“Monday Musings” for Monday February 29, 2016
Volume VI. No. 9/269
Happy Birthday to Gioachino Rossini
His 56th or 224th
By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DSc (Hon), DLFAPA*
Because it took six weeks to complete the science series on “Brain and Behavior”, many topics including the birth of Mozart on January 27 and the birth of the father of country, George Washington on February 22 were neglected. We will make up the losses at appropriate time. Today we celebrate Gioachino Rossini’s birthday.
I grew up listening to Rossini’s music, especially his operas on a hand-cranked phonograph. So, in 1955, over 60 years ago, when I came to US as a student to prepare for college and medical school, it was a shock to hear Rossini’s revered William Tell Overture finale used as the “Lone Ranger theme”. But I got used to it and was grateful, since the love of Rossini’s music made learning cowboy-western dialect of the English language easier.
Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who wrote 39 operas in addition to sacred music, chamber music, songs, and some instrumental and piano pieces. His versatility and output were phenomenal. Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy, on leap day, February 29, 1792 making him only 56 years old! His parents were both respected musicians. His father, Giuseppe Rossini, played and taught the horn as the tenured Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna. But in spite of his elevated community status of professorship in the prestigious academy, he had a hard time making ends meet. Playing the horn was not enough to eke out a living for his family. He worked on the side as a butcher, a craft Gioachino learned also. To add to the uncertainties of life, because Giussepe was a proponent of the French revolution and politically in bed with the forces of Napoleon, he was imprisoned for over a year in 1799. After Guissepe’s prison term was completed, he resumed his teaching and butchering duties and stayed away from politics. At one point son Gioachino, besides butchering, was apprenticed in blacksmithing and iron work.
Gioachino was an eager and talented musician. The apple did not fall far from the tree. Gioachino was educated in his father’s school. He was reportedly overshadowed by his father’s professorial status and fame, and secretly resented his father. This is a matter which has been the subject of speculation and critical reviews by psychobiographers such as Maynard Solomon and critics/musicologists such as Joseph Kerman. Nonetheless, Gioachino loved music and excelled in playing the harpsichord.
Gioachino’s mother, Anna Guidarini, a professional singer, while gone on trips to Bologna and other cities on singing tours, left the care of her son to his grandmother. He was the only child.
Gioachino did not have an altogether happy childhood. He was rebellious and head strong. The disarrayed childhood predisposed the poor Gioachino to early bouts of depression. The curse of depression and mood swings left him disabled. His operas including the top billing Barber of Seville, premiered in 1816, and other compositions made him extremely rich. In 1822, Rossini was at the peak of his career. The same year he married the distinguished opera singer Isabella Colbran and moved to Vienna from Italy. His operas in Vienna were widely accepted. He returned to Bologna on invitation from Prince Metternich to “assist in the general re-establishment of harmony”. In 1823, Rossini moved to England on advice from the manager of the ‘King’s Theatre’ in London. He was already renowned in Paris and became the musical director of “Theatre des Italiens.” His rising popularity brought him a contract from Charles X, to compose five new operas in the span of a year. He must have been going through a manic high productive phase of his bipolar cycle.
Rossini scholars believe that it was not Rossini’s fortunes but extreme bouts of mood swings and manic depression or bipolar disorder that pushed him to early retirement. One musicologist and Rossini scholar writes “Rossini said ‘I am rich I don’t need to work anymore’.” Because of these alleged utterances by Rossini, many think that he did not have the passion of a genuine genius of a composer. “He was in it for the fame and the money…” He retired early and managed to hobnob with the rich and famous in elegant Parisian soirees. The end of his life was ignominious because of repeated bouts of depression and possible disabling syphilis. He died on November 13, 1868 in Paris, France. Happy Birthday to no matter what the critics and historians say a giant of the operatic and musical world, Senior Gioachino Rossini, his 56th .
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).