Rossini, Fax Pioneer


A version of this was originally posted in Media-Technology and Opera History on Rossini’s 54th birthday, February 29, 2016.

RossiniGioachino Rossini, composer of such operas as Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) and Guglielmo Tell (William Tell), was born on February 29, 1792, which means today is his 54th birthday (there was no February 29 in 1800 or 1900). Besides being a brilliant opera composer, he was also a pioneer of image transmission technology.

PantelegraphOn January 22, 1860, Rossini transmitted a sheet of music he composed for his friend Giovanni Caselli from Paris to Amiens via the latter’s pantelegraph (fax machine), shown at left. It was probably the first fax transmission of sheet music, which had to be drawn—staff lines and all—in insulating ink on a sheet of metal.

Rossini died in France in 1868 and was buried in Paris. In 1887, at the request of the Italian government, his remains were moved to Florence. In association with his homecoming, the Philological Club exhibited artifacts associated with his life, from manuscripts and photographs to a lock of his hair and his comb. Among the exhibits were the original and faxed copy of the 1860 music.

Rossini fax trimmedAt right is an image of Rossini’s fax (click to enlarge). And here is a link to the music being played.

The first fax patent, incidentally, was issued in Britain in 1843, and, because it introduced image scanning, it won an Emmy award for its inventor, Alexander Bain, last month.  Here’s the BBC report on the arrival of the award in Kirkintilloch, Scotland.


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