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The most distinguished Italian clarinettist of the nineteenth century, Ernesto Cavallini (1807-1874) was also a prolific composer. Succeeding his teacher, Carulli, as principal clarinet in the orchestra of La Scala, Milan, he also toured extensively in Europe, usually playing his own compositions, and in 1852 moved to St Petersburg, playing principal clarinet in the court and theatre orchestras and enhancing his reputation as a soloist. Appointed clarinet professor at the newly founded conservatoire in the city, he also taught singing and composed music for the voice. His playing was the inspiration for the clarinet solos in Verdi's opera La Forza del Destino, given its first performance at St Petersburg in 1862 in the presence of the composer.

For the last four years of his life Cavallini returned to Milan, and Una lagrima sulla tomba dell'immortale Rossini dates from this period. The form of the title was common at that time for memorial pieces, and the music reflects the reverence in which Cavallini held the works of the man whose death it commemorated.