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Gioacchino Rossini

Gioacchino Antonio Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy, in 1792. His mother was a successful singer, and his father a talented amateur horn player. He began studying music theory and singing with his parents in Pesaro until the family moved to Bologna in the late 1790s. There he studied composition, singing and harpsichord. Pianoforte and horn lessons soon followed and by the age of 13 he was a good enough singer to make his first and only appearance on stage, singing treble in Paër's Camilla. At 14, he wrote his first opera.

In 1807, he entered the conservatoire in Bologna, where he studied counterpoint and cello. Despite picking up the cello with ease, he found P.S. Mattei's counterpoint lessons dull and taught himself much by studying and orchestrating the quartets and symphonies of Mozart and Haydn. Whilst a student, he composed his Variations for Clarinet and small orchestra (1809), and Introduction, theme and variations for Clarinet and orchestra (1810).

Thanks to the benvolence of the Marquis Cavalli, at the age of 18, his second opera La cambiale di matrimonio was staged in Venice. It met with some success and, between 1810 and 1813, he produced several operas for the stages of La Scala, Milan, and Venice, some of which became popular. His reputation outside Venice was only established with the premiere of Tancredi and L'italiana in Algeri in 1813. He returned to Bologna in 1815 and took up the musical directorship on the Teatro San Carlo and the Teatro Del Fondo in Naples. Whilst there he wrote Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra in which the soprano Isabella Colbran took the lead role. She and Rossini were married in 1822.

In 1816, he wrote what is now one of his best-known operas, Il barbiere de Siviglia. Despite a disasterous premiere, the opera became a phenomenal success, completely eclipsing Giovanni Paisiello's own opera of the same name, which had been hugely popular on the Italian stages for nearly a quarter of a century. He went on to write over 20 operas between 1815 and 1823, when he visited England and met King George IV.

In 1824, he moved to Paris, where he wrote what was to prove to be his last opera, Guillame Tell. Following its enormous success, he was commissioned by the government to write ten operas in five years, but the subsequent abdication of King Charles X and the revolution that followed prevented this. He returned to Italy in 1836, and in 1845, his wife died. He remarried in 1847, but between 1836 and 1855, his only compositions were three religious works.

Many of Rossini's innovations had a lasting effect on the development of romantic opera. These include tying the overture directly to the plot of the opera (rather than just writing an introduction to grab the audience's attention), writing out the ornamentation for his arias (previously these had been improvised by the soprano singing the role) and writing recitative accompanied by strings rather than harpsichord.

In 1855, he once again settled in Paris. There he also began to compose again. His works from the last 13 years of his life include the Petit messe solonnelle, and some 150 piano, vocal and chamber works which he collectively called, Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of old-age). He died in 1868 aged 76, and was buried in Paris.

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