Bellini, Vincenzo, famous Italian composer, a master of bel canto opera; b. Catania, Sicily, Nov. 3, 1801; d. Puteaux, near Paris, Sept. 23, 1835. He was a scion of a musical family; his grandfather was maestro di cappella to the Benedictines in Catania, and organist of the Sacro Collegio di Maria in Misterbianco; his father also served as maestro di cappella. Bellini received his first musical instruction from his father and grandfather, and soon revealed a fine gift of melody. The Duke and Duchess of San Martino e Montalbo took interest in him and in 1819 arranged to have him enter the Real Collegio di Musica di San Sebastiano in Naples, where he studied harmony and accompaniment with Giovanni Furno and counterpoint with Giacomo Tritio; Carlo Conti supervised him as a maestrino and tutor. He further studied the vocal arts with Girolamo Crescentini and composition with Nicola Zingarelli. Under their guidance, he made a detailed study of the works of Pergolesi, Jommelli, Paisiello, and Cimarosa, as well as those of the German classics. While still in school, he wrote several sinfonias, two masses, and the cantata Ismene (1824). His first opera, Adelson e Salvini, was given at the Collegio in 1825; it was followed by the premiere at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples of his second opera, Bianca e Gernando (May 30, 1826), a score later rev. as Bianca e Fernando (May 30, 1828). In 1827 Bellini went to Milan, where he was commissioned by the impresario Barbaja to write an opera seria for the famous Teatro alla Scala; it was II Pirata, which obtained fine success at its premiere on Oct. 27, 1827; it was also given in Vienna in 1828. It was followed by another opera, La Straniera, which was first given at La Scala on Feb. 14, 1829. It was followed by his Zaira (Parma, May 16, 1829). He was then commissioned to write a new opera for the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, on a Shakespearean libretto; it was I Capuleti ed i Montecchi; first performed on March 11, 1830, it had a decisive success. Even more successful was his next opera, La Sonnambula, which was premiered in Milan on March 6, 1831, with the celebrated prima donna Giuditta Pasta as Amina. Pasta also appeared in the title role of Bellini’s most famous opera, Norma, first given at La Scala on Dec. 26, 1831, which at its repeated productions established Bellini’s reputation as a young master of the Italian operatic bel canto. His following opera, Beatrice di Tenda (Venice, March 16, 1833), failed to sustain his series of successes. He then had an opportunity to go to London and Paris, and it was in Paris that he brought out his last opera, I Puritani (Jan. 24, 1835), which fully justified the expectations of his admirers. Next to Norma, it proved to be one of the greatest masterpieces of Italian operatic art; its Paris production featured a superb cast, which included Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache. Bellini was on his way to fame and universal artistic recognition when he was stricken with a fatal affliction of amebiasis, and died six weeks before his 34th birthday. His remains were reverently removed to his native Catania in 1876.
Bellini’s music represents the Italian operatic school at its most glorious melodiousness, truly reflected by the term “bel canto” In his writing, the words, the rhythm, the melody, the harmony, and the instrumental accompaniment unite in mutual perfection. The lyric flow and dramatic expressiveness of his music provide a natural medium for singers in the Italian language, with the result that his greatest masterpieces, La Sonnambula and Norma, remain in the active repertoire of opera houses of the entire world, repeatedly performed by touring Italian opera companies and by native forces everywhere.
DRAMATIC: Adelson e Salvini, dramma semiserio (1824-25; Real Collegio di Musica di San Sebastiano, Naples, between Feb. 10 and 15, 1825; 2nd version, 1826; not perf.); Bianca e Gernando, melodramma, (1825-26; Teatro San Carlo, Naples, May 30, 1826; rev. version as Bianca e Fernando, Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, April 7, 1828); II Pirata, opera seria (Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Oct. 27, 1827); La Straniera, opera seria (1828-29; Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Feb. 14, 1829); Zaira, opera seria (Teatro Ducale, Parma, May 16, 1829); I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, tragedia lirica (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, March 11, 1830); La Sonnambula, melodramma (Teatro Carcano, Milan, March 6, 1831); Norma, opera seria(Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Dec. 26, 1831); Beatrice di Tenda, opera seria (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, March 16, 1833); I Puritani, melodramma serio (1834-35; first perf. as I Puritani e i cavalieri at the Théâtre-Italien, Paris, Jan. 24, 1835).
