Home / General / Erik Visits a (Non) American Grave, Part 1,302

Erik Visits a (Non) American Grave, Part 1,302


This is the grave of Gioachino Rossini.

Born in 1792 in Pesaro, which was then in the Papal States, but now of course is in Italy, Rossini did not grow in real wealthy circumstances. His father was a well-known trumpeter, but it’s not as if that meant riches, and his mother was a seamstress who still had to do some work to help out the family. His father was also a supporter of the revolutionary movements of the period and got himself tossed in jail a couple of times. His dad also taught him the trumpet, but he was a next level talent almost immediately. By the early 1800s, the family was in the town of Lugo and the young Rossini got to hear the latest works from top composers who weren’t really that well known in Italy at the time, such as Mozart and Haydn. He picked up on this immediately, he could easily place scores in his memory, and he was a musical prodigy.

By 1810, the opera singer Domenico Mombelli liked the kid so much that he asked him to write an opera and Rossini did–it was the Demetrio e Polibio. He only wrote the music and Mombelli’s wife wrote the libretto. It was publicly staged in 1812 to great success. But by that time, Rossini had already had other operas staged and he was a young success.

Rossini had a lot of success after 1812, though not complete success with every opera. Some cities had music scenes that welcomed his new styles, other cities were really quite resistant at first. He moved to Naples in 1815 to direct the music for the royal theaters and that was one of the cities where he had to deal with resistance to his ideas. But the once central capital of opera in Europe was stuck in nostalgia and Rossini wanted to revive its tradition with new ideas. He composed 18 operas between 1815 and 1822. Now having both financial stability and a solid orchestra, he did not have to rush the works for cash or deadlines, but given his prolific nature, he did just fine driving himself.

By the early 1820s, Rossini was sick of Naples and wanted to see Europe. He was already a hero to many in other parts of Europe and he received a hero’s welcome when he reached Vienna. He met Beethoven and they were able to express their mutual respect for one another, even though Rossini spoke no German and Beethoven was deaf as a stone by this time. He was somewhat less known in Paris but had a good time there anyway. Then he was off to London, where he was offered a significant commission. George IV was excited to meet him, Rossini, liked his father, basically hated royalty and didn’t care. He also basically hated England–the weather sucked and the food was even worse. He also suffered severe sea sickness on the trip over the English Channel and wanted no more of that country.

So Rossini ended up in Paris after 1824. He did a bunch more operas over the next five years there, to great success. He was hugely popular, though he was a jerk to his wife, Isabella Colbran, the singer who lost her voice in the 1820s and had to retire. He continued to work and just left her behind. She found some solace in spending a lot of his money, but it strained the marriage for her not to be able to use her craft.

But then in 1830, Rossini just retired. By this time, he was very rich and very fat and just seems to have decided not to work anymore. He occasionally messed around with a few compositions through the 1830s and 1840s, and music critics like this stuff, but he wasn’t taking it seriously anymore. He spent much of this time back in Bologna, where he got even fatter and also lost his way, leading to his friends worrying about his mental state as well.

But in 1855, he moved to Paris, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Here he was still seen as a hero and he revived his mental state. He managed to start composing again, though he was still mostly just writing little things for his friends. But he ran a popular weekly salon that the rich and artistic loved to get invites to. He wrote a bunch of small pieces for these salons, which he collectively called Sins of Old Age. Good name. But very little of this was performed in public.

Rossini died in Paris in 1868 after a battle with colon cancer. He was 76 years old.

Let’s listen to a bit of Rossini.

Gioachino Rossini is buried in Santa Croce Church, Florence, Italy. This was not his first burial. He was originally in Père Lachaise in Paris, but was moved to Florence in 1887.

If you would like this series to visit some American composers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Carl Valentin Wunderle is in Mount Healthy, Ohio, and Donald Erb is in Cleveland, Ohio. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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