Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835)
Unknown artist, photographic reproduction of a copperplate, second half of 19th c., 83 x 57.
Collection: Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw [M/1400].
Vincenzo Bellini—Italian composer of over a dozen operas, the most famous being La sonnambula, Norma and I puritani. He wrote in the style of Italian bel canto, placing the emphasis chiefly on lyrical and cantabile melodies. Italian bel canto captivated Chopin already in Warsaw, where he listened to operas staged at the Teatr Narodowy, which was dominated by Italian repertoire while Kurpiński was director. In Paris, he listened to them at the Théâtre Italien, in performances by outstanding singers (Giulia Grisi, Marie Malibran-Garcia, Giuditta Pasta, Luigi Lablache, Giovanni Rubini and Antonio Tamburini), who enchanted him with their voices. In transferring the style of bel canto and the means of expression of the foremost singers to the piano, Chopin by no means contradicted his playing technique. Chopin’s fascination with bel canto is attested by his piano accompaniment to ‘Casta diva’ from Bellini’s Norma. Thalberg, Liszt, Pixis, Herz, Czerny and Chopin wrote together, as a tribute to Bellini, the Hexameron variations on the march theme from I puritani. Bellini resided in Paris from 1833, becoming a close friend of many musicians, above all with Chopin. Ferdinand Hiller described social evenings spent together: ‘I shall never forget those evenings I spent with Chopin and Bellini in a small select circle at Mrs Freppa’s. Born in Naples, although of French extraction, highly educated, and musical to the utmost degree, Mrs Freppa, living in Paris, gave singing lessons, mainly among the grand monde. Besides an excellent method, she possessed a very sonorous, albeit not grand, voice, such that she was admired even by patrons of Italian opera, especially when she sang Italian folk songs, in which she excelled […] We would talk about music, play and sing, and then sing again, play and chat about music. Chopin and Mrs Freppa took it in turns to sit at the piano—I also did what I could. Bellini made his comments and accompanied himself to one or other of his cantilenas, and more to clarify what he was singing them rather than to show off with them’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, pp. 246–247].