Gioacchino Rossini meets Ludwig van Beethoven

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MaestroDJS
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Gioacchino Rossini meets Ludwig van Beethoven

Post by MaestroDJS » Sun Sep 24, 2006 7:38 pm

Ever wonder what might happen if 2 great but very different composers crossed paths? Recently I stumbled upon a treasure trove of materials by and about Gioacchino Rossini: in English, French and Italian. Although I can claim English, French, German and quasi-intelligible Spanish in my repertoire of languages, I have not systematically studied Italian. Well, languages are a hobby of mine, and I've never let not knowing what I'm doing stand in my way (ha ha), so I gave it a try. It helped that Rossini lived in Paris for much of his life, so he also spoke French. Then I found some information about his late Péchés de vieillesse [Sins of Old Age], in which the titles are in both French and Italian. Therefore I decided to take the plunge and dive right into Italian when I found Rossini's fascinating account of his meeting with Beethoven on the operaitaliana.com web site. What? Rossini actually met Beethoven? Wow, I gotta try to read this! I hope you enjoy my semi-competent English translation.

To set the scene:

Beethoven and Rossini, by David Stybr
Reprinted from Maestro, Vol. 15, No. 8, September 2006
Classical Music SIG (Special Interest Group) of American Mensa
David Stybr, Coordinator

In Chapter XVIII of his Musical Memories, published in 1919 (English translation by Edwin Gile Rich), Camille Saint-Saëns mentioned that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was thwarted in his operatic ambitions by the growing popularity of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868): "The first encounter was at Vienna where the success of Tancredi crushed forever the dramatic ambitions of the author of Fidelio." Beethoven was cordial to Rossini at their only meeting in Vienna in April 1822, but he envied Rossini's great success, which eclipsed much of his own music.

Then I delved a little deeper and found Beethoven: the Man and the Artist, as Revealed in his own Words, edited by Friedrich Kerst and translated into English by Henry Edward Krehbiel (October 1904). Beethoven was not so kind to Rossini on other occasions, as shown by these remarks:
"Well, they will not be able to rob me of my place in the history of art."
-- A remark to his friends at the height of Rossini's popularity in Vienna in 1822.

"Rossini would have become a great composer if his teacher had frequently applied some blows ad posteriora."
-- To Schindler, after Beethoven had read the score of Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

"Rossini is a talented and a melodious composer, his music suits the frivolous and sensuous spirit of the times, and his productivity is such that he needs only as many weeks as the Germans do years to write an opera."
-- In 1824, at Baden, to Freudenberg.

"This rascal Rossini, who is not respected by a single master of his art!"
-- Conversation-book, 1825.

"The Bohemians are born musicians. The Italians ought to take them as models. What have they to show for their famous conservatories? Behold! their idol, Rossini! If Dame Fortune had not given him a pretty talent and amiable melodies by the bushel, what he learned at school would have brought him nothing but potatoes for his big belly."
-- Conversation-book at Haslinger's music shop, which Beethoven often visited.
And now, the meeting itself:

Gioacchino Rossini meets Ludwig van Beethoven
Reprinted from Maestro, Vol. 15, No. 9, October 2006
Classical Music SIG (Special Interest Group) of American Mensa
David Stybr, Coordinator

In April 1822, Rossini was in Vienna for a festival of his music, and he also met Beethoven for the only time. The 30-year-old Rossini was fabulously successful, and the 52-year-old Beethoven was also recognized as a genius but by contrast lived in squalor. Rossini was deeply moved by this meeting, and Beethoven rued his own fate.

Editor's Note: The most complete account I have found of this meeting was by Rossini himself, late in life. I cannot read Italian nearly as well as French or German, but I tried anyway, so below are his original Italian, followed by my English translation.

