Bellini | Manifesto of Italian romantic opera
The Manifesto of Italian romantic opera
From a letter by Vincenzo Bellini sent to Agostino Gallo we learn in detail what his “philosophy of composition” was. That letter stands as a manifesto for romantic composers, outlining the steps of the composition process. Here we provide a translation:
A translation of Bellini’s Manifesto
“I make use of every musical invention in my scores as I’m determined to write no more than one work a year. I am convinced that much of the success of an opera indeed depends upon many elements such as: an interesting story, a contrast of passions, a warm and harmonic expression in verses and also – we should never forget of that – effective plot twists.
[…] First of all I took the trouble of finding the finest writer of perfect plays. I preferred Romani above everyone else, for his most powerful intellect: he’s made for music drama!
The composition process
I study carefully the nature of the characters, the passions that possess them and the feelings they express.
Invaded by their affections, I pretend I become one of them and try to feel and express accordingly and effectively.
Locked in my room, I recite the characters’ parts passionately and study my voice: its inflections, the tempo and pauses, in short the emphasis a man uses when he’s at the mercy of his passions. I then identify the right tempo and melody in order to allow the singers to express those passions by the means of harmony.
I put the ideas on paper, try them on the harpsichord. When I feel the same emotion I wanted to express I judge I have succeeded; if I don’t, I look again for inspiration until I feel I’ve achieved my goal”.
Fulfilling the romantic ideals
In that way Bellini’s music was fulfilling the romantic ideals, set in Gothic gruesome novels or else focused on family and political conflicts.
Bellini’s third opera Il Pirata not only features for the first time the new heroic romantic tenor . It also introduces the first romantic woman character as wll as another great feature of Italian romantic opera, the madness arias -with previous examples in Paisiello‘s Nina pazza per amore and in the larmoyant gender-.
Lyricism and empathy
The lyricism and empathy of Bellini’s music are an absolute novelty in the history of opera. The simplicity and expressiveness of his melodies must have sound greatly new and intriguing, particularly in comparison with Rossini’s works.
Yet it would be a mistake to define Bellini as a master of belcanto. The pure melodic line of singing doesn’t express the transfigured “beauty of detachment” – as in Rossini’s opera. At the contrary it carries dramatic elements, with the aim of giving life to more complex characters. In that way Bellini’s work anticipates the further developments of the Italian opera.
Bellini, leader of music innovation
Bellini was indeed one of the leaders of the music stylistic evolution going on in Italy at that time. So much so that many innovation of that period refer to him. For instance, the fusion of music and words he was able to achieve impressed contemporaries so much that they labelled his compositions as “philosophical“.
Bellini’s long, long melodies
The decrease in number and extent of embellishments, the accuracy with which the text is declaimed, the musical accent following the words accent – which is the reason why librettos were so important for him – and in general the way music is able to render the sense and atmosphere of each scene, these are among Bellini’s major achievements.
Among Bellini’s innovations are also the well renowned “long long, long melodies” – as Verdi‘s used to refer to them – featuring long, unprecedented melodic arcs.
A dramatic and sensual music
Perhaps the most important innovation of all is the all new sensual sonority created by Bellini in his operas. The alternation of major and minor, the progressions of short melodic intervals culminating with colorful modulations makes Bellini’s music dramatic and sensual and explains the influence he had, on that regard, especially on Wagner.
That’s also explains why we can’t define Bellini simply “soft” or “lyrical”.
“A gift from God”
It’s difficult to imagine what Bellini would have achieved if he didn’t die at 34. Rossini once said that Bellini acquired in the last two or three years of his life, what he didn’t possess already.
Rossini strongly believed that Bellini was gifted, meaning that “he wouldn’t have his genius if God had not granted it”. In Rossini’s own words “You cannot become Bellini; you are born a Bellini!“.
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