Petro Mascagni was a prolific Italian composer who completed more than 15 operas in his 82 years. The most memorable of these was Cavalleria Rusticana, a tempestuous love story set in a small Sicilian town. The one-act opera won the Sonzogno Competition, and its highly successful premiere in 1890 marked the early climax of Mascagni’s career. The string of operas that followed produced several popular arias, but none achieved the status of Cavalleria. In contrast, his close friend Puccini, composer of the much revered La Boheme, achieved great success, which caused tension between the two and eventually led to the dissolution of the relationship. Toward the end of Mascagni’s life, he became affiliated with fascist Italy, composing operas for Mussolini and numerous political gatherings. As a result, he lost the relationships of many of his musical peers and died poor and alone in Rome.
Pietro Antonio Stefano Mascagni was born on December 7, 1863, in Livorno, Italy, the son of a baker. When Mascagni was ten, his mother died, and three years later, against his father’s wishes, he began studying music under the tutelage of Alfredo Soffredini, a composer, teacher, and musical reviewer. In 1881 he composed his first cantata, In Filanda. The composition was entered in a contest in Milan and won a handsome sum from Count Florestano de Larderel, a prize which made it financially possible for him to study at the Milan Conservatory. At the school he studied alongside Boito, Ponchielli, and Saladino and roomed with the famous Puccini. In 1883 Mascagni derived Pinotta from the previously composed In Filanda, and attempted to enter it into the Conservatory’s musical contest, but his registration was too late.
In April 1885, after losing interest in the routine of his daily studies, Mascagni left the Conservatory. He found a position immediately with the company of Dario Acconci, and soon after toured the country as a conductor in the operette companies of Vittorio Forli, Alfonso and Ciro Scognamiglio, and Luigi Arnaldo Vassallo. In 1886 Mascagni met Luigi Maresca and his future wife, Lina. He accompanied them to Cerignola, where he accepted a position as master of music and singing at the local philharmonic society.
By the following year, he and Una were married and expecting their first child, Domenico. In 1882, Mascagni discontinued work on his opera Guglielmo Ratcliff so that he could focus his attention on the composition of Cavelleria Rusticana for the Sonzogno music competition. The opera triumphed over the other 72 entries by composers like Bossi and Giordano to win first place. On May 17, 1890, the Cavelleria premiered at the Costanzi Theater in Rome. Its success was unparalleled, and soon it was playing at theaters in Florence, Palermo, Venice, Hamburg, Petersburg, Dresden, Buenos Aires, and Vienna. But the rest of Mascagni’s career, though long, diverse, and fruitful, would never again reach the level of success that Cavelleria achieved.
Mascagni followed his massive success with the 1891 opera L’amico Fritz, a lyricalcomposition yielding such popular numbers as Cherry Duet. The comedy premiered on October 31, 1891, at the Costanzie Theater in Rome, successful because its melodic strength, though here combined with more refined harmony, was not unlike that in Cavelleria. In an attempt to increase his audience, Mascagni began conducting outside Italy, where he earned a strong reputation in Vienna, Paris, and London. On November 10, 1892, Mascagni premiered I Rantzau at the La Pergola Theater in Florence. The incestuous love story was received quite favorably by audience and critics alike, touted for its orchestration and the performances of its singers. Three years later Mascagni premiered the finally-finished Guglielmo Ratcliffon February 16 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Silvano, a rushed opera written to fulfill a contract with Sonzogno, premiered at the same theater on March 15. Guglielmo achieved moderate success, but Silvano was a terrible critical and popular failure.
Beginning in 1895, Mascagni worked as director of Liceo Musicale of Pesaro for several years. His one-act opera
Born Pietro Antonio Stefano Mascagni, December 7, 1863, in Livorno, Italy; died August 2, 1945, in Rome, Italy. Education: Studied with Alfredo Soffredini, 1875. Enrolled in Milan Conservatory and studied with Ponchielli and Saladino, left without completing studies, 1885.
