Pietro Antonio Stefano Mascagni (7
December 1863 – 2 August 1945) was an Italian composer most noted
for his operas. His 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria rusticana caused one
of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly
ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. While it
was often held that Mascagni, like Leoncavallo, was a "one-opera
man" who could never repeat his first success, L'amico Fritz and
Iris have remained in the repertoire in Europe (especially Italy)
since their premieres. Mascagni said that at one point, Iris was
performed in Italy more often than Cavalleria (cf. Stivender).
Mascagni wrote fifteen operas, an
operetta, several orchestral and vocal works, as well as songs and
piano music. He enjoyed immense success during his lifetime, both as
a composer and conductor of his own and other people's music. He
created a variety of styles in his operas: a Sicilian passion and
warmth of Cavalleria, the exotic flavor of Iris, the idylls of
L'amico Fritz and Lodoletta, the Gallic chiaroscuro of Isabeau, the
steely, Veristic power of Il piccolo Marat, the over-ripe
post-romanticism of the lush Parisina, which demonstrate a
Early life and education
Mascagni was born in Livorno, Tuscany, the second son of Domenico
and Emilia Mascagni. His father owned and operated a bakery.
Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti ("Nanni") was born the same year in the
same city and became Mascagni's lifelong friend and collaborator.
In 1876, at the age of 13, Mascagni
began musical studies with Alfredo Soffredini, who founded the
Instituto Musicale di Livorno (later called Istituto Cherubini). The
older man had just completed his musical studies in Milan. Also a
native of Livorno, Soffredini was a composer, teacher and musical
critic. The youth started composing rapidly, and between 1879 and
1880, he composed several works: Sinfonia in do minore, Prima
sinfonia in fa maggiore, Elegia, Kyrie, Gloria and Ave Maria.
Musical career: 1880–89
The premiere of Mascagni's first cantata, In Filanda, took place at
the Istituto Cherubini on 9 February 1881. Performed at a musical
contest in Milan, the cantata won the first prize. In the same year
Mascagni met the musicians Arrigo Boito and Amilcare Ponchielli in
In 1882, he composed his Cantata
alla gioia from a text by Gustav Schiller, followed by La stella di
Garibaldi for voice and piano, and La tua stella. On 6 May Mascagni
left Livorno for Milan. He passed the admission examination of the
Milan Conservatory on 12 October. In Milan, Mascagni met the noted
composer Giacomo Puccini.
On 9 January 1883, Mascagni's
sister, Maria, died. The cantata In Filanda became Pinotta, and was
proposed for the musical contest of the Conservatorio, but as his
registration was late, it was not accepted.
In 1884, he composed Ballata for
tenor and piano; M'ama non m'ama, scherzo for soprano and piano;
Messagio d'amore, and Alla luna.
In 1885, Mascagni composed Il Re a
Napoli in Cremona, a romance for tenor and orchestra, on a text by
Andrea Maffei. He left Milan without completing his studies. That
year, he began touring as a conductor in the operetta companies of
Vittorio Forlì, Alfonso and Ciro Scognamiglio, and, in Genova, the
company of Luigi Arnaldo Vassallo.
Mascagni met the impresario Luigi
Maresca in 1886 and started working with him. That December,
Mascagni arrived in Cerignola with Maresca's company. He was
accompanied by Argenide Marcellina Carbognani (Lina), his future
wife. Helped by the mayor Giuseppe Cannone, Mascagni soon left the
company of Maresca, not without problems.
He was appointed as the master of
music and singing of the new philharmonia of Cerignola. His
reputation grew. He also gave piano lessons. In February 1888, he
began work on the Messa di Gloria. In July, Casa Sonzogno announced
in the Teatro Illustrato its second competition for a one-act opera.
The following year, Mascagni completed his composition of Cavalleria
rusticana on 27 May and sent the manuscript to Milan.
Marriage and family
Mascagni married Lina Carbognani on 3 February 1889. The next day
their first son, Domenico Mascagni ("Mimì"), was born. Their son
Dino was born on 3 January 1891. A daughter, Emi, was born in 1892.
Mascagni in c. 1890
On 21 February 1890, Mascagni was summoned to Rome to present his
opera. The première of Cavalleria rusticana, winner of the Sonzogno
contest, was held 17 May at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. It had
outstanding success, and the opera was soon performed in both the
north and south of Italy: Florence, Turin, Bologna, Palermo, Milan,
Genoa, Naples, Venice and Trieste.
In December, Gustav Mahler
conducted the opera in Budapest. Soon thereafter, the cities of
Munich, Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Dresden and Buenos Aires welcomed
the opera. In March 1891, it was sung in Vienna. At age 26, Mascagni
had become internationally famous.
Mascagni premiered his L'amico
Fritz, his second most successful opera, on 31 October 1891 at the
Teatro Costanzi in Rome. I Rantzau was premiered on 10 November at
the Teatro La Pergola, in Florence, under his personal direction.
The composer next completed Silvano
(1894). On 16 February 1895 he premiered Guglielmo Ratcliff at the
Teatro alla Scala of Milan. On 15 March Silvano was premiered at the
same theatre. That year, Mascagni accepted the directorship of the
Liceo Rossini in Pesaro and moved his family there.
