Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Rossini

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Gioachino Rossini, Petite Messe Solennelle (1863)

Gioachino Rossini was born on February 29, 1792, in the Italian seaport city of Pesaro, on the Adriatic Sea. He was the only child of Giuseppe Rossini (1758-1839), a professional trumpet and horn player; and Anna Rossini (1771-1827), a seamstress and later, a professional operatic soprano (hers was, indeed, quite a career change!). In 1802, when young Gioachino was ten years old, his family moved to Lugo – near Ravenna – and that’s where he received his elementary education: in Italian, Latin, arithmetic, and music. Dude was bigly talented. In 1810, at the age of 18, he moved to Venice, where he immediately scored his first hit with his first professional opera: a one-act comedy called La cambiale di matrimonio, “The Marriage Contract.” Over the course of the next 19 years, 38 additional operas followed: comedies and dramas, many of them masterworks that have remained in the repertoire since they were first performed. And then, in 1829 at the age of 37, having completed William Tell (his 39th opera), Rossini upped and quit the opera biz. And even though he lived another 39 years, he never wrote another opera. Retirement Rossini’s retirement from the opera stage during his artistic prime […]

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Music History Monday: Gioachino Rossini and the Comedic Mind

We mark the death on November 13, 1868 – 155 years ago today – of the opera composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini, in Paris, at the age of 76. He was one of the most famous and beloved artists of his time, and he remains no less so today. It is my humble opinion that anyone who does not like Rossini’s operas – and, believe it or not, I have met any number of such people in the “rarified” confines of academia – well, such a person is a crank and a humbug, someone averse to melodic brilliance, theatric sparkle, and wit. 10,000 Hours? In his book Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), the English-born Canadian journalist (and staff writer at The New Yorker) Malcolm Gladwell posited his “10,000-hour rule.” Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule asserts that: “the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, albeit in the correct way, for at least 10,000 hours.” Of course this is complete nonsense. We must conclude that Mr. Gladwell has practiced making absurd statements for well over 10,000 hours, so completely daft is his “rule.” Listen: when I was twenty, I was 5’7” in […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Giacomo Rossini, The Barber of Seville

Italian Opera as an Industry From the moment the first public opera house – the Teatro San Cassiano – opened in Venice in 1637, opera has been a media industry in Italy.  By the early nineteenth century, virtually every Italian city and many Italian towns as well had their own opera theaters; in the case of larger cities, multiple opera houses.   Like movie theaters in the first half of the twentieth century – before the advent of television – opera houses in nineteenth century Italy were not just entertainment venues but secular houses of worship, where people of virtually every class gathered to experience and cheer the musical/dramatic gospel and worship the great celebrities of their day: singers and opera composers.  For nineteenth century Italian opera houses and twentieth century movie theaters alike, turnover was the key.  An opera (or a movie) would run for a week, by which time those who had wanted to see it had seen it.  (When I was growing up in Willingboro, NJ, we had a single theater, part of the Fox chain; new movies opened every Wednesday.) What “turnover” meant for nineteenth century Italian opera was a constant demand for new operas, which […]

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Music History Monday: The First Night: Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville

We mark the premiere performance, on February 20, 1816 – 207 years ago today – of Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera masterwork, The Barber of Seville, at Rome’s famed Teatro Argentina. The Natural Gioachino Antonio Rossini was born on February 29 (bummer of a birthday!), 1792 in the Italian city of Pesaro, on the Adriatic Sea. He died of colorectal cancer on November 13, 1868, in his villa in Passy, which today is located in Paris’ chic, 16th arrondisement. He was the only child of Giuseppe Rossini (1758-1839) and Anna (née Guidarini) Rossini (1771-1827).  Rossini’s father Giuseppe was a professional trumpet and horn player, and as such was Gioachino’s first music teacher.  (The adult Rossini liked to say that: “Sono figlio di corna,” “I am the son of a horn!”) “Son of a horn” he might have been, but when it came to his real musical education, it was as the son of an opera singer.  Rossini’s mother Anna was, at the time of his birth in 1792, a seamstress by trade.  But changes in Italian society allowed her to make a second career as a professional singer.  According to Rossini’s biographer Richard Osborne (Rossini; Oxford University Press): “Italian Society began to […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Rossini Overtures

