The Sunday Section: Music - Rossini's Thieving Magpie

The great Italian opera composer, Gioachino Antonio Rossini, was born in Pesaro in February 1792. Although best known for his operas, he also wrote chamber music, sacred music and pieces for piano.

Rossini ~ Étienne Carjat, 1865

Rossini ~ Étienne Carjat, 1865

Both his parents were musicians. His father, Giuseppe, was a horn player and inspector of slaughterhouses, while Anna, his mother, a baker’s daughter, was a singer.

Rossini made his debut at the age of eighteen with ‘La Cambiale di Matrimonio’ (The Marriage Contract), a one-act operatic comical farce. He wrote his most famous opera, ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’ (The Barber of Seville), at the age of 24; it was heard for the first time in Rome in February 1816. ‘La Gazza Ladra’ (The Thieving Magpie), with one of Rossini’s most famous overtures, had its first performance in 1817 at La Scala, Milan. It was performed in England at the King’s Theatre, London, in March 1821, and had its first performance in the United States in New Orleans in December 1828.

In 1823, Rossini visited Britain where he stayed for five months. He was made to feel most welcome, and was introduced to George IV. The following year, he moved to France where he would become the musical director for the Théátre des Italiens in Paris. While in Paris, he gradually began to write in French. His epic opera, Guillaume Tell (William Tell), written in 1829, helped herald the beginning of grand opera in France.

By the time Rossini wrote Guillaume Tell, he was thirty-eight and had, remarkably, written thirty-eight operas. This epic would signal the end of his career as a composer of opera. Today, the original score is rarely performed as it is more than four hours long; it is the celebrated overture that is most frequently recorded.

Rossini returned to Bologna in 1829 to be with his father; his mother had died in 1827. He eventually returned to Paris in 1855, and gradually began composing again after years of suffering illness, both physical and mental. His compositions now took on the form of songs, piano pieces and small chamber pieces.

In November 1868, Rossini died from pneumonia in Paris; he was 76. He was buried in Paris, but in 1887, at the request of the Italian government, his remains were moved to Florence.

Gioachino Rossini was, not only the most popular opera composer of his time, he was also one of the era’s most well renowned public figures. Known for his rapid composing, he was quoted as saying, “Give me the laundress’ bill and I will even set that to music.

Instead of going for the obvious, I’ve chosen ‘The Thieving Magpie’ as I, not only hear magpies on a daily basis, I love their plumage. Oh yes. Even though I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch the film, there is an abridged version of ‘The Thieving Magpie’ in ‘Clockwork Orange’.