Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) is a somewhat underappreciated composer, along with Donizetti and Bellini, he forms a trio of the most famous composers of the Italian Bel Canto school of the early 18th century. His extremely ornate vocal music and raucously fast paced comedies always inject a boost of energy into the audience, but until recently, that was all he was known for. That in itself is an achievement. His music has been featured on television and movies like Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange where the overture to La Gazza Ladra, the Thieving Magpie accompanies the malicious activities of Alex and his Droogs, giving their antics a devilishly comic touch. Yet although his musical verve and vocal fireworks make him a man thoroughly of his time, it is precisely for this reason why he is such a modern composer.
In Benjamin Walton’s book, Rossini in Restoration Paris, the author makes the argument that Rossini was able to capture the frenetic confusion of a world coming to terms with the French Revolution of 1789 and its aftermath, including the rise and fall of Napoleon. This makes Rossini an extremely modern composer, as his music speaks through our busy and fast-paced lifestyle just as easily as it spoke to a world trying to comprehend Napoleon. His music contains march-like rhythm and instruments that we would associate with a military band, such speed and such noise was never before heard in the opera house. When we think today of the Napoleonic Era in music, we think of the cannonade in the finale to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture. But this would not be possible had it not first been for Rossini.