglia, which had its premiere exactly 195 years ago, today. It's been on the top-hit list ever since. Its music has been pillaged mercilessly in popular culture -- even showing in Bugs Bunny cartoons in the mid-20th century.
There is a side reason to embrace Rossini (or another of his peers), and that is the influence bel canto opera had on Romantic composers, especially Chopin. Chopin drew inspiration for his long melodies directly from bel canto. No bel canto; no Chopin. So there.
In his study book on The Barber of Seville, Burton Fisher cites the occasion when a young Rossini had a chance to meet an old (51!) and ill Beethoven, in 1822. The older man gave him this little piece of advice:
“Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.”
I don't need to leave a clip of the Barber of Seville. Instead, I want to share my adoration for something from Rossini's old age, when he wrote little trifles for his own private amusement. Here is my very favourite work of his, the Petite Messe Solenelle -- neither petite nor always solenelle.
I prefer the original, two-piano-plus-harmonium arrangement he completed shortly before his death in 1868, but this version, featuring the orchestra of the Leipzig Gewandhaus conducted by Riccardo Chailly is just too good to not share.
One hears all the signature sounds of Rossini bel canto opera as well as incredible musical craft at work in the fugues that litter this work, for example.
The soloists are: Alexandrina Pendatchanska, soprano; Manuela Custer, mezzosoprano; Stefano Secco, tenor; and Mirco Palazzi, bass. Click here to go to the whole thing. For a sample passage, check out "Et resurrexit" below: