Rossini at the Keyboard
The world thinks of many of the great composers in the light of creators, but in reality many of them have also been very fine pianists. Massenet and Debussy are said to have been especially fine performers. An interesting account of Rossini's prowess at the keyboard is given in the Autobiography of Felix Moscheles, son of the famous composer-pianist-pedagogue, Ignace Moscheles, Felix achieved his fame as a portrait painter, and made a wide acquaintance among the famous men of Europe. Once, when calling upon Rossini, the Italian master sent the following message to Ignace Moscheles:
"Tell your father that I am a pianist. I dare say that he knows that I have written operas, but I particularly want him to understand that I am a pianist, too, not—to be sure—of the first class, as he is, but of the fourth."
Later on, Felix Moscheles tells just how Rossini played. Since most of the great pianists of the world had played in the Moscheles home when Felix was a young man it must be admitted that he was a most excellent judge. "He opened the small upright piano in his study, and began improvising, whilst I settled down comfortably to listen to my own special 'fourth-class' pianist. It was, indeed, interesting. His plump little hands moved over the keys with a delicate touch, suitable to the simple, melodious vein in which he began. When, presently, he broke into a rapid movement and the pianoforte player asserted himself, it was still with the touch of the good old legato school. His execution was masterly, but not brilliant; whenever he introduced passages or figures for the pianist as such, these seemed commonplace and hackneyed. But when, on the other hand, the musical thought sought expression, it flowed as though from an inexhaustible store, and took dramatic shape, reminding one of his best operatic style and his most brilliant orchestral effects.
"His manner throughout was simple and unaffected. There was nothing showy or self-conscious about him, no by-play of any kind, no sudden pouncing on some ben marcato note, or triumphant rebounding from it. In fact, there was nothing to see but a benign old gentleman playing the piano. One wouldn't have been surprised if he had worn a pigtail like those pianists, his predecessors, who were not in a hurry and treated their little set of crowquills with loving care."