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Bellini, Vincenzo
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Vincenzo Bellini

(Born; Catania, 3 Nov 1801; Died; Puteaux, 23 Sept 1835). Italian composer. He was given piano lessons by his father, and could play well when he was five. At six he wrote a Gallus cantavit and began studying composition with his grandfather. After a few years his sacred pieces were being heard in Catania churches and his ariettas and instrumental works in the salons of aristocrats and patricians. In 1819 he went to Naples to study at the conservatory, entering the class of the director, Nicola Zingarelli, in 1822. In 1825 his opera semiseria, Adelson e Salvini, was produced at the conservatory. Its success led to commissions from the Teatro S Carlo and from La Scala, Milan.

Bellini's first opera for Milan, Il pirata (1827), instantly laid the foundation of his career, and with it began his fruitful collaborations with the librettist Felice Romani and the tenor G. B. Rubini. From 1827 to 1833 Bellini lived mostly in Milan, and during this time his operas, including La sonnambula and Norma, earned him an international reputation, while he himself went through a passionate love affair with Giuditta Cantù, the wife of a landowner and silk manufacturer, Ferdinando Turina. Bellini's amatory entanglements have been romanticized in popular literature but the realities are less creditable.

In 1833 Bellini visited London, where four of his operas were performed with great success at the King's Theatre and Drury Lane. He then proceeded to Paris, where he was commissioned to write I puritani for the Théâtre-Italien and formed a close acquaintance with Rossini and got to know Chopin and other musicians. I puritani enjoyed a genuine triumph in January 1835, and Bellini was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. He decided to remain in Paris and formulated several projects for his future there, but in August 1835 he fell ill and the following month he died, from 'an acute inflammation of the large intestine, complicated by an abscess of the liver' according to the post-mortem report.

Bellini's importance to posterity is as a composer of opera, especially opera seria; his other works can be ignored without great loss. His first influences were the folksong of Sicily and Naples, the teaching of Zingarelli and, above all, the music of Rossini. The Naples performance of Rossini's Semiramide in 1824 was one of the most decisive musical experiences of his student years, and the novel lyrical style of his early operas represented a sentimentalization and heightening of Rossinian lyricism, which in Il pirata broadens to include forceful and dramatic emotions. With this opera Bellini became one of Italy's most influential composers; Donizetti and Pacini, Mercadante and Verdi all learnt from him.

The quintessential feature of Bellini's operatic music is its close relationship with the text. He did not look for musical delineation of character, but the content and mood of each scene are given thorough-going musical interpretation and the text is precisely declaimed. His melodic style, of which the famous 'Casta diva' in Norma is a perfect example, is characterized by the building of broad melodic curves from small (usually two-bar) units. While his treatment of rhythm is more conventional, his melodies are supported by some colourful harmony and reticent though effective orchestration. More than any other Italian composer of the years around 1830, Bellini minimized the difference between aria and recitative by introducing a large number of cantabile, aria-like passages into his recitative. His expressive range goes far beyond the delicate, elegiac aspects of his art, which have been frequently overemphasized.

Operas: Il pirata (1827); La straniera (1829); I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830); La sonnambula (1831); Norma (1831); Beatrice di Tenda (1833); I puritani (1835); 3 others.

Sacred music: Mass; Magnificat; 5 Tantum ergo; 2 Te Deum; hymns, motets (all before 1825).

Other works ariettas; 6 sinfonie; Ob.Conc.; kbd pieces.

© Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK

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