Concordantly, the composer had a great sense of humor. “Give me a laundry bill and I will set it to music,” he once remarked. His enormous popularity in Paris translated into substantial financial wealth, and his estate at the time of his death in 1868 was valued at 2.5 million francs, about 1.4 million US dollars. As such, it’s hardly surprising that a host of talented composers and performers eagerly placed Rossini at the center of their musical universe.
Gioachino Rossini: “Non più mesta” from La Cenerentola, Op. 60
Henri Herz: Variations on “Non più mesta” from La Cenerentola, Op. 60
Henri Herz (1803-1888) was a Viennese-born prodigy who publically performed and composed at the age of eight. He gained admission to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 13, and eventually became a professor of piano at that institution. One of the most famous virtuosos and popular composer in Paris in the 1830s, Herz frequently toured Europe and crossed the Atlantic to South America and the USA three times. He composed at least 225 works with opus number, consisting largely of variations and fantasies on themes by other composers. And Rossini was decidedly one of his favorites! The famous and happy-ending aria, “Non più mesta” (No longer sad) from Rossini’s opera Cinderella served Herz as the starting point for a set of delightful variations. As the curtain comes down, Cinderella gleefully warbles, “No longer sad beside the fire shall I sit alone, singing; my long years of heartache were but a streak of lightning, a dream, a game.” La Cenerentola was first staged in Rome in 1817, and 2 years later Niccolò Paganini composed a set of variations, prefaced by an introduction and concluding with a Finale. Originally scored for violin and piano, Paganini subsequently fashioned a version for violin and orchestra.
Niccolò Paganini: Variations on “Non più mesta” from La Cenerentola, Op. 60
The musical universe of the teenage Frédéric Chopin decidedly revolved around the piano and the human voice. Probably no older than 14, his love for opera spawned a set of variations for flute and piano based on Rossini’s La Cenerentola. The rather unusual combination for flute and piano might have been a tribute to Chopin’s father, who was a capable amateur flute player. In the end, the piece was probably dedicated to Józef Cichowski, a close friend of his father and an amateur flautist as well. The attribution to Chopin has been questioned, as a single manuscript copy of this charming set survived in the hands of the composer’s friend Jozef Nowakowski. First published in 1953, there is nothing stylistically that would suggest Chopin’s hand in this composition. All the interesting bits are given to the flute, and it’s the only “Chopin” piano part that can comfortably be played by most amateurs.
Frédéric Chopin: Variations on “Non più mesta” from La Cenerentola, B. 9, KK. Anh. Ia/5, A 1/5
Just about every piano student, at one point or another, has come across the composer Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832). His “Sonatinas” for piano still enjoy great popularity with pedagogues and aspiring pianists. Kuhlau was a respected pianist in Hamburg, when Napoleonic troops occupied the city in 1810. To escape compulsory military service, he took refuge in Copenhagen under an assumed name and was eventually appointed a court chamber musician. Kuhlau became a central figure in Danish cultural life, and his operas were greatly admired by Copenhagen audiences. As a pianist, he toured Europe and in 1825 visited Vienna. He spent an evening with Beethoven and his friends, but after consuming copious amounts of champagne, recollections of that evening were rather hazy all around. In 1831 a fire at his home near Copenhagen destroyed many of his unpublished compositions and writings, and Kuhlau passed away barely a year later. Author of a substantial number of flute compositions, he also left salon pieces, including a set of variations on a theme by Rossini.
Friedrich Kuhlau: Variations sur un thème de Rossini