2 August 2017

Pietro Mascagni – composer

One opera was enough to build reputation of musician

Pietro Mascagni in 1890, the year his opera Cavalleria Rusticana, was first played
Pietro Mascagni in 1890, the year his opera
Cavalleria Rusticana, was first played
Pietro Mascagni, the creator of the opera Cavalleria rusticana, died on this day in 1945 in Rome, at the age of 81.

Cavalleria rusticana was an outstanding success when it was first performed in Rome in 1890 and was said to have single-handedly brought the Verismo movement, in which the characters were ordinary people rather than gods, mythological figures or kings and queens, into Italian opera.

The beautiful intermezzo from the opera was used in the sound track of the 1980 film Raging Bull and a production of the opera was used as the setting for the climax of the 1990 film The Godfather Part III, with Michael Corleone’s son Anthony playing Turridu, the opera’s male protagonist. The film ends with the intermezzo playing.

In 2001 Andrea Bocelli recorded a song entitled Mascagni on his Cieli di Toscana album and had an excerpt from Cavalleria rusticana incorporated into the music.

The opera has been so successful that it has led to Mascagni sometimes being dismissed as a one-opera composer, but, in fact, the composer wrote 15 operas, as well as orchestral and piano music and songs.

Two of Mascagni’s other operas, L’amico Fritz and Iris, have remained in the European repertoire and have been regularly performed since their premières.

Mascagni, pictured in 1905
Mascagni was born in Livorno in Tuscany in 1863. He began studying music at the age of 13 and soon produced compositions of his own.

In 1881 he won first prize for a Cantata which was performed at a musical contest in Milan.

The following year, Mascagni passed the admission examination for the Milan Conservatory, where he first met the composer, Giacomo Puccini.

In 1885 Mascagni composed Il Re a Napoli in Cremona, a romance for a tenor and orchestra. Then he left Milan without completing his studies and began touring as an orchestra conductor for opera companies and he also gave piano lessons.

In 1889, a competition was announced for a one-act opera. The following year, Mascagni completed the composition of Cavalleria rusticana and sent the manuscript to Milan.

Cavalleria rusticana won the contest and Mascagni was summoned to Rome to present his opera.  The première was held at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. It was an outstanding success and was then performed all over Italy. It was also performed in Hungary, Germany, Russia and Argentina and Mascagni became famous internationally.

Listen to Mascagni's most famous piece

Mascagni, who was married in 1889 to Lina Carbognani, with whom he went on to have three children, continued to write music and produce operas and went all over the world conducting orchestras.

Mascagni, centre, at a meeting in 1885 with his fellow  musicians Alberto Franchetti (left) and Giacomo Puccini
Mascagni, centre, at a meeting in 1885 with his fellow
musicians Alberto Franchetti (left) and Giacomo Puccini
By 1915 he was writing music to accompany silent films. In 1930 he conducted La Bohème in Torre del Lago as an homage to Puccini who had died in 1924.

In 1940, celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Cavalleria rusticana took place all over Italy, often with Mascagni conducting the orchestra.

His last opera season was in Rome featuring Cavalleria rusticana and L’amico Fritz, by which time he was so frail he had to conduct sitting on a chair.

Mascagni died on August 2, 1945 in his apartment at The Grand Hotel Plaza in Rome, which had by then been commandeered by the Allies but where he was allowed to remain.

His last years were marred by bitterness at his treatment by the post-Fascist Italian government, who punished him for his support for Mussolini and snubbed his funeral ceremony at Rome’s Cimitero Monumentale on August 4.

However, in 1951 Mascagni’s remains were transferred from Rome to his birthplace, Livorno, and reburied with honours.

The Terrazza Mascagni promenade in Livorno
The Terrazza Mascagni promenade in Livorno
Travel tip:

Livorno, where Mascagni was born, is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence. Although it is a large commercial port, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front, the Terrazza Mascagni, and an historic centre with canals.

Inside the sumptuous Grand Hotel Plaza in Rome
Inside the sumptuous Grand Hotel Plaza in Rome
Travel tip:

The Grand Hotel Plaza in Rome, where Mascagni lived in an apartment from 1927 until his death in 1945, is in Via del Corso in the heart of the city. It has beautiful views of Rome from its rooftop terraces. The hotel was remodelled in the 1920s, inspired by the Art Nouveau style in fashion at the time. It has been used as a film location on many occasions.

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