Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rossini - Overture To ' La Gazza Ladra'

Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868) was an Italian composer most well known for his operas and their overtures.  He was a child prodigy and composed his first works, six sonatas for strings, when he was twelve years old.  His father was a horn player in the orchestra while his mother was an opera singer. He wrote his first opera at the age of fourteen.

He could play the horn, harpsichord and organ, and cello. The first performance of an opera he composed happened when he was eighteen, and by the age of twenty he was an internationally known composer.  By the time of his retirement in 1829 he had written 38 operas and was 38 years old. He wrote very little music after 1829 except for a set of pieces he called 'Sins of my old age' that were pieces for solo piano, a few songs and pieces for chamber ensemble. Attempts to explain Rossini's retirement from writing opera and practically all other music have mentioned physical and mental illness, which he did have both. But it could have simply been a case that he peaked very early in his career and simply was 'written out'.

The Overture to La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie)  is one of Rossini's most popular. After the middle of the 19th century the opera wasn't staged again until its revival in 1941.  The overture is a good example of the 'Rossini Crescendo', a trait of many of Rossini's overtures. The orchestra plays a tune or theme over and over, each time the music gets louder and louder until it reaches a climax.  A Rossini crescendo is most difficult to do. To keep the orchestra together, beginning quietly and gradually leading it up to full volume without increasing the tempo and having enough force left in the orchestra to reach the climax is a test of the players and the conductor. When done as it should be, it leaves an indelible impression on the ear. It is a force of nature.

Legend has it that the day before the premiere of this opera the producer had Rossini locked into a room with music paper and pen and told him he wouldn't let him out until he wrote the overture! Rossini would pass each completed sheet out the window for the copyists. What a first performance that must have been with practically no rehearsal, even no rehearsal at all1 Things have changed in the opera house and concert hall over the years.

Overture To La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie):

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