Péchés d’âge moyen

During the last eleven years of his life, the great composer of Italian opera Gioachino Rossini, enjoying a sumptuous retirement after a successful career, composed a collection of 150 pieces.  He dubbed these pieces—intended for intimate and private performances in his home—Péchés de vieillesse, or “Sins of Old Age” (that title is actually affixed to only two of the fourteen albums, but later was applied to the entire collection).  The pieces are a mix of chamber, vocal, and piano music, all meant to be played in Rossini’s home.

Most readers will recognize Rossini from his memorable overtures—often written mere hours before the opening nights of his operas, much to the chagrin of theatre managers—which are probably better known to mass audiences than his operas.  Here’s the most famous of them:

Romantic Era music that even Audre Myers can enjoy!

Rossini was so successful as a composer, he basically spent forty years in retirement.  While music historians disagree on exactly why he stopped composing operas so young, I suspect it had to do with the fact that made so much money from them, he didn’t need to work anymore, and enjoyed a fun retirement (ill-health was likely a contributing factor, too).  He also exited gracefully at the top of his game, avoiding the common pitfall of overstaying one’s artistic welcome amid changing times and tastes.

As such, the Péchés de vieillesse are real gems, coming as they did from a great composer who had long retired from the craft.  Here’s just one example (of 150!), his “Prelude inoffensif” from Volume VII of the collection:

As readers know, I’ve been getting back into composing, and have been exploring composing by hand.  It is extremely satisfying to write pieces by hand (as opposed to a computer, which is certainly more convenient, but lacking in the same tactile satisfaction).  I’ve written a few short piano miniatures—some good, some desperately in need of revision—and Rossini’s “Sins” have inspired some of my own:  a small project I’m dubbing Péchés d’âge moyen.

According to Bing and a former colleague (an improbably cute, hipster-ish French teacher who is now residing in Colorado), that roughly translates to “Middle-Aged Sins” or “The Sins of Middle Age” (if you speak or read French well and think the translation is lacking, please let me know in the comments, along with the correct or more accurate French translation of “The Sins of Middle Age”—thanks in advance!).

My musical “sins” are quite a bit more egregious than Rossini’s.  I wrote last week about the very rough drafts of my Three Ethiopian Rhapsodies, two of which I actually like and want to develop further, one of which needs significant revision.

Since then, I’ve composed a few more pieces:  “L’il Divertimento in C major,” “Minuet for a New Moon,” and “Etude for Flashy Pianists.”  The minuet needs some work, but the divertimento and the etude are both pretty bouncy little sketches.

My process with these pieces has been to open up my beloved musical journal, which has lovely staff paper on the right-hand page, and just jot down notes.  I often am not sitting at the piano, so part of the fun (and what accounts for some of the sour notes) is that I don’t know exactly how a piece will sound until I have composed the first draft and played it.

It’s been a good way to train my “inner” ear, and to get back to the deep satisfaction that composing brings.  I’ve also decided to record these short pieces and collect them as my “Sins of Middle Age,” with the hope of releasing them as a digital album on 4 March 2022, the next Bandcamp Friday.

That gives me about two-and-a-half weeks to put something together.  It might not happen, but I tend to work well with a deadline, and I have a glorious four-day weekend coming up (Winter Break, baby!).

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here is a recording I took on my phone of “L’il Divertimento in C major”:

And here is the manuscript (with a coda squeezed in at the end):

L'il Divertimento in C major

Happy Listening!



29 thoughts on “Péchés d’âge moyen

  1. C’mon, now, Port; give me a little more credit than William Tell.

    When I was little girl, our cartoons (yes – on tv; all 5 tv stations, lol ) used to be silent but with background music – it was always classical music (at least that’s true with the old Farmer Gray cartoons). Every once in awhile I’d catch my mom leaning against a door jamb. I was surprised and asked her if she liked cartoons (for a child that’s a wild, exotic thought). She answered that she liked the music. I couldn’t tell you the names of the pieces but even I, heathen that I am, appreciated the music.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rossini is not my cup of tea I am afraid. I cannot listen to his operas preferring those of Verdi, Puccini and Mozart in particular although while I was in school (a million years ago) some of us were taken to a performance of The Barber Of Seville which I started to listen to recently but which I had to abandon about twenty minutes in.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I did not enjoy it, I found the atmosphere intimidating. I was an art student from 1976 to 1980 so punk was massive at the time although I was not an admirer, I also saw David Bowie in concert in Bristol at the now re-named Colston Hall. I was still in school then, that must have been 1974/5.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Alys, your tastes might be _too_ discriminating. You don’t want to become artistically ossified, trapped in the rich amber of elite choral music. Come, join us here in the filth—wade about in the muck of Rossini. Flail wildly in the trash of rock ‘n’ roll. Embrace your inner rebel.

      Or ignore my terrible advice and keep holding true to your high standards. Maybe you’ll enlighten some of us along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Au contraire mon ami. I listen to and enjoy a HUGE range of music but not ….. Rossini, detest all those screeching sopranos and straining tenors, yeuch. Also, although choral music is a big pash with me and I love song and lieder, I have great appreciation of orchestral and instrumental music, at the moment I am listening to Sibelius, Finzi and others too numerous to mention. Inner rebel? I have been a rebel all my life in one way or another young man and have extremely eclectic tastes. You have clearly never visited my FB page and seen any of the music etc I post there from time to time. Okay, have to go and return to reading Paradise Lost now and you can get back to The Beano (children’s comic) or whatever the equivalent is in the States.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lol, this is classic. I stand corrected, Alys. Still, I want to take you to an Alice Cooper concert or something. Talk about opera—theatrics, humor, vocal acrobatics, the works!

        You’re certainly a rebel in my book, Alys. Now, turn your wrath back towards Ponty or the like. It’s too much for this Beano Boy to take! : D

        Liked by 1 person

      • Whoa! That sounds incredible. I LOVE David Bowie. _The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars_ is one of my Desert Island Top Five Albums. The first time I listened to it, it was a transcendent experience.


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