Vincenzo Bellini Biography

Vincenzo Bellini, a prodigious opera composer from the Kingdom of Sicily, left a lasting impact on the world of music during the early nineteenth century. With his musical talents evident from a young age, Bellini embarked on a journey of musical education and composition that would lead him to become one of the most celebrated composers of his time. From his first opera, ‘Adelson e Salvini’, to his final masterpiece, ‘I Puritani’, Bellini’s works captivated audiences and earned him prestigious commissions. Tragically, his life was cut short at the height of his career, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire and enchant music lovers to this day.

Quick Facts

  • Name: Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini
  • Age at death: 33
  • Family: Father – Rosario Bellini
  • Born in: Italy
  • Occupation: Composer
  • Died on: September 23, 1835
  • Place of death: Puteaux, France

Childhood & Early Years

Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini was born on 3 November 1801, in Catania, then a part of the Kingdom of Sicily. His father, Rosario Bellini, was an organist, composer, and music teacher, while his mother’s name was Agata Bellini. He was the eldest of his parents’ seven children. According to legends, he displayed his musical talent at a very young age, being able to sing an aria by Valentino Fioravanti when he was just one and a half years old. While this may be an exaggeration, there is no doubt that he was a prodigy and began studying piano with his father at the age of three. At the age of six, he started studying composition with his paternal grandfather, Vincenzo Tobia Bellini, who was an organist and composer for a local nobleman. During this time, he wrote several compositions and gained appreciation in Catania.

Studies at the Conservatory

In 1818, Bellini moved to Naples to study at the Conservatorio di San Sebastiano. He was admitted into the beginners’ class but quickly moved up through formal petition. The conservatory had a strict routine, starting at 5:15 am and ending at 10 pm. The curriculum focused on the works of Neapolitan masters and classical era composers, completely shunning the works of modern composers. Bellini studied harmony and accompaniment with Giovanni Furno and counterpoint with Giacomo Tritto. In 1820, he passed his theory examination and secured an annual scholarship, which allowed him to support his family. As part of the scholarship, he had to write music for Catania, fulfilling this obligation in 1821 with his composition ‘Messa di gloria’.

Early Career

After graduating from the conservatory in 1825, Bellini began his career as a composer. He wrote his first opera, ‘Bianca e Fernando’, which was commissioned for a royal event in Naples. The opera was a huge success and earned him further commissions. He moved to Milan in 1827 and collaborated with librettist Felice Romani, composing operas such as ‘Il pirata’ and ‘La straniera’. These works brought him great success and established his reputation as a composer.

London & Paris

In 1833, Bellini traveled to London, where he directed several of his operas and received high praise. He then moved to Paris, where he socialized with the elite of society but had little musical activity. In 1834, he signed a contract for a new opera, ‘I puritani’, which premiered in Paris in 1835 and became a sensation. This would be Bellini’s last opera.

Major Works

Some of Bellini’s most famous works include ‘La sonnambula’ and ‘Norma’. ‘La sonnambula’ is a two-act opera set in a rural background, written in the bel canto tradition. It premiered in 1831 and is still regularly performed. ‘Norma’ is a tragedialirica based in ancient Gaul and is considered a masterpiece of the bel canto genre. It premiered in 1831 and continues to be performed today.

Awards & Achievements

After the success of ‘I puritani’ in Paris, Bellini was named ‘Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur’ by King Louis-Philippe of France. He was also awarded the Cross of the “Order of Francesco I” by King Ferdinand II in Naples.

Family & Personal Life

Bellini never married, but he had relationships with various women. He suffered from amoebic dysentery and died from complications of the disease in September 1835. He was initially buried in Paris but was later moved to his birthplace, Catania, with great ceremony. His memorabilia and scores are preserved in the Museo Belliniano in Catania.

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