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Revealing Rossini’s Sins

December 10, 2008

Everyone knows the famous tune from Rossini’s opera William Tell (remember the old TV series The Lone Ranger?) but few have yet discovered the immense treasure-trove of his piano music. Naxos has engaged the talented young Italian pianist Alessandro Marangoni to record Rossini’s complete piano music. Here he speaks with Stephen Schafer about why Rossini’s “Sins of Old Age” should be better known because they reveal so much about him.

SS: Rossini is, of course, most famous for his operas, yet his piano music is fascinating and equally entertaining. When did you first discover Rossini's piano music and why does it appeal to you?

AM: When I was very young, after listening to Mosè, I was very fascinated by Rossini, and he became my favourite composer! However I discovered his piano works only later, during my piano studies and repertoire researches, with great surprise: Rossini concentrated in these works all his expertise and expressivity, all the emotions of his own life. I feel these pieces are very familiar to me and friendly to my hands and my mind.

Rossini's humour and irony seem to point forward to music with similarly irreverent wit by Satie. Do you think Rossini was deliberately 'playing jokes' in this music? Was he trying to be 'modern' in some way or simply expressing himself in a humorous way, or did he have serious intentions behind the light-hearted style of much of this music?

Rossini was a man rich in humour and especially ‘auto-humour’: in his music he jokes, not only with the notes but also with titles or didascalies (that is, in the instructions from the composer to the performer). We certainly can compare him to Satie but, in my opinion, he was wittier, more subtle and jokier than the French composer.  We can find all the Italian way of life in his music, especially in the Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age). I think this attitude was taken from his own simple and genuine character, without an intellectual intention to be "modern". But he was modern, of course, in that. We can find also some very serious pieces, rich in lyricism, like "Prelude Inoffensive" or "Une pensée a Florence", with echoes of Chopin, Schubert and Liszt.

Rossini wrote this works for his friends and for his salon: he himself played some pieces at the piano, with singers or other musicians; sometimes he himself sang to have fun with his guests. His "Sins of Old Age" weren’t circulated or published when Rossini was alive. It seems that the composer didn't give much importance to these works.

During the next few years, while you're recording this music, you're also playing it in concert recitals with Quirino Principe. How did this collaboration start and what do you aim to achieve?

Quirino Principe is the greatest Italian musicologist, translator, philosopher and also a great actor! Our collaboration is perfect: he brings the audience into Rossini's world, telling stories about his biography and analysing the pieces in a very funny way.  Not only that: we are a real duo because he recites Rossini's didascalies when I am playing, for example in "Un petit train du plaisir". I think these recitals are a new way to present this music, involving the audience with a dramaturgic concert.

Does Rossini's piano music pose any special technical or interpretative challenges for a pianist?

Rossini uses all types of techniques: his piano works are a wonderful exercise (in wonderful music) to develop a good legato and sound, but also a great virtuoso technique. Personally, he is giving me a lot of joy playing his piano works: they involve all the possibilities of the instrument. I'm very happy that Naxos asked me to record the complete Péchés de vieillesse because I think that the real "Pèchè" is that these works are not known as they would reserve to be!

Rossini Piano Music, Vol 1
Rossini Piano Music, Vol 2

Alessandro Marangoni Biography & Discography


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