Rossini and the Art of Procrastination

February 19, 2011

The opera composer Rossini is best remembered for two things in particular, his overtures and his reputation as the laziest composer in history. This reputation stems mainly from the fact that he retired from composing at the age of 39.  At the time of his retirement, Rossini was the most famous living composer and was at the very peak of his talent. There is a lot of conjecture as to the cause of Rossini’s early retirement.  He had a passion for food and it is often speculated that he gave up composing in order to pursue his love of the culinary arts.  To this day, there are several Italian dishes that bare his name.  Whatever the reason for his early retirement, it was at least partially due to burnout.  He had written two, three, sometimes even five operas a year for almost two decades (39 operas in total).

He had a unique way of using procrastination as a tool for inspiration.  Here, for example, are his thoughts on writing an overture:

“Wait until the evening before opening night. Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair out. In my time, all the impresarios in Italy were bald at thirty.

I wrote the overture to “Otello” in a small room of the Palazzo Barbaja, where the baldest and rudest of directors had forcibly locked me up with a lone plate of spaghetti and the threat that I would not be allowed to leave the room alive until I had written the last note.

I wrote the overture to “La Gazza Ladra” the day before the opening night under the roof of the Scala Theatre, where I had been imprisoned by the director and secured by four stagehands who were instructed to throw my original text through the window, page by page, to the copyists waiting below to transcribe it. If I didn’t write the pages, they were ordered to throw me out the window instead. For “Barbiere”, I did better: I did not even compose an overture, I just took one already destined for my opera, “Elisabetta”. The public was very pleased.

I composed the overture to “Comte Ory” while fishing, with my feet in the water, and in the company of Signor Agnado, who talked of his Spanish fiancée. The overture to “Guillaume Tell” was composed under more or less similar circumstances.”

Overture to “Guillaume Tell” 1829 (William Tell)

Overture to “La Gazza Ladra” 1817 (The Thieving Magpie)


One Response to “Rossini and the Art of Procrastination”

  1. MAMA IVRIA said

    This is very interesting information. It seems that Rossini could only do his creative work under extreme pressure or while distracted. Further, it appears that he was unable to create his OWN PRESSURE. I feel certain that there must have been a PSYCHOLOGICAL reason for this. I can only state that it must have been HELL to be on his team.

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