A Leap Year Birthday for Rossini

Lithograph portrait of Rossini by G. Grevedon, 1828. Prints & Photographs Division, Repro number LC-USZ61-213.

Tomorrow we wish a happy 228th birthday to Gioachino Rossini! But on second thought, should we be celebrating the leapling composer’s 228th birthday…or his 55th? No matter how you choose to look at it, Rossini and his music are worthy of celebration. The Music Division holds a multiple of Rossini scores, including his many operas including La Cenerentola, L’italiana in Algeri, and his most famous opera, Il barbiere di Siviliglia (The Barber of Seville).

By the time he was 31 years old (or six, depending on how you count!), Rossini had composed 34 operas while living and working in Italy. Rossini achieved great success with his operas in Italy; however, by the time the 1820s rolled around, he was sensing a fatigue with Naples and Naples with him. In 1824, Rossini transitioned to Paris where he began work at the Théâtre Italien, initially adapting some of his Italian opera seria for the French stage. He began with two early operas that he had composed for the Teatro San Carlo of Naples between 1815 and 1822 as music director: Le Siège de Corinthe, an 1826 French adaptation of his 1820 Maometto II; and Moïse, an 1827 French adaptation of his 1818 opera Mosè in Egitto. With the help of French poets, Rossini not only translated the works for a French audience, but fully adapted the score with new music, added ballets, revised recitatives, and a more developed chorus.

Manuscript for Rossini’s Moïse, Moldenhauer Archive, Music Division.

The Library’s Moldenhauer Archive holds a Rossini music manuscript which sheds light on the creative process of adapting Mosè in Egitto for the French stage. Philip Gossett describes the significance of Rossini’s manuscript in his essay, “Gioachino Rossini’s Moïse from The Rosaleen Moldenauer Memorial Music History from Primary Sources: A Guide to the Moldenhauer Archives. The manuscript consists of a newly-composed recitative, “Dopo il Ballo” from Act II, which precedes the Finale of the act. Two folios present the incomplete recitative with measures 1-18 on the recto and verso (front and back) of the first folio, and measures 36-43 on the recto of the second. Presumably, there should be a folio between the two with the missing middle measures. At the top right corner of the first page we read “offert à M. Desnoyer / E. Troupenas.” Eugène Troupenas was Rossini’s publisher, and M. Desnoyers likely refers to writer Louis Desnoyers, a critic who published a defense of Robert Bruce, an adaptation of Rossini’s La donna del lago. After publishing Moïse in 1827, Troupenas apparently gave various parts of Rossini’s reworked manuscript for the adaptation to different recipients – in this instance as a gift, it seems.

Manuscript for Rossini’s Moïse, Moldenhauer Archive, Music Division. Folio 2, Verso.

The verso (back side) of the second folio is not recitative material; rather, it features sketch material for the Act II Finale that follows the recitative. Sketches in Rossini’s hand are rare to find; this sketch features material from the middle of the Finale as opposed to the opening bars of the Finale, which suggests that Rossini was sketching a particularly puzzling idea. Though only two pages, this Rossini manuscript reveals major insights into the composer’s process and the history of his opera adaptations for the French stage.

Happy birthday to Rossini, and to all of the leaplings out there celebrating this February 29th!

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