Vincenzo Bellini was born into a family of musicians in 1801 in Catania and was the eldest of seven children. His grandfather who had studied at one of the Naples Conservatories, worked as an organist, composer and music teacher in Catania from around the period of 1767. Rosario, Bellini's father, was also a composer, choirmaster and music teacher in the same city. When Vincenzo showed signs of being very musically talented at a very early age his father began to teach him music and by the age of five Bellini was already able to play piano marvellously. In this period he wrote his first composition entitled Gallus Cantavit and a year later he began to receive lessons in Latin, modern languages, rhetoric and philosophy but never really learned to speak or write correct Italian. After the age of seven, Bellini was principally taught by his grandfather and in this period the young boy was mostly writing sacred music. After a short while, however, his music was not only heard in churches but also in the salons of the aristocrats and patricians.
Bellini went to study in the Conservatory in Naples in June 1819. In 1825, the composer, along with a group of male students of the conservatory, performed Adelson e Salvini, Bellini's opera semiseria, in the conservatory's theatre. It was very successful and led to a commission to write an opera for a gala evening at the Teatro San Carlo. This was initially entitled Bianca e Fernando and was subsequently renamed Bianca e Gernando, out of respect for the late king. It was performed in May 1826 and received good reviews. Il Pirata, which was composed in 1827, was, however, the fundamental starting point in the composer's career. It was with this opera that the composer began collaborating with the librettist Felice Romani whom he subsequently worked with for the operas La Straniera, Zaira, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, La Sonnambula, Norma and Beatrice di Teanda. In the same year a close business relationship began with the composer and the tenor G. Rubini who had already sung in the opera Bianca e Gernando.
Bellini lived in Milan most of the time between 1827 and 1833 where he became acquainted with many people in the higher social circles including Princesses, Counts and Duchesses. He was commissioned to write operas and charged higher than usual prices resulting in his being able to work only as a composer as opposed to being obliged to accept another position to earn money. In April 1828, at the time when the second version of Bianca e Gernando was being successfully performed at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, the composer began a passionate love affair with Giuditta Cantù, who was unhappily married to a landowner and silk manufacturer and this affair lasted until 1833.
Bellini's next important opera was La Straniera which was performed in February 1829, at La Scala, and was even more successful than Il Pirata. This was followed by Zaira in May 1829 which was a failure and nearly a year later, I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice which was a great success. In the autumn of 1830, after having spent the summer convalescing on Lake Como following a severe attack of gastro-enteritis, the composer began writing L'Ernani but this was left to one side as a result of censorship fears. Instead he wrote La Sonnambula which was staged at the Teatro Carcano in Milan in March 1831 and was very successful. Bellini's most famous opera, Norma, opened the 1831-1832 Carnival season at Teatro alla Scala in Milan but was initially unsuccessful. After a short period of time, however, the audience began to understand its significance and to appreciate that it was a masterpiece. Nobody could have ever imagined however, just how famous it would actually become. The composer subsequently directed rehearsals of the opera in Bergamo and Venice in the second half of 1832. The opera Beatrice di Tenda followed but was also a failure.
Due to the popularity of his work, the composer had the opportunity to go to London in 1833 to rehearse three of his operas, Il Pirata, Norma and I Capuleti e i Montecchi which were performed in the King's Theatre and were very successful. In Drury Lane La Sonnambula was staged and was also given good reviews. This trip was followed by a voyage to Paris where he staged Il Pirata and I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Théâtre-Italien. In Paris the composer formed a closer relationship with Rossini and got to know many musicians during the year in which he had a break in opera writing and was able to focus more on his social life. During this period he also had the opportunity to attend performances by Beethoven at the Conservatoire in Paris and was greatly impressed by his work.
Following this period of rest Bellini started working on I Puritani which was performed in the Théâtre-Italien in Paris in January 1835 and was enormously successful. La Sonnambula had been performed a few months previously and had also received great reviews. At the same time the Teatro San Carlo in Naples asked the composer to write a new opera but as a result of the lack of time he turned down their offer but finally wrote a second version of I Puritani which was never actually performed due to the score arriving in Naples after the deadline. Bellini remained in Paris and, although he had many projects in his head and was going through negotiations for new operas with the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique, he never managed to realize anything more and became ill at the end of August 1835, once again with gastro-enteritis. He died on September 23rd of the same year and his funeral was attended by many including the composers Cherubini and Rossini. He was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris until his remains were removed to the cathedral in Catania in 1876.