The Edmond Michotte Collection was donated in three stages, between 1897 and 1913, to the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles by the Belgian composer and musicographer of the same name. The donation consisted of a significant portion of the private library of Rossini, who was a friend of Michotte.
Born into a wealthy and noble Belgian family, Edmond Michotte (1831-1914) studied in Belgium and then in Paris. After the 1848 revolution he returned to his country of birth where he embarked on studying music following his studies in philosophy at the Free University of Belgium. He was a pianist and composer who became best known as a virtuoso on the mattauphone.
Starting in 1854 he split his time between Brussels and Paris, where he spent time with celebrities of the musical world, and got to know Rossini, who, although the latter was forty years older than him, considered Michotte to be his "quasi figlio". Michotte was able to be present at the meeting between Rossinin and Richard Wagner in 1860, and later published an account of this event. After returning to Brussels for good in 1870, he became a member of a number of different artistic associations, and presided over the supervisory board of the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles. He bequeathed his enormous Rossini collection to the Conservatoire in several steps in the years before his death. Michotte died in 1914 following the bombing of his house in Louvain, without having fulfilled his dream of establishing a museum in memory of his illustrious friend and protector.
As he was aware of the need to present his prestigious collection in a way which was fitting to its historic value, Edmond Michotte – then president of the supervisory board of the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles – did not hold back on investing in this project. He hoped to collect together the whole collection and one day turn this into an autonomous museum. To this end he had a series of furniture constructed which were adorned with a large “R”, display cases made to measure which were provisionally on show in a room in the conservatoire which was not open to the public. However, the librarian at the time did not want to hand over the whole collection to Michotte – in the end part of the collection remained as part of the library – and so the collection was never brought back together, and the planned museum never came into being.
Much appreciated by Rossini specialists for the rarity of certain documents, the Michotte collection essentially comprises works which came from the personal library of the Pesaro-born composer: autograph and printed scores, books, opera programmes and various publications, correspondance, iconographic material and other various objects.
The collection features almost three hundred musical scores, including 26 autograph copies, and most of these are works by Rossini, including eighty compositions from the opera repertoire – arias, fragments or variations which are mostly unedited – of the soprano Isabella Colbran (1785-1845), who was the composer’s first wife and who created many roles in Rossini operas, to great acclaim, as well as other vocal and instrumental music.
The most remarkable manuscript in this section is doubtless the autograph score for the melodrama Mathilde de Shabran (1821) – a minor work of the composer, but the only one which was composed in Belgium, albeit remaining unfinished – which sheds light on the evolution of Rossini’s work within the art of "bel canto".
Amongst the forty or so manuscripts by other composers, one other rare item in this collection is the autograph version of Schubert’s Six polonaises D 824, op. 61, although it is not clear how this work ended up in Rossini’s possession.
The Michotte collection includes, amongst other things, four hundred and twenty edited works of music, including approximately one hundred and twenty by Rossini and three hundred Italian and French publications from the nineteenth century, as well as complete editions of the works of J.S. Bach and of Beethoven’s symphonies. In addition, the collection also includes a precious collection of programmes from the first performances of Puccini’s works, collected and carefully bound by the composer’s father.
The collection also contains many other publications, many of which contain a dedication to Rossini, which are by their nature very varied, and doubtless come from the composer’s own shelves, such as, for example, 1818 editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and 1821 edition of the Répertoire général du théâtre français.
There are also monographs and press articles or caricatures about Rossini, as well as several printed programmes from the Soirées musicales – private concerts organised in Paris by the composer and Olympe Pélissier, his second wife. These items pay tribute eloquently to the esthetic taste of the era.
The includes over two hundred letters and manuscript texts of quite a varied nature: invitations, programmes, elegaic poetry, property inventories, letters of condolences or the impressive list of people who were present at the musician’s funeral. The correspondance, half of which is hand-written, includes around thirty letters written by Rossini to Angelo Mignani, his administrator in Bologna, while the others are addressed to the composer himself.
The iconographic part of the collection, encompassing several hundred images, includes lithographs of Rossini at a young age, photos – including some by Nadar – of the composer later in life, of his funeral and exhumation, as well as portraits of his parents. The collection also includes some engravings of the singer Colbran.
This part of the collection also contains around a dozen personal objects. One of the most surprising of these is a vase in the form of a fan, featuring seven musical quotations from works by Rossini, and representing an allegory of a "swan of Pesaro". There is also a miniature bisque bust of the composer, a paper-cutter, a pince-nez and tie pin which were presents from Bellini. The collection pays tribute to the final moments of the legendary author of The Barber of Seville through the inclusion of a pair of fraying mittens and a blessed boxwood stick used during his funeral.
As yet largely unexploited, the Michotte collection offers an indispensable source for musicologists and historians interested in Rossini.