In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vincenzo Bellini

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Biographies and Overviews: 19th Century
  • Biographies and Overviews
  • Journals
  • Correspondence
  • Iconography and Documents
  • Sources and Editions
  • Creative Process
  • Forms and Conventions
  • Analysis
  • Librettos and Librettists
  • Dramaturgy and Poetics
  • Context
  • Singers and Performance Practice
  • Staging
  • Reception
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Companions and Special Issues
  • Organizations Devoted to Bellini’s Work

Music Vincenzo Bellini
Candida Mantica
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0201


Vincenzo Bellini (b. 1801–d. 1835) was a leading Italian opera composer of the early 19th century. During his brief yet sensational career, many of his works figured prominently on the principal European stages, and some of them, including Norma, La sonnambula, and I puritani, remain among the works most often performed in the world’s leading opera houses. Contemporaries viewed Bellini either as the ideal heir of the traditional Neapolitan school or as an innovative alternative to Rossini’s virtuosic style. His unusual attention to the relation between words and music; his use of “declamato,” and his idiosyncratic melodic inventions, employing long melodic arches with a remarkable élan, were the result of a meticulous creative process, which has its roots in his Neapolitan apprenticeship with Nicola Zingarelli. Nonetheless, Bellini also relied on virtuosic singing for specific dramatic purposes, as can be seen in Il pirata, La sonnambula, or I puritani. He adopted formal conventions established during the Rossinian era while, at the same time, he tended to expand them in the direction of tableaux aesthetics. Bellini’s orchestration and use of harmony were calibrated for expressive purposes, and recent studies have emphasized his dramatic use of the orchestra, especially in terms of timbric spatialization. His early reception was largely influenced by the somewhat hagiographic aura that followed his premature death, and to which Francesco Florimo largely contributed. Ildebrando Pizzetti’s essay “La musica di Vincenzo Bellini” (see Pizzetti 1915, cited under Dramaturgy and Poetics) represents a landmark in the scholarly reassessment of the composer’s image, and it influenced subsequent literature. Since the centenary of Bellini’s death in 1935, which occurred during the rise of fascism in Italy, becoming, in part, a cultural propagandist instrument of Benito Mussolini’s regime, anniversaries have prompted on outpouring of research on the composer. Cultural events organized to celebrate his bicentenary mark, in particular, a pivotal moment in the development of Bellini scholarship, and they have served to conclude the rehabilitation process started at the beginning of the 20th century. The international conference held in Siena in 2000, in particular, led to the launch by Casa Ricordi publishing firm of the Edizione critica delle opere di Vincenzo Bellini (see Bellini 2003–, cited under Sources and Editions), which aims at publishing his opera omnia in a critical edition.

Reference Works

Individual entries on Bellini can be found in all main music dictionaries and encyclopedias. Della Seta 1999 and Smart, et al. 1996, an entry in Grove Music Online, are the most recent studies, mirroring the current state of research and critical perspectives. Lippmann 1980, although out of date, still offers interesting critical insights. Willier 2009 is a valuable instrument of bibliographical research.

  • Della Seta, Fabrizio. “Bellini, Vincenzo [Salvatore Carmelo Francesco].” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 1009–1026. Personenteil 2. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1999.

    An accurate and enjoyable overview of Bellini’s life and career, historical-cultural environment, impact and reception, elements of novelty, and professional and artistic consciousness. Offers insightful critical comments on Bellini’s style and relation to Rossini, vocal and orchestral writing, melodic construction, and the relations between harmony and drama and forms and conventions in his work.

  • Lippmann, Friedrich. “Bellini, Vincenzo.” In New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 1. Edited by Stanley Sadie, 389–397. London: Macmillan, 1980.

    A concise overview of Bellini’s life and career, followed by discussions of his character, style, treatment of relations between words and music, and melody and sonority. Although supplanted by Smart, et al. 1996 in Grove Music Online, still worth a read. The bibliography, completed by Simon Maguire, is out of date.

  • Smart, Mary Ann, Friedrich Lippmann, and Simon Maguire. “Bellini, Vincenzo.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by L. Macy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    An insightful discussion of Bellini’s life and career divided into four periods, enriched with diverse considerations on style and relation to Rossini, supported by music examples. A section on Bellini’s reception concludes the entry. The bibliography was last updated around 1996. Available by subscription.

  • Willier, Stephen A. Vincenzo Bellini: A Research and Information Guide. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Originally published in 2002, this volume has been updated to reflect recent contributions to the scholarly literature. Features 1,019 entries grouped into twelve chapters, indicating trends in research, performance practice, and criticism. Opens with an outline of key events of his life and ends with a glossary of people related to Bellini. Despite numerous misprints and the inconsistent quality of abstracts, this remains a valuable research tool.

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