On 2 March 1896, Mascagni conducted
the première of Zanetto at the Liceo. He continued his composing and
directing. On June 29, 1898 in Recanati, Mascagni conducted the
première of a symphonic poem, A Giacomo Leopardi. Mascagni began a
collaboration with Luigi Illica, a librettist. Their first work,
Iris, was premiered on 22 November at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.
Mascagni's father died in May 1899.
Original Amica poster (1905)
In 1900, Mascagni toured Moscow and St. Petersburg and, on 17
January 1901, Le maschere was premiered in six Italian theaters.
Giuseppe Verdi died on 27 January and the following month Mascagni
commemorated Verdi's passing. That same year, he conducted Verdi's
Requiem in Vienna.
Mascagni composed the incidental
music for Hall Caine's play, The Eternal City in August 1902; the
première of the play with Mascagni's music took place in London on 2
In 1902 and 1903, he toured in
Canada and in the United States, (in particular Montreal, New York
City, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco), where he conducted
many of his and other composers' works. The tour was mostly a
fiasco, except for the visit to San Francisco where Mascagni was
extremely well received.
In 1903, Mascagni left Pesaro after
problems with the authorities. He became director of the Scuola
Musicale Romana, in Rome. In the same year he signed a contract with
the French editor Paul de Choudens.
Amica, based on a poem by Choudens
with French libretto by Paul Collin, was premiered on 16 March 1905,
in Monte-Carlo. That year, he had disputes with Ruggiero Leoncavallo
and Giacomo Puccini. He also had the Livornese première of Le
Mascagni was director of the
Costanzi for the season beginning in August 1909.
Mascagni caricatured by WH for Vanity Fair, 1912
On 4 April 1910, Mascagni began a relationship with Anna Lolli. In
October he was reconciled with Puccini.
Mascagni ceased his activity as
director of the Scuola Musicale Romana in 1911. That May he left for
Buenos Aires, beginning a seven-month tour in South America. The
première of Isabeau took place in Buenos Aires on 2 June.
The Italian première of Isabeau was
held simultaneously at La Scala in Milan (conductor Tullio Serafin)
and at La Fenice in Venice (conductor Mascagni) in 1912. On 28
March, he began to work on Parisina in Bellevue, near Paris,
sometimes with his daughter Emi, his mistress Anna Lolli, and the
librettist Gabriele d'Annunzio.
Parisina was premiered in Milan on
15 December of that year. Almost all the important Italian composers
of the time were present, among them Puccini, Umberto Giordano and
Riccardo Zandonai. The new work was premiered in Livorno and Rome in
1914. On July 28 occurred the events that shortly led to World War
I: Puccini and Mascagni were against the involvement of Italy in
this war, where Mascagni's son Dino was later made a prisoner.
In 1915 Mascagni wrote music for
Nino Oxilia's movie Rapsodia Satanica; the custom was for silent
films to be accompanied live in a theater by organ, piano, or an
orchestra, often using a prepared score (sometimes with original
music) with cues for the conductor or musician. Mascagni had a
quarrel regarding the rights of Louise de la Ramée's Two Little
Wooden Shoes (I due Zoccoletti), that inspired both Puccini and
Mascagni. The subject was retained by Mascagni for Lodoletta. The
latter opera was premiered on 30 April 1917 in Rome. The Livornese
première of the opera was on 28 July with Beniamino Gigli as Flammen.
Sì, Mascagni's operetta - which he
had been manoeuvred into writing by the impresario Carlo Lombardo,
was premiered on 13 December in Rome.
In 1920 Mascagni composed Il piccolo Marat, which was premiered in
Rome on 2 May 1921, following by a premiere in Buenos Aires in
September. The composer returned to South America for a tour
beginning in May 1922.
In 1923, he composed Visione Lirica.
He moved to the Albergo Plaza in Rome in 1927, a place he would not
leave until his death.
In 1930, Mascagni conducted La
bohème in Torre del Lago, as a homage to Puccini, who had died in
1924. In 1931, Le maschere was performed at La Scala.
Pinotta was premiered in San Remo
on 23 March 1932. He joined the PNF (Fascist party), following the
example of many contemporary musicians, including Giordano.
Nerone was premièred in Milan on 16
January 1935, followed by the première in Livorno on 24 August.
In June 1936, Mascagni's son Dino
died in Somalia.
In 1940, celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of his most
popular opera, Cavalleria rusticana, took place all over Italy,
often with Mascagni conducting. The opera was recorded for La Voce
del padrone ("His Master's Voice") at La Scala under the direction
of Mascagni, who recorded a special spoken introduction. EMI later
reissued the recording on LP and CD.
In 1942, after an audience with
Pope Pius XII, newspapers quoted Mascagni, a Roman Catholic, as
saying that his tuberculosis-stricken niece was cured after
receiving a rosary and silver medal blessed by the pope.
In April 1943, Mascagni appeared
for the last time at La Scala to conduct L'amico Fritz. By that time
he had to conduct sitting on a chair. The last season of Mascagni at
the Rome Opera (Cavalleria rusticana and L'amico Fritz) was 1944–45.
Mascagni died on 2 August 1945 in
his apartment at the Hotel Plaza di Roma. The funeral ceremony was
on 4 August. The Italian authorities were not present. In 1951, the
mortal remains of Mascagni were transferred from Rome to Livorno,
where finally Mascagni received an official homage.
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