For those who can read Italian:
Gioacchino Rossini wrote:Avevo già ascoltato a Milano alcuni quartetti di Beethoven e non ho bisogno di dirle con quanta emozione e ammirazione! Conoscevo anche alcune sue composizioni per pianoforte. A Vienna assistei per la prima volta all'esecuzione di una delle sue sinfonie, l'Eroica. Quella musica mi sconvolse. Ebbi un solo pensiero: conoscere quel grande genio, vederlo, fosse pure una sola volta. Ne parlai con Salieri che sapevo essere in rapporti con Beethoven…. Per soddisfare il mio desiderio pensò che la cosa migliore fosse parlarne con Carpani, il poeta italiano che era persona gradita a Beethoven; era certo che con il suo aiuto sarebbe riuscito. In effetti Carpani si adoperò con tale insistenza presso il maestro che ottenne il suo consenso a ricevermi. Ho bisogno di dirlo? Salendo le scale che conducevano alla misera dimora in cui abitava il grande uomo, feci un certa fatica a controllare la mia emozione. Quando la porta si aprì, mi trovai in una specie di bugigattolo sudicio e spaventosamente disordinato. Mi ricordo soprattutto che il soffitto, subito sotto il tetto, era percorso da grandi crepe attraverso le quali la pioggia doveva certo penetrare a fiotti. I ritratti di Beethoven che tutti conosciamo nell'insieme riproducono abbastanza fedelmente la sua fisionomia. Ma quel che nessun incisore saprebbe mai esprimere è la tristezza indefinibile che emana dal suo volto, mentre sotto le folte sopraciglie, come in profonde caverne, gli occhi, anche se piccoli, sembrano trafiggervi. La voce era dolce e un poco velata. Quando entrammo, senza fare attenzione a noi restò qualche momento chino su una pagina di musica che finiva di correggere. Poi, sollevando la testa, mi disse bruscamente, in un italiano abbastanza comprensibile: "Ah Rossini, è lei l'autore del Barbiere di Siviglia? Le faccio i miei complimenti, è un'eccellente opera buffa; l'ho letta con piacere e mi sono divertito. Fino a che ci sarà un teatro d'opera italiano verrà eseguita. Non cerchi mai di fare altro che opere buffe; voler riuscire in un altro genere significherebbe forzare il suo destino." Carpani che mi accompagnava lo interruppe subito, naturalmente scarabocchiando in tedesco e traducendomi parola per parola; era questo il solo modo in cui si poteva tenere una conversazione con Beethoven; scrisse: "Ma il maestro Rossini ha già composto un gran numero di opere serie, Tancredi, Otello, Mosè; io stesso gliele ho mandate raccomandandole di esaminarle." Beethoven rispose: "Infatti le ho scorse, ma vedete, l'opera seria non è per gli italiani. Per trattare il vero dramma non hanno sufficiente dottrina musicale; e come potrebbero mai acquisirla in Italia?" Io gli comunico tutta la mia ammirazione per il suo genio, tutta la gratitudine per avermi permesso di esprimergliela... Mi rispose con un profondo sospiro e con queste poche parole: "Oh! un infelice!"

Dopo una pausa mi chiese alcuni dettagli sui teatri italiani, sui cantanti famosi, volle sapere se si eseguivano frequentemente le opere di Mozart, se ero soddisfatto della compagnia italiana a Vienna. Poi augurandomi una buona esecuzione e il successo per Zelmira, si alzò e ci accompagnò fino alla porta, ripetendomi "Soprattutto faccia molti Barbiere."

Scendendo quella scala, provai un'impressione talmente penosa nel pensare all'abbandono e alla miseria in cui era lasciato languire un sì grand'uomo, che non potei frenare le lagrime. "Ma se è lui", disse il Carpani, "che vuol vivere così! E' un misantropo, un bisbetico, che non sa conservarsi alcun amico!" La sera stessa assistei ad un pranzo di gala in casa del principe Metternich. Turbato ancora da quella visita, da quella lugubre parola "infelice", che mi era rimasta negli orecchi, mi sentii come confuso nel vedermi trattato, al paragone del Beethoven, con tanti riguardi in quella brillante società, e non potei fare a meno di dire francamente tutto quel che pensavo sulla condotta della Corte e dell'aristocrazia viennese verso il più gran genio musicale del tempo. N'ebbe la stessa risposta che mi aveva data il Carpani; ed allora feci osservare che lo stato di sordità in cui si trovava l'infelice doveva ispirare la più viva compassione e che non era generoso rimproverargli certe debolezze per giustificare il rifiuto di soccorrerlo. Aggiunsi che se tutte le famiglie facoltose di Vienna si fossero sottoscritte per una data quota, sarebbe stato possibile assicurare al grande compositore una rendita tale da metterlo al riparo di ogni bisogno; ma la proposta non trovò l'appoggio di alcuno. Non mi perdei di coraggio e cercai di raccogliere i fondi necessari per compargli almeno una modesta abitazione. Ottenni qualche adesione, ma il risultato finale fu assai mediocre; mi si rispondeva generalmente: "Voi conoscete poco il Maestro; il giorno dopo ch'egli sarà padrone di una casa, se la rivenderà; non si saprà mai adattare a tenere un'abitazione fissa; sente il bisogno di cambiare appartamento ogni sei mesi e domestica ogni sei settimane!" E così fui obbligato ad abbandonare anche questo secondo progetto.
My English translation:
Gioacchino Rossini wrote:I had already listened to some quartets of Beethoven in Milan and I have no need to say of them with such emotion and admiration! I also knew some of his compositions for pianoforte. In Vienna I attended for the first time the performance of one of his symphonies, the Eroica. That music overwhelmed me. I had a single thought: to know that great genius, to see him, just once. I spoke of this with Salieri whom I knew to be in rapport with Beethoven…. In order to satisfy my desire he thought that the better thing was to speak with Carpani, the Italian poet who was a dear person to Beethoven; he was sure that with his help it would be successful. In effect Carpani adopted such persistence to the master that he obtained his consent to receive me. Need I say it? Ascending the stairs that led to the miserable dwelling which the great man inhabited, it was certainly hard work to control my emotion. When the door was opened, I found myself in a kind of dirty and frightfully disorderly attic. I remember above all that the ceiling, immediately under the roof, was covered from great cracks through which the rain must have poured in. The portraits of Beethoven which all we know entirely reproduce his appearance faithfully enough. But something that none have ever known how to express is the indefinibile sadness that emanates from its face, while under the thick eyebrows, as in deep caverns, the eyes, even if small, seemed transfixed. His voice was sweet and a little veiled. When we entered, without drawing attention to ourselves, we stayed some moment bent over a page of music as he finished correcting it. Then, raising his head, he said to me abruptly, in a sufficiently comprehensible Italian: "Ah! Rossini, you are the author of The Barber of Seville? I offer my compliments; it is an excellent opera buffa. I have read it with pleasure and I enjoyed myself. So long as there is an Italian opera, it will be performed. Never try to do anything other than comic operas; to want to succeed in another style would force your nature." Carpani who accompanied me suddenly interrupted him, naturally scribbling in German and translated word for word for me; this was the only way in which one could hold a conversation with Beethoven; he wrote: "But master Rossini has already composed a great number of opera seria, Tancredi, Otello, Mosè; the same have I sent, recommending that you examine them." Beethoven answered: "In fact I have glanced at them, but you see, the opera seria is not for the Italians. For treating the true drama they do not have enough musical knowledge; and how could they acquire it in Italy?" I communicated to him all my admiration for his genius, all my gratitude to have been allowed to express it to him. He answered me with a deep sigh and with these little words: "Oh! An unfortunate!"