Began regular music studies with Alfredo Soffredini, 1876; composed first cantata, In Filanda, and won first place in musical contest in Milan; moved to Milan and enrolled in Milan Conservatory, where he met Puccini, 1882; left Milan without completing studies, toured as conductor in the operette companies of Forli, Scognamiglio, and Vassallo, 1885; met Luigi Maresca, 1886; left company of Maresca to become master of music and singing in philharmonic of Cerignola, 1887; finished composition of Cavalleria Rusticana, 1889; won Sonzog-no contest for Cavalleria Rusticana, premiered the opera in Costanzi Theater in Rome, opera played throughout Italy, 1890; premiered L ‘Am ico Fritz at Costanzi Theater in Rome, 1891; premiered and directed / Rantzau at La Pergola Theater in Florence, 1892; premiered Guglielmo Ratcliff and Silvano, both at Teatro alia Scala in Milan, 1895; premiered Iris at Costanzi Theatre in Rome, 1898; toured Russia, 1900; premiered Le Maschere in six Italian theatres, conducted the late Verdi’s Requiem in Vienna, 1901; toured United States, 1902-1903; became director of Scuola Musicale Romana, in Rome, 1903; premiered Amica in Monte Carlo, 1905; premiered Le Maschere, 1908; toured South America, premiered Isabeau in Buenos Aires, 1911; premiered Parisina in Milan, 1913; premiered Parisina in Livorno and Rome, 1914; premiered Lodoletta in Rome, 1917; premiered II Piccolo Marat in Rome, 1921; conducted La Boheme as homage to late Puccini, 1930; premiered Pinotta in San Remo, 1932; premiered Nerone in Milan and Livorno, 1935; participated in celebration of 50-year anniversary of Cavalleria Rusticana, recorded in studio under Mascagni’s direction, 1940; last appearance at La Scala for L’Amico Fritz, 1943;
Awards: First place in Sonzogno Competition for Cavalleria Rusticana, 1890.
Zanetto was performed there in 1896. Two years later, on November 22, Iris premiered, a collaboration with Luigi Illica, at the Constanzi Theater in Rome. The composition was another moderate success, initiating the popularity of fin-de-siecle exotic opera. On January 17, 1901, Le maschere premiered at six Italian theaters and was unsuccessful at all of them. By 1902 Mascagni chose to resign his position at Liceo Musicale so he could tour the United States, where he performed in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.
Arnica premiered with a libretto by Choudens in MonteCarlo on March 16, 1905. It was better received than Le maschere, but still not widely popular, a point of tension between Mascagni and Puccini that led to their dispute the same year. In 1910 the two temporarily rekindled their friendship, and the following year Mascagni’s career was on an upswing with the premiere of the romantic opera Isabeau, received warmly by Italians in Buenos Aires and similarly embraced in Milan and Venice. However, critics noted that the romantic style of the opera lacked originality and suggested Mascagni might have lost his creativity. This idea was only reaffirmed by the resounding failure of Parisina, a collaboration with D’Annunzio.
In 1910 Mascagni began an affair with Anna Lolli, and by 1913 his wife remarried the musician Guido Farinelli. This change in his personal life was perhaps mirrored in his professional life with the premiere of Lodoletta in Rome on April 30, 1917. The composition was a marked return to the lyrical genre that attempted to rival Puccini’s La rondine. Two years later, on December 13, Mascagni premiered his operette Si in Rome. Finding success with a balance of lyricism and drama gave Mascagni confidence to compose II piccolo Marat, which premiered in 1921 but failed in comparison to the two previous compositions.
Around 1927 Mascagni began to realize that his career was languishing and he went into seclusion, moving to the Albergo Plaza in Rome, where he would remain until his death. His brief public appearances thereafter were politically attached to the fascist party in Italy, signified by the 1932 premiere of Pinotta in San Remo. Three years later Mascagni premiered Nerone in Milan, his last work, written with Mussolini in mind, as a final attempt to battle the inevitable modernism surrounding him.
Mascagni made his final appearance in April of 1943 at the La Scala Theater for a performance of L’Amico Fritz. His fascist associations left him friendless and poor at the time of his death on August 2, 1945. Mascagni remains a prominent figure in the history of Italian opera, and Cavelleria Rusticana enduring favorite.
Cavalleria Rusticana, 1890.
L’amico Fritz, 1891.
I Rantzau, 1891.
Guglielmo Ratcliff, 1895.
Le Maschere, 1901
II Piccolo Marat, 1921.
Rosenthal, Harold, and John Warrack, eds., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, 1979.
Sadie, Stanley, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Macmillan Press Limited, 1992.
“Pietro Mascagni,” HNH, http://www.hnh.com/composer/mascagni.htm (March 7, 1999).
“Pietro Mascagni,” Erik Bruchez’s Mascagni Home Page, http://rick.stanford.edu/opera/Mascagni/ (March 7, 1999).
“Evening at Pops,” WGBH, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pops/progintermezzo.html (March 7, 1999).
