Gioachino Rossini was the greatest opera composer of his generation. From his first comic farce, written at age 18, to his crowning work for the stage, William Tell, he dashed off an astounding 39 operas in 19 years. Then, at the height of his fame and creative powers, Rossini withdrew almost entirely from composing. He never wrote another opera in his remaining 40 years.
Il signor Bruschino was already the eighth opera created by Rossini, who was just shy of his 21st birthday, and it marked the fourth commission in the span of a year from Venice’s Teatro San Moisè. As with his previous works for Venice, this new one-act opera took the form of a comic farce, featuring a small cast of performers who were as much comedians as singers.
The complete title of this opera hints at the basic outline of the story—Mr. Bruschino, or the Son by Accident. Florville wants to marry his beloved Sophia, but she is already promised to the son of one Mr. Bruschino. Florville pretends to be the younger Mr. Bruschino, but everything goes awry when the real Bruschino senior arrives and finds this other suitor impersonating his son!
The most distinctive sound in this playful overture is the rhythmic tapping of violin bows. (In Rossini’s day they probably tapped the shades of their candle holders, but now metal music stands substitute nicely.) The effect is surprising and whimsical, but the musical logic behind it is quite sturdy, with the rhythms mimicking themes already heard from the orchestra.
Aaron Grad ©2017
In November 1817, Schubert interrupted work on his Sixth Symphony in order to write his two Overtures “in the Italian Style.” Now age twenty, he had completed five symphonies, beginning with his first effort written at age sixteen. He seems eventually to have disowned these initial efforts, as he did many of his early compositions. The Little C Major we hear today (the nickname arose to distinguish it from his last symphony, The Great C Major) is perhaps the most mature of the early ones, although it is not often performed. Schubert only finished the work in February 1818, soon after he had turned twenty-one. This was an unusually protracted period for him to spend writing a symphony (he had written some of the earlier ones in the space of just a few weeks), but his circumstances at the time were depressing—after living for awhile with friends as a “freelance artist,” he had recently moved back home and was working in his father’s school, a position he apparently detested.
The familiar Schubert mythology would have it that the composer never heard his symphonies. And while it is true that they were not presented publicly during his lifetime, he did at least hear them. All the early ones were specifically meant to be played by small private orchestras at his school or in middle-class homes. The Sixth Symphony was heard in the home of the musician Otto Hatwig in early 1818. Just over a decade later, this was the first of his symphonies officially performed in public. Unfortunately, Schubert was no longer alive, having died less than a month before the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (The Society of the Friends of Music) programmed it on a concert series.
The writer Eduard von Bauernfeld, a close friend, recalled the event in his memorial reminiscences published the next year: “A Symphony in C Major, performed soon after his death at one of the concerts of Vienna’s Society of the Friends of Music and composed as early as 1817, was counted by Schubert himself among his less successful works. Yet the work certainly justified expectations, for even though it is written almost throughout in the manner of a master highly esteemed by the young composer, yet that master himself would have had no cause to be ashamed to rank it among his own works.” That unnamed master is surely Beethoven, whose influence is most evident in the structure and tonal planning of the first movement, and in the energy of the scherzo. Yet elsewhere in the piece, especially in the final movement, Rossini’s influence is apparent, as it is in the delightful “Italian Style” overtures. The model of Beethoven would become ever more potent for Schubert, but in this work we encounter him synthesizing elements of the “twin styles” of the day, of the German symphonic master with the Italian operatic one.
Christopher Gibbs ©2011