At first sight, and certainly in the views of numerous music-lovers, there are hardly two major composers of the past who have less in common with each other than Johann Sebastian Bach and Gioachino Rossini. Bach is seen as the German master of church music, the composer of “serious” works par excellence, a musician who wrote no operas and who delighted in the most complex and mind-boggling forms of counterpoint and harmony. Rossini, on the other hand, is remembered first and foremost for his comic operas, whose charm depends in equal measure on their undeniable good-humoured vein and on the fascinating tunes and melodies of their memorable arias.
In fact, the situation is not as clear-cut as it may seem. First of all, Rossini was indeed a great admirer of Bach; he was among the first Italians who subscribed to the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe, the complete edition of Bach’s works, and numerous witnesses testify to his continuing love for Bach’s music. Secondly, neither was Bach an enemy of witticism in music, nor was Rossini extraneous to church music: Bach composed a rather hilarious “Coffee Cantata”, which is, to all purposes, akin to a small-scale comic opera (and ironic gestures can be found in several of his other works), and Rossini’s sacred output, though not very numerous, is certainly of the highest quality.
Another musical myth in need – at least – of qualification is this: allegedly, Baroque composers (particularly in the German area, and particularly Bach) were fond of symmetries, of elegantly-ordered collections, of publications whose proportioned structure seemed to mirror the harmony of the universe. On the contrary – as many believe – the Romantic era was dominated by rebel geniuses, by frenzied artists who obeyed only their fantastic imagination, by musicians who followed their heart’s caprices and despised all kinds of rational thought or planning. This, in turn, is a deeply misgiven view. As recent scholarship has impressively demonstrated (for example thanks to Ruth Tatlow’s ground-breaking study of Chopin’s Preludes), many of the most iconic Romantic composers knew, appreciated, and actually actively practised, the same kind of rules which had shaped the architectural aspect of composition in the generations preceding their own. Not only there are twenty-four of Chopin’s Preludes, mirroring the number of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues in each of the two volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier; but the internal proportions of the collection closely mirror those of Bach’s original work.
Both Chopin and Rossini were keen admirers of Bach; moreover, Rossini was acquainted with Chopin’s works and, in particular, with the 24 Preludes. It is therefore less surprising than it might appear that the works by Bach and Chopin influenced Rossini, and to a great extent.
After composing operas at a breath-taking pace during his youthful years, Rossini left the theatrical world and took a very early retirement from the scenes. This did not mean, of course, that he abandoned music when leaving the operatic scene; indeed, in his late age, he still wrote many beautiful works – several of which were the protagonists of the soirées he gave on Saturdays at his salon, in Paris.
The impromptu nature of these evenings is mirrored by the occasional style of many of such pieces, whose composition might have been prompted by many external stimuli, including the interactions among the guests, their personality and their musical accomplishment or tastes. This did not prevent Rossini from dedicating substantial time and effort to the systematic organization of this corpus of small-scale works, which he gathered into a collection of collections, under the title of Péchés de vieillesse, “Sins of Old Age”. A péché de jeunesse was a common expression for referring to those youthful bravados or irresponsible behaviours which could be justified, at least in part, as lack of judgement, immaturity, and the lightness typical for (and frequently charming in) a young person. By contrast, one supposes that older people have acquired a wisdom and a “gravity” which prevents them from making hasty and unconsidered choices, and that they will dedicate their time and energy to worthy ends. With his usual irony, Rossini seems to suggest that his own old age, his own “vieillesse”, was not immune from equally foolish sins; that these short, seemingly unpretentious pieces, were the excusable musical follies of an old man.
