As the year 1842 ended, Gaetano Donizetti was nominated to become a corresponding member of the prestigious French Academy. Coming at the twilight of his career, his acceptance speech was an opportunity for the composer to sum up his philosophy of music.

He devoted a significant part of his remarks to explaining how a contemporary, a fellow Italian composer, had been able to accomplish great things:

The intellect is a rough stone that becomes polished with effort, but not in every part. For example, a painter practices his art but is nothing as a musician. Only rarely does a Michelangelo appear. A person can have musical science and no taste; a person can have practical taste but no science; a person can have both—and be a genius.

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Anyone who applies himself can learn musical science. It comes with opportunity and work. Taste and genius have to be innate in a composer. For example, Rossini is a genius, and as such has opened up the imaginations of his contemporaries. After him—I am speaking here of Italy—every other composer lived or lives with the science and with the taste and with the practice that emerge from the style invented by his genius.

Rossini appeared and achieved something that only a genius had the gifts to accomplish. Even though he was young and almost ignorant of art, he sensed the effects of Mozart in Don Giovanni, of Beethoven in the symphonies…The public, roused from a kind of musical indifference, encouraged the new composer and, greatly encouraged by his successes, he strove and succeeded…Not through study, but by ongoing opportunities to write, he improved and made himself rigidly correct in his art. From all of that genius, all of that practice, and–despite himself—from musical science—sprang Rossini’s William Tell.

German composers should sing a little more, Italians a little less. The French don’t get that criticism because they send their students to Italy, making them perfect their taste for vocal melody.

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