THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

28 February 2017

Rossini in London

“Rossini, the composer, is at present the great object of curiosity and attraction in the fashionable circles.”

Morning Chronicle,  13 January 1824

Rossini in 1865Rossini in 1865. From Wikimedia Commons

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) – whose 225th birthday falls at the end of this month – made a particularly profitable visit to England between December 1823 and July 1824. As well as conducting and supervising performances of some of his existing operas at the King’s Theatre in London, he was commissioned to write a new work, performed for King George IV at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, and was generally in demand for appearances at the most fashionable and exclusive social events. His fee, it was widely and sensationally reported, was 50 guineas a night. What is more, as the music journal The Harmonicon acerbically put it:

This, it was thought, was not doing enough; some subscription concerts therefore were suggested, for the purpose of more adequately rewarding the gran maestro for the risque he encountered, and the inconvenience he endured, in crossing the abominable Straits of Dover. 

The Harmonicon,  11 June 1824

The commissioned opera, Ugo, re d’Italia, may or may not have been finished [i], but was certainly never performed. At least one piece was written and performed during his visit though – a lament on the death of Lord Byron, who had died in April 1824. This exists in a manuscript in the composer’s hand here at the British Library (Additional MS 30246). 

Rossini_Additional_MS_30246_f007rRossini, Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron. British Library Additional MS 30246, f. 7 recto

Originally described in our catalogue as a cantata for tenor solo called ‘Apollo’ (the manuscript gives no title for the piece, and that name appears next to the vocal line in the score), this is the work published and known as Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron – based in part on a chorus from Rossini’s 1820 opera Maometto II.

Rossini sang the solo tenor part himself in the second of two benefit concerts at Almack’s Assembly Rooms on 11 June 1824. Claws still out, The Harmonicon informs us that he “certainly did not spare his lungs on the occasion”.

The British Library's printed music collections also include a piano reduction of the work dating from 1824 and signed by none other than the composer himself. This seems to have been used as the basis for a further printed edition produced for the composer by publisher Thomas Boosey that same year (and whose archive features elsewhere in this blog).  

Rossini_Byron_H_400_41Printed score of Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron. British Library, H.400.(41.)

The manuscript (Additional MS 30246) shows plenty of tangible evidence of links with printed editions, with various light pencil annotations contrasting with Rossini’s heavily-inked notation. It appears to have been ‘marked up’ for, or by, the engraver, for layout, and to point out ‘hazards’, such as where the vocal line needed to be moved from the tenor to the treble clef. It is particularly interesting to see how the markings for system and page breaks match up with the printed end result.

Three other complete pieces by Rossini are also included in Additional MS 30246, all for a combination of solo voices and piano: Dall’ oriente, for piano and four voices; In giorno si bello, titled ‘Noturno a tre voci’; and O giorno sereno. Each of these, along with the Byron-inspired piece, were separately published a few years later in Paris by Antonio Pacini . The handwritten plate numbers on these manuscripts suggests that they were used as the basis of those publications as well.

Rossini_In_giorno_si_bello_f014rRossini, In giorno si bello, Noturno a 3 voci. British Library, Additional MS 30246, folio 14 recto

Working out how and why a particular manuscript came to be in the British Library's collections can sometimes be a bit of puzzle. While we usually have some kind of record of who it was purchased from, the trail often runs cold before that. In this case, a very brief note in the acquisitions records states that the bundle of manuscripts (which were only bound together later) was purchased from a ‘Mdme. Paul Gayard’ in January 1877. It seems likely that this was Paule Gayrard-Pacini, who received several notices in The Times and the Morning Post of piano recitals in London that year. Neatly, she was also the granddaughter of Rossini’s French publisher, the aforementioned Antonio Pacini.

And the Pacini connection deepens. Additional MS 30246 also contains some short passages by Rossini intended for a pasticcio opera on Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which Pacini had compiled and adapted from Rossini’s existing operas (seemingly under the composer’s supervision). Ivanhoé was performed in Paris in 1826, and it is known that a few small sections of music were especially written for it - most notably an early version of the famous tune from William Tell, which appears as a brief fanfare between spoken dialogue. Additional MS 30246 includes some accompanied recitative and a short orchestral passage marked ‘sinfonia’, which was possibly originally intended to open the opera. However, in the end, the tried-and-tested overture for Semiramide was used instead.

Rossini_Ivanhoe_Additional_MS_30246_f026rMusic for Ivanhoé. Additional MS 30246, folio 26 recto

Chris Scobie
Rare Books & Music Reference Service

Notes:

[i] See Andrew Porter’s article ‘A lost opera by Rossini’, in Music & Letters, vol. 45/1 (1964), pp.39-44, for an overview of the surviving evidence for this opera.