About this Recording
8.573964 - ROSSINI, G.: Piano Music, Vol. 11 (Marangoni) - Péchés de vieillesse: Chamber Music and Rarities, Vol. 4
English  German 

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Péchés de vieillesse: Chamber Music and Rarities • 4

Signed duets, ‘sacred’ and ‘innocuous’ music

The 20 pieces on this eleventh volume round off this monumental project to record all 200 or so individual works comprising the Péchés de vieillesse (including some preliminary sketches). The album includes all the vocal duets, three ‘religious’ pieces and two multi-sectional arrangements. From now on, all titles and quotations will follow Rossini’s original orthography.

Among the 60 or so vocal works in the Péchés de vieillesse, there are only four duets which Rossini included in the three main vocal albums, all for different forces. It is no accident that Le Gittane (Volume I, No. 6  2 ) is an operatic piece. On 1 January 1861, Rossini dedicated a transcript of it entitled Bolero to Barbara and Carlotta Marchisio ‘exclusively for their personal use’, after the two sisters had breathed new life into his Semiramide (1823) at the Paris Opéra in 1860. Rossini initially wrote the melody, with its extensive use of thirds, to Metastasio‘s words Mi lagnerò tacendo and then in the autograph score wrote the Italian verse by Giuseppe Torre directly underneath. Soupirs et Sourire (Nocturne) (Volume II, No. 10  3 ) is a French pendant to Torre’s Italian ‘Notturno’ Il Cipresso, e la Rosa (ossia Allegrezza e Melancolia), in which the rose is a metaphor for joy, the cypress tree for mourning, while sighing and laughing juxtapose the coquetry of the soprano with the languishing of the tenor. Rossini may only have commissioned the translation by Émilien Pacini to compensate for the ‘excess’ of Italian pieces. Un sou. Complainte a deux Voix (Volume II, No. 4  4 ) may also be a setting of a text by Pacini, though Rossini doesn’t give the poet’s name. Although the situation in the song, in which the two beggars offer the collar of their dead dog for sale, is reminiscent of Offenbach’s bouffonnerie musicale Les Deux aveugles and is not without its funny side, the duet is a typical example of the alms song genre that was so popular in comfortable salons. Les amants de Seville (Tirana, pour deux voix) (Volume III, No. 3  10 ) may also have been based on the usual text by Metastasio. It is a ‘Tirana’ for two voices—a song and dance form from Andalusia whose main characteristic is a refrain. Rossini may have asked his house poet for a ‘story’ with some appropriate local colour, and Pacini came up with a poem featuring two lovers from the area around Seville, the capital of Andalusia, dating it ‘20 Avril 1864’.

As early as 1841 Richard Wagner wrote: ‘Rossini is pious—the world and his wife are pious, and the Parisian salons have turned into prayer cells.—It is extraordinary! For as long as he lives, this man will follow the latest fashion. Does he set the fashion trends, or do they fashion him?’ Where sacred or pious pieces were concerned, the fashion was real and enduring enough—this genre was as much a staple of the salons as romantic love songs or alms and begging songs. As had been the case with Adieux à la vie on one note, the Ave Maria on two notes (su due Note) (Volume I, No. 7  1 ) demonstrates an intensity of expression that one wouldn’t expect from such a ‘musical joke’. The music fits the text of Mi lagnerò tacendo well, but it is not impossible that Rossini composed the piece to the words by Torre. The O salutaris hostia from the hymn by St Thomas Aquinas is a true liturgical piece, though Rossini’s original title, O Salutaris, de Campagne (Volume XI, No. 5  12 ) establishes a ‘pastoral’ connection, the meaning of which must remain a matter of speculation. Perhaps it was intended as a companion piece to the ‘strict’ setting of the same text as an unaccompanied vocal quartet which Rossini had composed in 1857 for Jacques d’Ortigue’s periodical La maîtrise. The reference in his provisional catalogue of the Péchés de vieillesse to it being ‘taken from the Petite Messe’ suggests that the piece was originally composed for the Petite Messe solennelle and was only included in the album later. Rossini’s contemporaries did feel they lacked one large-scale sacred work penned by him: a Requiem that might have been worthy of replacing the customary Masses for the Dead by Mozart or Cherubini. Rossini did, however, write a modest little Requiem, without the pompous ‘Tuba mirum’—A ma belle Mère (Volume XI, No. 4  11 ), to mark the death of his mother-in-law, dated ‘Passy, 19 August 1859’. On 22 August 1859 he wrote to his friend Ivanoff: ‘We are saddened by the death of my wife’s mother; she passed away peacefully three days ago at the age of 92.’ There is therefore no lamentation, just the hope that she will rest in peace, which is emphasised fervently at the words ‘et lux perpetua luceat’.