It’s All About Branding Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the use of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 as a call sign for a BBC radio show called London Calling Europe, a propaganda/information show broadcast from London into Nazi-occupied Europe. It was an inspired bit of both cultural larceny and branding: using the music of a German-born composer to represent dot-dot-dot-dash: the Morse Code for the letter “V” as in victory over Germany! “Branding.” It’s a newish term, defined as “the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design.” We are told that there are four essential steps in “branding”: 1. Determine your target audience. 2. Position your product and business. 3. Define your company’s personality. 4. Choose a logo and slogan. In the case of the BBC program London Calling Europe, one, the target audience was the population of occupied Europe. Two, the BBC positioned itself as the singular purveyor of unsullied information available to that population. Three, the show defined itself as the voice of truth. Four, its slogan was “London calling Europe” and its audio “logos” were Jeremiah Clark’s Trumpet Voluntary and the opening four notes of […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes – Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Oft’ have I moaned and groaned about the licensing contracts signed by The Teaching Company/Great Courses and various recording companies, contracts that precluded me from identifying the performers heard on the musical excerpts in my courses. Yes indeed, this is entirely counter-intuitive; one would think that the record companies would want me to name-names, the better to sell those albums being excerpted in the courses. But like quantum mechanics, the actions of these companies remain unfathomable; weird business.  Because I wasn’t allowed to name performers, I would estimate that roughly 50% of the mail I’ve received over the years in response to my courses has been about the recordings I’ve used: folks want to know who played this, who sang that. In many cases I don’t know at all, because in the early years I was often sent recordings for audition on cassettes with no indication as to the identity of the performers. For example, to this day, I haven’t a clue as to any of the performers on the recordings I chose for my Symphonies of Beethoven course, recorded in 1995. Every now and then – by begging, scraping, whining, banging on tables, and giving noogies – I managed […]

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Music History Monday: Rossini and the Soul of Wit

149 years ago today, the opera composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini died in Paris at the age of 76. One of the most famous and respected artists of his time, he remains no less so today. It is my humble opinion that anyone who does not like Rossini’s music is a crank and a humbug, someone averse to melodic brilliance, sparkle, and wit. A momentary divergence. In his book Outliers (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), the English-born journalist Malcolm Gladwell formulated his “10,000 hour rule”, which claims that all that’s required to become a world-class practitioner in any field is 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice”. With all due respect, we can only conclude that Mr. Gladwell has deliberately practiced making absurd statements for well over 10,000 hours, so utterly daft is his “rule.” Listen: when I was twenty, I was (as I remain) 5’7” in height and weighed 165 pounds (I can only wish that that were still the case!). I was strong, fast, and had good hand-eye coordination. I also had a vertical jump of about six inches, so no amount of time and practice was going to make me a high-jump champion or a ballet dancer; no how, no […]

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Music History Monday: The Futile Precaution

On June 5, 1816 – 201 years ago today – the Italian opera composer Giovanni Paisiello died in Naples at the age of 76. Although almost entirely forgotten today, Paisiello was – in his lifetime – among the most famous, successful and popular opera composers of his time. He composed an absolutely amazing amount of music, including 94(!) operas, a tremendous amount of church music (including passions, oratorios, sacred cantatas, canticles, hymns, psalms and 8 masses), over 50 instrumental works (including 9 string quartets and 8 concerti for keyboard), 20 secular cantatas, and a huge number of stand-alone songs. Whoa. His operas, written in the direct, tuneful, so-called “Neapolitan Style”, were instrumental (pardon the pun) in creating the newfangled comic opera (opera buffa) style that was embraced by audiences across Europe during the Enlightenment. Most important, at least to my mind, is that Paisiello’s over 80 comic operas had a decisive influence on one Wolfgang Mozart, who went on to elevate the erstwhile popular genre of opera buffa to the level of highest art. Paisiello’s single most popular opera was The Barber of Seville or The Futile Precaution, composed in 1782 while he was living in St. Petersburg and working […]

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