Humorous understatement was a typical trait of Rossini; many of the pieces found in the numerous series of Péchés de vieillesse bear amusing titles which seem to minimize the “artistic” pretence of his compositions. For example, all the pieces of vol. IV have gastronomic titles (in particular, the last four of them are grouped under the label of Quatre hors d’œuvres); volumes V-VII include such pieces as Mon prelude hygiénique du matin, Prélude convulsif, Etude asthmatique or Prélude inoffensif, among many others. Along with these, whose pre-Dadaism anticipates Satie’s taste for the refined nonsense, there are also more serious and even religious pieces, all concurring, as if in a mosaic, to the individuation of Rossini’s multifaceted personality. The idea of death is also frequently found; here, the ironic stance looks as an attempt to come to terms with the most problematic aspect of the human experience. Indeed, as is sadly well known, Rossini struggled for years with depression; his jovial, good-humoured temper and his love for cuisine and the pleasures of life at times make us forget his suffering and grief. In fact, one of the reasons for his choice to carefully revise, edit and order the album leaves gathered in Péchés de vieillesse was his wish to provide for his wife’s future after his death, so that she could earn a living by selling her late husband’s works to the publishers.
True, Rossini was acutely aware of the monetary value of music, as is shown also in one of the pieces recorded in this CD: no. 16, Douces reminiscences, had been written overnight (according to legend), as Rossini’s gift to a friend in need who had desperately asked him for money. Instead of cash, Rossini gave him this score, which had shrewdly (if groundlessly) been titled after Meyerbeer’s extremely successful opera L’Africaine (to which Rossini’s piece was entirely unrelated), in the hope of enticing the publisher’s interest.
This piece is one of the few of vol. XII, recorded here, to have been provided with original titles by Rossini (whereas most of his other Péchés de vieillesse, as said before, have hilarious headings). Only no. 12, Danse sibérienne, and no. 15, Petite galette allemande, indulge in Rossini’s habitual propensity for the ironic labels; the others are merely identified by their tempo indications. They have been given spurious titles by the publisher, Jacques-Léopold Heugel, who printed them after the composer’s death. Though these titles do not necessarily mirror Rossini’s own view of the pieces, they do reflect their early reception: for example, they refer to places (no. 1, Ischia; no. 3, En Gondole; no. 5, Procida; no. 21, Sorrente), to situations (no. 2, Entr’acte; no. 4, Une Elégie au bal; no. 10, Au Rutly; no. 16, Etrennes; no. 19, Marche slave; no. 20, Fanfare), or to musical genres (no. 7, Air de Ballet; no. 8, Sicilienne; no. 9, Mazurka; no. 11, Capriccio; no. 13, Valse; nos. 14 and 17, Etudes, together with no. 18, Exercice; no. 15, Allemande; no. 24, Impromptu). Along with these, nos. 22 and 23 are both titled Thème et variations (“dans le mode mineur” and “majeur” respectively, following Rossini’s indications), and, interestingly, no. 6 is labelled Le claveciniste, “the harpsichord player”. In fact, no. 6 is the most strikingly “Bachian” of the series, and it contributes to underpinning the extent to which Bach’s model was present to Rossini when he composed or assembled this series of pieces.
This volume’s title, Riens pour Album, “trifles for an album” is one more instance of Rossini’s knack for the understatement; however, the general absence of titles, and, particularly, Rossini’s evident (if half-failed) attempt to associate each piece with a different key contribute to distinguish this twelfth volume from most of the others in the series of Péchés de vieillesse, and to highlight its dependence on Bach’s and on Chopin’s models. In spite of their unpretentious title, therefore, these “trifles” may well be considered as one of Rossini’s most ambitious and complex achievements in the field of instrumental music. Even though Rossini’s non-vocal output is much lesser known than his enormously successful operas, this repertoire fully deserves a rediscovery, as exemplarily demonstrated by this collection. Here we find numerous (and sometimes very idiosyncratic) technical challenges, which show Rossini’s complete mastery of the latest developments of the Romantic piano technique; and, along with his typical brilliancy and his gift for the unforgettable tunes and character pieces, there are many moments of deep reflection and several examples of his contrapuntal skills (as shown, for example, in the above-mentioned no. 6).
