For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I’ve no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don’t know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February,
twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty.
Through some singular coincidence – I shouldn’t be surprised if it were owing to the
agency of an ill-natured fairy –
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year,
on the twenty-ninth of February;
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you’ll easily discover,
That though you’ve lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays,
you’re only five and a little bit over!
Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!
Ho! ho! ho! ho!
– Gilbert & Sullivan, “The Pirates of Penzance”
Unlike poor Frederic, whose February 29th birthday made him a the “slave of duty” in The Pirates of Penzance, Italian composer Gioachino Rossini seemed to suffer no ill effects from being born on a Leap Day. To the contrary, Rossini was the rarest of rare birds: A financially successful composer in his own lifetime!
Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy, on Feb. 29, 1792, which means, according to our math, that we will celebrate his 57th birthday on Saturday, Feb. 29 2020. To mark the occasion, our Video of the Week will dip into a Rossini-inspired work by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů: The Variations on a Theme by Rossini. According to program annotator Eric Bromberger, “the work is based on a theme from Rossini’s opera, Moses in Egypt, yet the inside joke is that the tune is far more recognizable as the theme of the violin Variations on One String by Paganini, often performed by cellists in transcription. The result is a delightful set of “variations on a transcription of variations on a theme by…” – a witty double play on Rossini/Paganini in a modern guise.”
Doubling up to bring Martinu/Paganini/Rossini to life are cellist Mo Mo and pianist Carlos Avila, in concert at Mary Baldwin University’s Francis Auditorium. Enjoy – and if you like this, there are lots more Videos of the Week to check out! Click on this link to subscribe.
PS. Here’s a Video of the Week Bonus: The Prayer from Rossini’s Moses in Egypt that inspired the opening melody! Classic FM calls it “quite possibly the most lethal piece of music ever composed. Dr Cotugno, a reputable Naples physician, reported over 40 cases of women literally dying of excitement or being gripped by nervous convulsions while watching it. According to Cotugno: “This was brought on exclusively by the Jews’ Prayer in the third act, with its extraordinary change of key.”
PPS. And here’s where the rest of the melody comes from, courtesy of Cecilia Bartoli!