‘Quelques riens pour album’, ‘An album of trifles’, is the enigmatictitle which Rossini gave to this colorful collection of 24short pieces, the first 18 of which you can hear on this recording.The title is characteristic for his personality, euphemisticand full of self-mockery. Here once again is the older Rossini,who spent his final years in Paris, producing an abundance ofsmall-scale, highly personal character pieces which he jokingly called ‘Péchés deVieillesse’, or ‘Sins of Old Age’. The album already occupies a special place within thisconsiderable body of works, not least because it contains 24 pieces, a number whichevokes Chopin’s 24 preludes, which Rossini surely knew, not to mention Bach’s‘Wohltemperierte Klavier’. Rossini, moreover, was also a great admirer of Bach’s music,as witnessed among other things by his support for the then recently initiated publicationof Bach’s complete works by the Leipzig Bachgesellschaft.It would be easy to assume that Rossini had initially intended to make use of all 24 keys;but he must have abandoned this project at some point, because the collection containsseveral pieces in the same key. Nevertheless the relationships between the pieces arestronger here than in his other albums, and the pieces themselves are frequently smallerin scale. Even more strikingly, most of them do not have individual titles, making themless independent of each other.
There are a couple of exceptions: for example, no. 12 (Danse Sibérienne) is a wildSiberian dance, no. 15 (Petite Galette Allemande) is a tasty German cake, and there is awhole story behind no. 16 (Douces Réminiscences, offertes à mon ami Carafa pour lenouvel an 1866, .….Oh fricaine!!!). At the very moment of the extremely successful premiereof Meyerbeer’s ‘l’Africaine’, Rossini’s good friend Carafa made a desperaterequest for funds. Rossini told him to come back the next day and gave him this piece totake to the publisher in exchange for payment. Probably he thought that the punning title would immediately awaken the publisher’s association with the wildly successful opera,so that the publisher would immediately and unquestioningly give Carafa the money, notrealizing that the piece had nothing at all to do with the opera.
The ploy was successful,and Carafa was rescued, if only temporarily.The incident speaks clearly of the irony that Rossini threads through these pieces, ironyaimed sometimes at the audience, sometimes at himself; surely it is aimed at the pianistas well, for his technique is put to the test, sometimes to an absurd degree.A good example is the last piece. After a charming introduction, Rossini subjects thepianist to a test of endurance with endless quantities of rapidly repeated chords in theleft hand. I can imagine one of Rossini’s famous parties, with the composer havingdecided to tease some poor pianist after dinner in order to see if he can really play aswell as everyone says he can. The smile on his face would probably have been evenbroader at that moment if he had known that this challenge would still be taken seriouslya century and a half later.