Gammes (Volume III, No. 5) play with the so-called ‘Chinese scale’. First come two pieces—(Montée) (Pour Album) and (Descente)  5 —comprising an ascending and descending chromatic scale, with the French folk tune about Marlborough appended to the ‘descent’. After another chromatic ascent and descent ( 6 ) comes the first whole-tone scale (Ire Gamme Chinoise montante et Descendante  7 ) and then another (2me Gamme Chinoise montante et Descendante  8 ). These ‘exercises’ are followed by L’Amour à Pèkin. Petite Melodie sur La Gamme Chinoise  9  in which the contralto only uses the six pitches of the ‘Chinese’ whole-tone scale within an octave compass. Rossini sketched out the text himself, Pacini replacing it with the final version about a Chinese woman’s love for a soldier. The composer dedicated the entire composition to ‘my friend the millionaire M. Jobart’, adding ‘Another joke’ to give his (thoroughly serious) musical note-play a jocular veneer.

Although Rossini was still complaining about his health in a letter dated 15 January 1857, writing of ‘my terrible illness, which is a nervous disorder (to the disgrace of the [Medical] Faculty), depriving me of sleep, my appetite, my strength, etc., etc.’, he managed to go on a kind of rejuvenating cure soon afterwards. He had his furniture transported from Florence to Paris, rented a summer villa in Passy, and composed the O Salutaris hostia for D’Ortigue and a virtuosic horn piece for Eugène Vivier. The Frankfurter Nachrichten of 10 June 1857 reported: ‘Rossini really has been composing again. […] After the great composer’s health was restored, he was drawn inexorably back to the piano. Indeed, his friends even noticed fresh manuscript paper on his table. They quizzed Rossini’s wife, and she confirmed that her husband had been writing music frequently for a while already. After some time had elapsed, Rossini did in fact hand his wife an album of six mélodies for mezzo-soprano, preceded by a pretty substantial prelude. He had added a delightful inscription on the title page of the set.’ The report is largely correct, even if Musique Anodine is for a variety of voice types. After the Prelude—Allegretto moderato, for piano ( 13 ) come N.° I (Pour Contralto)  14 , N.° II (Pour Baryton)  15 , N.° III (Pour Soprano)  16 , N.° IIII (Pour Soprano)  17 , N.° IIIII (Pour mezzo Soprano)  18  and N.° IIIIII (Pour Baryton)  19 . However, these were ‘only’ an anthology of earlier pieces and songs that he had revised. For example, there is a version of No. 6 dated 29 February 1852 in the treble rather than the bass clef. No. 5 even offers an unusual example of Rossini fitting Metastasio’s words to an opera aria (Un’empia mel rapì from Ermione, 1819). And the composer had already scribbled a motif that appears in the Prelude on visiting cards in 1856 in Bad Kissingen. The collection’s ‘delightful inscription’ reads: ‘Innocuous music. / Prelude for piano / followed by six little settings of the same words […] These unassuming songs are dedicated to my darling wife Olympe as a modest token of my gratitude for her affectionate and clever nursing during my long and terrible illness (a cause of shame to the [medical] Faculty). / Gioachino Rossini / Paris, 15 April 1857.’ Hunting for original titles, which are as much a hallmark of his mature output as musical experimentation, he lighted on the bland yet ambiguous word ‘anodin’. On the one hand it is used in medicine to describe a tranquilliser (which can be applied to music in general), and on the other it means ‘harmless’, ‘innocuous’, ‘insignificant’, ‘characterless’ (which could refer to the chameleonic interpretation of the text). Rossini set one and the same text, Mi lagnerò tacendo from Metastasio’s Siroe, in a whole variety of ways, in the process both pointing up and eroding its sense in equal measure. Who is it that is suffering in silence and loving in quiet sorrow without being loved in return here? Is this a personal statement or just verbal husks on which to give his art as a song composer a work-out? Rossini may have felt that his retirement from the operatic stage in the 1830s was less a personal decision than a blow of fate about which he was ‘mourning in silence’ (‘The Revolution in Paris […] has ruined me as well’). The words ‘but, my love, do not hope / that I shall stop loving you’ would then be directed to Music, to which he was returning at the end of his life with renewed affection.

Rossini set his name to music as early as 1822 in Addio a Viennesi. In his old age he occasionally set his entire signature, ‘Gioachino Rossini’, as in the version recorded here ( 20 , dated, ‘Passy, this 8 July 1863’). It is the perfect piece to finish with, setting a seal on this recording of the complete ‘Sins of Old Age’!

Reto Müller
Translation: Sue Baxter


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