F. Gerardi, Biografia di V B. (Rome, 1835); L. Scuderi, Biografia di V B. (Catania, 1840); F. Cicconetti, Vita di V B. (Prato, 1859); A. Pougin, B.: Sa vie, ses oeuvres (Paris, 1868); A. Sciuto, V B.: Profilo biografico (Cantania, 1876); A. Tari, V. B.: Reminiscenze (Naples, 1876); F. Florimo, B.: Memorie e lettere (Florence, 1882); M. Schedilo, V. B.: Note aneddotiche e entiche (Ancona, 1882); G. Salvioli, Lettere inedite di B. (Milan, 1884); M. Scherillo, B.ana: Nuove note (Milan, 1885); F. Florimo and M. Scherillo, eds., Album—B. (Naples, 1886); F. Florimo, Album B.—Premio B. (Naples, 1887); A. Amore, V. B.: Arte—Studi e ricerche (Catania, 1892); idem, V B.: Vita—Studi e ricerche (Catania, 1894); A. Cametti, B. a Roma (Rome, 1900); P Voss, V. B. (Leipzig, 1901); A. Amore, B.ana (Errori e smentite) (Catania, 1902); C. Reina, V. B. (1801–35) (Catania, 1902; 2nd ed. as II cigno catanese: B.—La vita e le opere, Catania, 1935); W. Lloyd, V. B.: A Memoir (London, 1908); I. Pizzetti, La musica di V B. (Milan, 1916); V. Ricci, V B.: Impressioni e ricordi, con documenti inediti (Catania, 1932); L. Cambi, B. (Milan, 1934); N. Scaglione, V.B.a Messina (Messina, 1934); B. Condorelli, II Museo Belliniano: Catalogo storico-iconografico (Catania, 1935); G. de Angelis, V B.: La vita, l’uomo, l’artista (Brescia, 1935); A. Della Corte and G. Pannain, V B.: Il Carattere morale, i caratteri artistici (Turin, 1935); G. Mezzatesta, V B. nella vita e nelle opere (Palermo, 1935); F. Pastura, ed., Le lettere di B. (1819–35) (Catania, 1935); G. Policastro, V B. (1801–19) (Catania, 1935); O. Tiby, V B. (Rome, 1935); I. Pizzetti, ed., V B.: L’Uomo, le sue opere, la sua fama (Milan, 1936); O. Tiby, V. B. (Turin, 1938); L. Cambi, ed., V B.: Epistolario (Milan, 1943); P. Cavazzuti, B. a Londra (Florence, 1945); F. Pastura, B. secondo la storia (Parma, 1959); idem, V.B. (Catania, 1959); L. Orrey, B. (London and N.Y., 1969); H. Weinstock, V B.: His Life and His Operas (N.Y., 1971); M. Adamo, V: B. (Turin, 1981); G. Tintori, B. (Milan, 1983); H.-K. Metzger and R. Riehn, eds., V.B. (1985); D. Danzuso, F. Gallo, and R. Monti, Omaggio a B. (Milan, 1986); S. Maguire, V.B. and the Aesthetics of Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (N.Y. and London, 1989); E. Failla, V.B.Critica storia tradizione (Catania, 1991); C Osborne, The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and B. (Portland, Ore., 1994); D. Kimbell, V B.: Norma (Cambridge, 1998).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Bellini's vocal style requires superb legato allied to great florid agility. His long elegant melodies, of which Casta diva from Norma is a supreme example, were admired by, and influenced, Berlioz. Wagner, too, was attracted by Bellini's operas and noted the close alliance between mus. and lib. For a period, Bellini was out of fashion, being regarded as merely a composer of display pieces, but a new generation of great singers has restored them to favour, revealing their dramatic force and melodic beauty.OPERAS: Adelson e Salvini (Naples 1825); Bianca e Gernando (Naples 1826; rev. as Bianca e Fernando, Genoa 1828); Il pirata (Milan 1827); La straniera (Milan 1829); Zaira (Parma 1829); I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Venice 1830); La sonnambula (Milan 1831); Norma (Milan 1831); Beatrice di Tenda (Venice 1833); I Puritani (Paris 1835).Also comp. songs and instr. works, incl. an ob. conc.
Renowned opera composer; b. Catania, Sicily, Nov. 3, 1801; d. Puteaux (near Paris), Sept. 23, 1835. He was the namesake of his grandfather, maestro at the Catania cathedral, who saw to his musical training. Bellini's first opera, Adelsone Salvini (1825), was produced while he was still a pupil of Zingarelli at the Naples Conservatory.