After a pause he asked me for some details on the Italian theatres, on the famous singers, wanting to know if the operas of Mozart were performed frequently, if I were satisfied with the Italian opera company in Vienna. Then wishing me a good performance and success for Zelmira, he stood and accompanied us to the door, repeating "Above all you must make more Barbers."

Descending those stairs, it made such a painful impression to think about the abandonment and the misery in which this great man was left to languish, that I could not repress my tears. "But if it is he", said Carpani, "who wants to live thus! He is a misanthrope, a rascal, who does not know to keep a friend!" That same evening I attended a gala dinner in the house of Prince Metternich. Still upset from that visit, from that lugubrious word "unfortunate", which remained in my ears, I felt somewhat confused to see how I was treated, in contrast to Beethoven, with high regard in that brilliant society, and I could do no less than to speak frankly all that I thought about the conduct of the Court and the Viennese aristocracy toward the greatest musical genius of the time. There came the same answer that Carpani had given to me; and then I remarked that the state of deafness in which the poor devil found himself should inspire the most living compassion and that was not generous to reprimand certain failings in order to justify their refusal to help him. I added that if all the powerful families of Vienna were to underwrite for a given contribution, it would have been possible to assure to the great composer such an income to take care of every need; but the proposal did not find any support at all. I did not lose my courage and I tried to collect the necessary funds from them for at least a modest residence. I obtained some adherants, but the final result was very mediocre; the response was generally the same: "You little know the Master; the day after he becomes the owner of a house, he will sell it; he will never be known to adapt and hold a fixed residence; he feels the need to change apartments every six months and domestic servants every six weeks!" And therefore I was obliged to abandon this second plan.
Upon reading this account, it makes me painfully aware just how isolated Beethoven was in his deafness. His compositional gifts were undiminished, and he could read all the notable scores of the day, but he could not hear them. When Beethoven "asked me for some details on the Italian theatres, on the famous singers, wanting to know if the operas of Mozart were performed frequently, if I were satisfied with the Italian opera company in Vienna," I realized more than ever that Beethoven knew that he could never again go to concert halls and opera houses and hear the music like everyone else.

Dave

David Stybr, Engineer and Composer: It's Left Brain vs. Right Brain: best 2 falls out of 3
http://members.SibeliusMusic.com/Stybr
Andante Cantabile for String Orchestra (5:00)
http://www.SibeliusMusic.com/cgi-bin/sh ... reid=83856

Personal Assistant and Der Webmeister to author Denise Swanson
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Murder of a Real Bad Boy
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PS. To make my Rossini immersion all the more complete, I have known and loved his William Tell Overture for at least 4 decades. This week I am finally listening to the complete 4-act, 4-hour opera in its entirety. Mighty good listening.

Gioacchino Rossini: Guglielmo Tell (William Tell), Opera in 4 Atti. Sherril Milnes, Baritone; Luciano Pavarotti, Tenor; Mirella Freni, Soprano; Nicolai Ghiaurov, Bass. Ambrosian Opera Chorus / National Philharmonic Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly. Decca 417 154-2 (4 CDs).

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