Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini was a great Italian operatic composer who had a knack for creating vocal melody, which was pure in style and sensuous in expression. His influences can be sensed not only in the later operatic compositions, such as the early works of Richard Wagner, but also in the instrumental music of Chopin and Liszt. Known for his use of long-flowing melodic lines, Bellini was fondly called "the Swan of Catania". Bellini was never considered a reformer; his ideals were those of Haydn and Mozart, but he always strived for clarity, elegance of form and melody. The quintessential element in Bellini's operatic music was its intimacy with the text. More than any of his contemporary Italian composers, Bellini minimized the difference between aria and recitative by introducing a large number of cantabile, aria-like passages into his recitative. His expressive range reaches far beyond the delicate, elegiac aspects of his art, which have quite often been overemphasized.
Vincenzo Bellini’s Childhood And Early Life
Born on 3 November, 1801 in Catania, Sicily in a musical family, Bellini was an exceptionally gifted child. According to the legends, Bellini could sing an aria of Valentino Fioravanti at eighteen months. He began studying music theory at two. He started getting his first lessons in piano from his father when he turned three, and by the age of five, he could apparently play well. Bellini’s first five pieces were composed when he was six and began studying composition with his grandfather. Very soon his sacred pieces were being heard in Catania churches and his ariettas and instrumental works in the salons of aristocrats and patricians.
In June 1819, Bellini left provincial Catania to study at the conservatory in Naples, with a stipend from the municipal government of Catania. By 1822, he was in the class of the director Nicolò Zingarelli, studying the masters of the Neapolitan school and the orchestral works of Haydn and Mozart. As the custom of the conservatory was to introduce a student to the public with a dramatic work, Bellini produced opera semiseria, Adelson e Salvini in 1825 whose success led to commissions from the Teatro S Carlo and also from La Scala, Milan. In 1827, his opera ‘II pirata’, which he wrote for La Scala, the opera house at Milan, became a huge success and earned Bellini great international fame. He was fortunate to have librettist such as Felice Romani, the great Italian theatre poet of the day, with whom he composed his next six operas.
Bellini remained mostly in Milan from 1827 to 1833. His operas ‘La sonnambula’ and ‘Norma’ composed during this period brought him international fame.
In 1833, Bellini went to visit London, where four of his operas were performed at the King’s Theatre and Drury Lane were highly successful. After a short stay at London, Bellini went to Paris, where he was commissioned to write ‘I puritani’ for the Théâtre-Italien. While in Paris, he 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 many of his future projects there.
For its new style and its restless harmonic shifts into remote keys, ‘La straniera’ (1828) drew great attention and was even more successful than ‘Il Pirata’. It also allowed Bellini to support himself solely on his opera commissions. The composer showed taste for social life and the dandyism that Heinrich Heine emphasized in his literary portrait of Bellini (Florentinische Nächte, 1837). Opening a new theatre in Parma, his ‘Zaira’ (1829) was a failure at the Teatro Ducale, but Venice welcomed ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’, which was based on the same Italian source as Shakespeare's ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
During his stay in Milan, Bellini got involved in a passionate love affair with Giuditta Cantù, the wife of a landowner and silk manufacturer, Ferdinando Turina. Bellini’s liaison has been romanticized in popular literature, but the realities were less creditable. However, the central relationship in Bellini’s life was with Francesco Florimo (1800-1888), who was from a village near Catania. After Bellini’s death, Florimo was treated as his spiritual heir. Herbert Weinstocksaid that it “inescapably suggests to modern readers a homosexual attachment.” However, John Rosselli condemned the opinion saying it to be more of a romantic friendship.
Bellini left London and arrived at Paris, but never completed the journey back to Milan. He died in Puteaux, near Paris on the 23 of September 1835 of acute inflammation of the intestine. He was buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise, Paris and his remains were removed to the cathedral of Catania in 1876. The Museo Belliniano housed in the Gravina Cruyllas Palace, in Catania, preserves memorabilia and scores.
- “I Capuleti ed i Montecchi”, 1830.
- “La sonnambula”, 1831.
- “Norma”, 1831.
- “Beatrice di Tenda”, 1833.
- “I puritani”, 1835