He was soon composing with increasing popularity for the leading opera houses of Italy. His most celebrated works are Montecchie Capuletti (Romeo and Juliet; Venice 1830); La Sonnambula and Norma, both produced in Milan in 1831; and his last opera, I Puritani, first performed in 1835 in Paris, where he had been residing since 1833. Although Bellini was gifted neither in comedy as was Donizetti nor in the grand manner as was Rossini, he, like Donizetti, continued and refined the bel canto vocal tradition associated with Rossini, and strongly influenced the singing style of Chopin's piano. Despite the threadbare sentiments and poor literary value of his libretti, coupled with the conventional harmony and thin orchestral accompaniments of the music, the abovementioned operas are often revived because of their graceful, elegiac melodies and because they serve admirably as vehicles for virtuoso singing. In his younger years Bellini composed some Masses and psalms that are now forgotten.
Bibliography: a. pougin, Bellini (Paris 1868). d. j. grout, A Short History of Opera, 2 v. (2d, rev. and enl. ed. New York 1965). a. einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (New York 1947). La Revue musicale, 66 (May 1935), special issue on Bellini. f. bonavia, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom, 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 1:608–610. g. barblan, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949– ) 1:1611–16. n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (5th ed. New York 1958) 123. p. cecchi, "Temi letterarie individuazione melodrammatica in Norma di Vincenzo Bellini," Recercare, 9 (1997) 121–153. r. celletti, "Il vocalismo Italiano da Rossini a Donizetti, Parte II: Bellini e Donizetti," Analecta Musicologia, 7 (1969) 215–223. j. a. feldman, "Norma, " in International Dictionary of Opera, ed. c. s. larue, 2 v. (Detroit 1993) 941–943. c. greenspan, "I Puritani (The Puritans )," in International Dictionary of Opera, ed. c. s. larue, 2 v. (Detroit 1993) 1070–1071; "La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker )," in International Dictionary of Opera, ed. c. s. larue, 2 v. (Detroit 1993) 1264–1266. d. kimbell, Vincenzo Bellini: "Norma" (Cambridge, Eng. 1998). j. rosselli, The Life of Bellini (Cambridge, Eng. 1996).
[r. w. lowe]
The operas of the Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) form a link between the Italian tradition of the early 19th century and the late 19th century.
Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, Sicily. His father, Rosario, and grandfather, Vincenzo, held positions with the Biscari family and in local churches. Although both composed, none of their music is extant. Bellini displayed musical talent very early, learning to play piano at 3 and studying composition with his father at 6. His earliest works, written before he was 11 years old, have not been preserved. After studying with his grandfather, Bellini attended the Royal College of St. Sebastian in Naples, which was directed by Nicola Zingarelli, who composed both opera and church music. As important as the more conservative tradition of Zingarelli in Naples was that of the contemporary operatic scene, then dominated by Gioacchino Rossini.
Bellini's first opera, Adelson e Salvini, was performed at the Conservatory in 1825 and led to a commission from the impresario of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples for Bianca e Fernando. Between 1825 and 1835 Bellini composed 10 operas for Naples, Milan, Genoa, Parma, Venice, and Paris; all but two had some success. After the presentation of La Sonnambula in 1830, his European success was assured. Bellini was fortunate in having the services of one of the better librettists in Italy, Felice Romani, who, after 1827, wrote the librettos for all of his operas except the last, I Puritani. Bellini's mature operas were opere serie of varying types. His three masterpieces are I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, La Sonnambula, and Norma. I Puritani, written somewhat in the manner of French grand opera, suffers from a weak libretto. Bellini also composed at least 28 sacred vocal works, 23 secular vocal works, 7 symphonies, and an oboe concerto.
Although Bellini made no significant changes in the outward structure of Italian opera, he did make certain contributions. His melodic style, often compared to that of Frédéric Chopin in its careful treatment of ornamentation, was written with the Italian bel canto style of singing in mind. Passages that seem uninteresting on paper come to life in performance by a gifted singer. In his recitatives Bellini gave careful consideration to text accents and moments of intense emotional expression. His handling of the orchestra in both recitative and aria always supports the dramatic intention. He gave the chorus an important role in the drama, instead of the perfunctory one then common. His influence was felt not only by his contempories but also by Giuseppe Verdi. Even that bitter critic of Italian opera, Richard Wagner, was impressed by Norma.
A full-length biography is Leslie Orrey, Bellini (1969). Bellini's relationship to other composers of his period is discussed in Alfred Einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (1947), and Donald J. Grout, A Short History of Opera (2 vols., 1947; 2d ed., 1 vol., 1965).
Adamo, Maria Rosaria, Vincenzo Bellini, Torino: ERI, 1981.
Brunel, Pierre, Vincenzo Bellini, Paris: Fayard, 1981.
Tintori, Giampiero, Bellini, Milano: Rusconi, 1983. □