About this Recording
8.570766 - ROSSINI, G.: Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Marangoni) - Peches de vieillesse, Vol. 6

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Péchés de vieillesse: Volume VI, Album pour les enfants dégourdis (Excerpts)


Gioachino Antonio Rossini, one of the most successful and popular operatic composers of his time, was born in Pesaro in 1792, five months after the marriage of his parents. His father, a brass-player and later teacher of the French horn at the Bologna Accademia, had a modest career, disturbed by the political changes of the period as the French replaced the Austrians in Northern Italy. Rossini’s mother was a singer and as a boy Rossini made his appearance with his father in the pit orchestra and from time to time as a singer with his mother on stage, going on to work as a keyboard-player in the opera orchestra.

Rossini’s early studies in music were with his father and mother, and with other teachers through the generosity of rich patrons. In childhood he had already started to show ability as a composer and his experience in the opera-house bore natural fruit in a remarkable and meteoric career that began in 1810 with the production of La cambiale di matrimonio in Venice.

There followed a series of operas, comic and tragic, until the relatively poor reception of Semiramide in Venice in 1823 turned Rossini’s attention to Paris. Under the Bourbon King Charles X Rossini staged French versions of earlier works and in 1829 Guillaume Tell. A contract for further operas came to nothing when the King was replaced in the revolution of 1830 by Louis-Philippe, although eventually, after some six years, Rossini was able to have his agreed annuity restored. With matters settled in France, in 1836 he returned to Italy and in spite of ill health concerned himself with the affairs of the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. The revolutionary disturbances there in 1848, activities with which he had little sympathy, seemed to threaten him and his second wife, Olympe Pélissier, whom he had married in 1846, after the death of his first wife, the singer Isabella Colbran, from whom he had been legally separated since 1837. For his own safety he moved first to Florence, but in 1855, partly in a search for better health, returned to Paris. In that city and a few years later at his new villa at Passy he passed the rest of his life.

Rossini’s last ten years brought a return to composition, principally with a series of pieces described as Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age). Some of these are based on earlier works, some designed for performance at the informal Saturday evenings when he entertained guests in Paris, and others simply musical obiter dicta, as it were, pieces written as the mood took him. The Péchés de vieillesse are included in thirteen volumes, with the fourth to the eighth grouped together by Rossini as ‘Un peu de tout. Recueil de 56 morceaux semi-comiques pour le piano (“Je dédie ces Péchés de vieillesse aux pianistes de la 4.me classe à la quelle j’ai l’honneur d’appartenir”) (A little of everything. Collection of 56 semi-comic pieces for the piano: “I dedicate these Sins of Old Age to pianists of the fourth class, to which I have the honour to belong”). Rossini was unfairly modest about his abilities as a pianist, which were, it seems, not inconsiderable. Other volumes also contain piano pieces.

The sixth volume of the Péchés de vieillesse has the title Album pour les enfants dégourdis (Album for Smart Children). It contains twelve pieces, of which the eleventh, Etude asthmatique, is here omitted, to be included in a later recording. The set starts with Mon prélude hygiénique du matin (My morning hygienic prelude). The opening flourish, a wake-up call, is interrupted by chords of Wagnerian solemnity, marked ppp, before the lively principal theme with its echoes of Chopin is heard. The chords return, to be followed, dolcemente, by a brief aria, which makes its due return in the tonic key of C before the piece reaches its emphatic conclusion.

The second piece, Prélude baroque, after its dramatic opening, seemed about to promise reflection of Rossini’s interest in earlier music, but it is not long before melodic language of the new century finds a place, the two elements providing a distinct contrast.

The solemn C minor Memento homo (Remember, O Man) takes its title from the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy for the distribution of the ashes; Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris (Remember, O man, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return). It opens with the distant death knell, sounding in the depths of the keyboard, with music that has been said to recall Rossini’s Quelques mesures de chant funèbre: à mon pauvre ami Meyerbeer, a four-part male chorus written on the death of Meyerbeer in 1864. Mourning and thoughts of death are thrown aside abruptly in the following light-hearted Assez de memento: dansons (Enough of Memento: let us dance), with its constant left-hand accompaniment and insouciant twirls of melody.

In La Pesarese Rossini turns to a melody from his native town of Pesaro, presented con grazia, but with a suggestion of future counterpoint in the imitative entries of the main theme in a central section.

The sixth piece, Valse torturée, opens with wayward introductory chords, before the waltz proper starts, a characteristic example of Rossini’s familiarity with the musical language of a younger generation, the dance here tortured by interruptions and by its brusque first theme, shifting to a less abrupt secondary melody, and ending with a wayward and prolonged flourish.

With Une caresse à ma femme Rossini offers an endearment to his wife, Olympe Pélissier, who had been a close companion since the early 1830s. She did much to care for Rossini during these years, as his health and state of mind fluctuated, coming to serve as a nurse and his protector from unwanted intrusion, when that became necessary. The piece is a sincere tribute to a woman to whom he owed much.

Barcarole, after its introductory chords, embarks on a lilting boating-song, with more than an echo of Chopin, mingled with more purely Venetian inspiration.

There is an autobiographical element in Un petit train de plaisir, comico-imitatif (A little pleasure train, comico-imitative). Train journeys had not always proved congenial to Rossini, and here a bell summons the passengers, who climb on board, before the train starts its journey. The satanic whistle blows, the brakes are gently applied and the train arrives in a station, where Parisian beaux hand their girls down from the coaches. The journey continues, but the train comes to grief in a dramatic derailment. There are two casualties, the soul of one flying to heaven and the other down to hell, followed by a funeral march. The heirs express their bitter sorrow in a cheerful Allegro vivace and Rossini ends with the words ‘Tout ceci est plus que naïf c’est vrai’.

Fausse couche de polka mazurka (Miscarriage Polka Mazurka) matches the ironical suggestion of its title, as the promised dance occasionally miscarries.

The album ends with Un enterrement en carnaval (A Carnival Interment) which reveals its initially funereal character in the muffled drums represented by tremolo bass octaves. A shift from B minor to G major brings a less mournful mood, before the drums of the first section return, fading to a carnival D major Allegro moderato, with a gentler meno mosso at its heart.

Keith Anderson

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