A few years ago I heard Philip Gossett deliver a lecture on Rossini's songs. The venue was Mandel Hall, the impressive gothic forum at Chicago University. Gossett's assistant, there to demonstrate how the songs should be sung, was Cecilia Bartoli. With gentle good humour, Gossett guided us through the complicated history of some of the pieces, to which Rossini had sometimes returned three or four times, making new settings. He played examples at the piano while talking. This was musicology brought to life in the most vivid way. Having dealt with all the songs, Bartoli then proceeded to wow the public with a few big arias, just to end the evening. Outside it was sub-zero, but my abiding memory is of the elegance of Gossett's use of his scholarship and enthusiasm.
The same goes for his new book, a very personal and wide-ranging study of the great nineteenth-century Italian composers, and the problems and challenges facing those who decide to study their music beyond the available printed scores. As anyone with even a slight knowledge of opera history knows, the work