Rossini — Overture to Il Signor Bruschino
You’ve heard his music everywhere, from Bugs Bunny to bath soap commercials to orchestra halls. The skipping, tinkling tunes of Rossini run through our heads like classic one-liners.
What is it about Rossini’s music that makes it so enduringly popular, more than 140 years after his death? Perhaps it is the ear-to-ear grin that shines through his every musical phrase. At his best, Rossini created diversionary music, the kind of stuff that’s made to lift the heart and lighten the load. Be it an aria, a march, a dance or a chorus, each of Rossini’s works glow with a giggling light-heartedness that is rarely heard elsewhere.
Indeed, when Rossini, late in life, finally penned a ‘serious’ work, he felt compelled to beg forgiveness from on high: “Dear God,” he scrawled in the score of his Petite Messe solonnelle, “Here it is, finished, this poor little Mass. Have I written sacred music or damned music? I was born for opera buffa (comic opera), you know it well! Little science, some heart, that’s all. Be blessed, then, and grant me a place in Paradise.”
Whether Rossini received his place in heaven, no mortal knows. But his musical creations have assured him worldly immortality.
During his lifetime, Rossini was almost entirely celebrated as a composer of operas, of which there were many. His first opera, “La cambiale di matrimonio” (The Marriage Contract), was performed when he was just 18 years old. Within three years, his name was virtually synonymous with Italian comic opera — both at home and abroad.
One of his first major successes came with “Il signor Bruschino, ossia Il figlio per azzardo” (Signor Bruschino, or The Accidental Son), which premiered in Venice in 1813. Though significantly shorter than most of his later operas, this one-act farce already displayed many of the compositional signatures for which Rossini would become known, starting with the brief and vigorous overture.
The overture is perhaps best-recognized by its signature trick: a repeating motif in which the second violins tap their bows on their music stands. Beyond that, this is quintessential Rossini: a little false bluster, a lot of levity, and a couple of thrilling crescendos to tie it all up.
Program notes provided by Joe Nickell