Music Lures Wagner and Rossini Scholars

March 24, 2003

Mary Ann Travis

The Newcomb Department of Music has scored a coup this semester with two visiting professors--Robert Bailey and Philip Gossett--who, respectively, are world-renowned experts on the musical composer giants, Richard Wagner and Gioacchino Antonio Rossini.

Bailey is a professor of music at New York University, and he's spending the spring semester at Tulane as the Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor of Music, teaching a course on European music from 1800 to 1950. He also will present a public lecture series on April 7, 14 and 21 in which he hopes to illuminate the centrality of music to German culture in the first half of the 19th century.

"German Romanticism is foreign territory to English-speaking people because it is different from the varieties of Romanticism in which most of us have been educated," said Bailey. "The orientation of our educational system is to look on Continental events, whether political, social or artistic, through the eyes of France, which correspond to British-American modes of thinking."

At his lectures, Bailey will present slides of pictures from the German Romanticists, and he will accompany them with music examples at the piano and recordings of German compositions.

"Music is more central to German culture than it is to ours," said Bailey.

But all the arts--literature, visual and music--were intertwined for the Germans. Bailey's specialty is Wagner, who is in Germany's second Romantic generation. Wagner's music "fundamentally shocked a lot of people," said Bailey. Wagner's expansion of musical language astounded European musicians, especially with the premiere of the opera Tristan and Isolde in Munich in 1865. Bailey has edited an authoritative critical score for excerpts from the opera.

"Tristan is where the whole concept of modernity, as far as music is concerned, begins," he said.

Before Wagner, opera had flourished in France and Italy during the first half of the 1800s. The Italian Rossini was especially revered for his operas The Barber of Seville and William Tell. But musical treasures can be lost without scholars and performers keeping them alive. Philip Gossett, who'll be making a three-day visit to Tulane the last week of March as the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, is "noted for his almost single-handed revival of Rossini," said Tony Cummings, associate professor of music, who arranged for the visits of both Bailey and Gossett.

Gossett is a University of Chicago professor of music who has launched an edition of Rossini's works, "done with the highest scholarly and critical principles," said Cummings. Because of his Rossini expertise, Gossett travels the world as a consultant to opera companies. He's especially in demand because of his knowledge of voice ornamentationthe elaboration of written scores, adding extra passages and flourishes at the end of scenes.

"In Rossini's time," said Cummings, "one didn't simply sing the notes that he had written, you ornamented them. And Gossett, more than any other musicologist, has learned exactly how that ornamentation was done."

During Gossett's visit, four of the music department's most advanced voice students will sing a portion of a Rossini opera for him. Gossett then will coach the students on how to "ornament" their singing just as Rossini would have. Gossett also will deliver guest lectures at theater set-design and Italian classes as well as Bailey's European music class. His public lecture on staging Italian opera will be on March 27.

Cummings said, "This generation of students--and all of us--are fortunate to have both these distinguished music scholars at Tulane this semester." For more information on the public lectures, call the music department, 865-5267, or see future Inside Tulane calendars.

Mary Ann Travis can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000