In the 1940s, composer Alfredo Casella discovered a set of six string sonatas written by Gioachino Rossini. The parts were discovered in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and cleared up many unknown facts about the pieces. It was known that Rossini had composed instrumental chamber music early in life, but the only existing pieces were an out-of-print set of string quartets published by Schott in 1823. This set of quartets had been arranged anonymously into traditional string quartet instrumentation and also existed in a configuration for woodwinds. As it turns out, the original parts (on which the published parts were based) were actually written for the extremely unconventional string quartet form of two violins, a cello, and a double bass.
From Rossini's own handwriting, we know that the pieces were written in 1804 near Ravenna, Italy, when he was still quite young. If we are to believe his comments, which he added to the manuscripts much later in life, he says that he was only 12 years old when he composed these "horrendous" sonatas. He also states that he had no formal training in harmony and that he composed the complete set and performed them in three days. The pieces were written for his friend, Agostino Triossi, who was an accomplished amateur bassist. Triossi, Morini (Triossi's violinist cousin), Morini's cellist brother, and Rossini performed the pieces, apparently in a less-than-stellar fashion. Rossini says his playing (on the second violin part) was the worst of all.
Each of the sonatas follows a similar three-movement format (fast-slow-fast). The second movements contain many soloistic, lyrical passages that foreshadow the style of the composer's great operatic arias; the Andante from Sonata No. 3 is especially striking for the somber quality of the melodic motive. The third movement of No. 3 is a lively theme with variations. The third movement of No. 6 is marked "Tempesta" and depicts music of a stormy nature, a musical predecessor to Rossini's "sturm" operatic style.
It is known that Rossini studied the quartets of Haydn and Mozart in his younger years, but the musical qualities of his string sonatas are not especially characteristic of these compositional influences. The voicing of harmonies is at times clumsy and problematic, no thanks to the strange instrumentation which doubles the lower strings and omits the viola. The pieces are, however, imaginative and lively, carrying Rossini's own stamp of originality. Each instrumental part contains numerous solo passages that require virtuosic skill from the performers -- even the oft-neglected bass. The individual parts have a lot of melodic independence, and the pervading lyrical quality of these works suggests more of an Italianate influence than an Austrian one. The string sonatas are performed today not only in their original string quartet form, but also by chamber orchestras.
- No. 1, in G major
- No. 2, in A major
- No. 3, in C major
- No. 4, in B flat major
- No. 5, in E flat major
- No. 6, in D major