Amalya Lehmann

Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities

20122013 Forum on Peripheries

Amalya Lehmann


CAS, 2013

"I was born for opera buffa, you know it well!”: A Serious Look at Rossini's Musical Wit and Humor

"Write more Barbers," a deaf and aging Beethoven commanded Rossini during the younger composer's visit with the master. Alluding to Rossini's comic masterpiece, The Barber of Seville, Beethoven suggested that Rossini's genius lay in composing comic, not serious, operas. Rossini agreed somewhat, writing in his self-deprecating preface to his Petite Messe Solennelle, "Dear God: here it is finished, this poor little Mass… I was born for opera buffa, you know it well!" Both quotes prophesied Rossini's legacy: this once popular composer's music has become virtually unknown, save for a few (comic) operas. Musicologically, Rossini has occupied a peripheral position within the German-dominated narrative of music history as an unsophisticated composer, even while critics and scholars have repeatedly admired his musical jesting. To better understand what it is about Rossini's music that elicits laughter, I examine the philosophies of wit and humor, the theatrical tropes and physical and musical gestures that Rossini inherited from earlier comic operas, the critiques referring to his musical wit and humor, and the laughter-inducing musical gestures in his opera scores.