This variety of moods and styles, the charming atmospheres, the several occasions for showing-off one’s technical accomplishments are all elements which should foster a more widespread appreciation of these short masterpieces; and an endeavour such as that of recording them is certainly a valuable contribution to their greater knowledge and appreciation.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Marios Panteliadis has performed as a piano soloist in many venues including Vienna Musikverein, St Martin-in-the -Fields, Sydney Opera House, Santa Cecilia concert hall in Rome, Athens “Megaron” concert hall, as well as other solo and chamber recitals in Austria, Australia, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, South Korea, Romania, UK and USA. He has received praise for his playing from audience, artists and critics, defined as an “inspired and exceptional soloist, with a heroic and spacious way of playing" (Petersfield Post, 2015) and recognized as "a virtuoso, a true artist with undebatable musical qualities "(Aldo Ciccolini, 2013). He has won several 1st and special prizes in piano competitions in Greece (“George Thymis international piano competition” special prize 2017), Italy (“Cafaro” 1st prize, “Rome 2012” 1st prize etc), France (“Epinal” 2013) and UK (Royal Academy of Music “Else Cross prize” 2014). Additionally, he was a finalist at Hans von Bülow International Competition in Germany - 2015 (“Conducting from the piano”) and he was selected by Making Music for the Young Concert Artists scheme (YCA-2014) receiving a number of concert engagements in the UK. He has collaborated with Paralos Orchestra in Athens (cond. E. Kalkanis), Petersfield orchestra (cond. R. Browning) and Meiningen Court orchestra as a soloist and conductor. He frequently performs in a variety of chamber music groups such as his trio Mythos which has appeared in Europe, USA and South Korea as well as in duos with distinguished performers such as the violinists Ilija Marinkovic, George Zacharias and Fabrizio Falasca and singers such as the soprano Simona Mihai. Important influences on his musical personality have been Parry Derembey-Papastayrou (Athens Conservatory, 2002-2005), Sergio Perticaroli (Accademia Santa Cecilia- Rome, 2006-2008), Noel Flores (Vienna University, 2010-2012) and Tatiana Sarkissova (Royal Academy of Music in London, 2013-2015) all of whom guided him to the highest grades and distinction in his piano studies. Other educational experiences include special music courses with Eliso Virsaladze (2012/13) and Trio di Parma (chamber music 2008/09) in Scuola di Musica di Fiesole and masterclasses with important pianists such as Aldo Ciccolini, Pascal Devoyon, William Grant Naboré, France Clidat, Lilia Zilberstein. In addition to his piano diplomas, Marios Panteliadis has a Bachelor degree in orchestral conducting from Rome “Santa Cecilia” Conservatory (2011). During his MMus studies at the Royal Academy of Music he also studied conducting as an elective subject with Sian Edwards and Paul Brough. Since 2017 he has participated in a number of conducting masterclasses in Athens with Michalis Economou, as well as special courses during 2018/19 at the European conducting Academy in Vicenza with Romolo Gessi and visiting professors such as Julius Kalmar and Sigmund Thorp. He has conducted the Santa Cecilia Conservatory orchestra, Orchestra Regionale Filarmonia Veneta, Meiningen court orchestra and City of Athens Symphony Orchestra. Finally, he was a piano teacher at the junior department of “Santa Cecilia” Conservatory in Rome from 2012-2017 and since 2019 he has been a piano teacher in “Lorenzo Perosi” Conservatory in Campobasso Italy. He received the LRAM certificate with distinction (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) where he deepened his knowledge on piano teaching pedagogy.
Gioacchino Rossini: (b Pesaro, 29 Feb 1792; d Passy, 13 Nov 1868). Italian composer. No composer in the first half of the 19th century enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini. His contemporaries recognized him as the greatest Italian composer of his time. His achievements cast into oblivion the operatic world of Cimarosa and Paisiello, creating new standards against which other composers were to be judged. That both Bellini and Donizetti carved out personal styles is undeniable; but they worked under Rossini’s shadow, and their artistic personalities emerged in confrontation with his operas. Not until the advent of Verdi was Rossini replaced at the centre of Italian operatic life.