Mascagni, Pietro, famous Italian composer; b. Livorno, Dec. 7, 1863; d. Rome, Aug. 2, 1945. His father was a baker who wished him to continue in that trade, but yielded to his son’s determination to study music. Thanks to aid from an uncle, he was able to take some music lessons with Soffredini in Livorno and then to attend the Milan Cons., where he studied with Ponchielli and Saladino (1882). However, he became impatient with school discipline, and was dismissed from the Cons. in 1884. He then was active as a double bass player in the orch. of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan. After touring as a conductor with operetta troupes, he taught music in Cerignola, Puglia. He composed industriously; in 1888 he sent the MS of his 1-act opera Cavalleria rusticana to the music publisher Sonzogno for a competition, and won 1st prize. The opera was performed at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on May 17, 1890, with sensational success; the dramatic story of village passion, and Mascagni’s emotional score, laden with luscious music, combined to produce an extraordinary appeal to opera lovers. The short opera made the tour of the world stages with amazing rapidity, productions being staged all over Europe and America with neverfailing success; the opera was usually presented in 2 parts, separated by an “intermezzo sinfonico” (which became a popular orch. number performed separately). Cavalleria rusticana marked the advent of the operatic style known as verismo, in which stark realism was the chief aim and the dramatic development was condensed to enhance the impressions. When, 2 years later, another “veristic” opera, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, was taken by Sonzogno, the 2 operas became twin attractions on a single bill. Ironically, Mascagni could never duplicate or even remotely approach the success of his first production, although he continued to compose industriously and opera houses all over the world were only too eager to stage his successive operas. Thus, his opera Le Maschere was produced on Jan. 17, 1901, at 6 of the most important Italian opera houses simultaneously (Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Venice, Verona); it was produced 2 days later in Naples. Mascagni himself conducted the premiere in Rome. But the opera failed to fire the imagination of the public; it was produced in a revised form in Turin 15 years later (June 7, 1916), but was not established in the repertoire even in Italy. In 1902 he made a tour of the U.S. conducting his Cavalleria rusticana and other operas, but, owing to mismanagement, the visit proved a fiasco; a South American tour in 1911 was more successful. He also appeared frequently as a conductor of sym. concerts. In 1890 he was made a Knight of the Crown of Italy; in 1929 he was elected a member of the Academy. At various times he also was engaged in teaching; from 1895 to 1902 he was director of the Rossini Cons. in Pesaro. His last years were darkened by the inglorious role that he had played as an ardent supporter of the Fascist regime, so that he was rejected by many of his old friends. It was only after his death that his errors of moral judgment were forgiven; his centennial was widely celebrated in Italy in 1963. D. Stivender ed. and tr. his autobiography into Eng. (N.Y., 1975).
dramatic: opera:Pinotta (c. 1880; San Remo, March 23, 1932); Guglielmo Ratdiff (c. 1885; Milan, Feb. 16, 1895); Cavalleria rusticana (Rome, May 17, 1890); L’Amico Fritz (Rome, Oct. 31, 1891); I Rantzau (Florence, Nov. 10, 1892); Silvano (Milan, March 25, 1895); Zanetto (Pesaro, March 2, 1896); Iris (Rome, Nov. 22, 1898; rev. version, Milan, Jan. 19, 1899); Le Maschere (simultaneous premiere in Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Venice, and Verona, Jan. 17, 1901); Arnica (Monte Carlo, March 16, 1905); Isabeau (Buenos Aires, June 2, 1911); Parisina (Milan, Dec. 15, 1913); Lodoletta (Rome, April 30, 1917); Scampolo (1921); II piccolo Marat (Rome, May 2, 1921); Nerone (Milan, Jan. 16, 1935); I Bianchi ed i Neri (1940). operetta:Il re a Napoli (n.d); Si (Rome, Dec. 13, 1919). other: 2 syms. (1879, 1881); Poema leopardiano (for the centenary of G. Leopardi, 1898); Hymn in honor of Admiral Dewey (July 1899); Rapsodia satanica for Orch. (music for a film, Rome, July 2, 1917); Davanti Santa Teresa (Rome, Aug. 1923); chamber music; choral works; songs; piano pieces.
G. Monaldi, P. M.: L’Uomo e l’artista (Rome, 1899); G. Bastianelli, P. M.: Con nota delle opere (Naples, 1910); G. Orsini, L’arte di P. M. (Milan, 1912); E. Pompei, P. M.: Nella vita e nell’arte (Rome, 1912); A. Donno, M. nel 900 musicale (Rome, 1935); A. Jeri, M., 15 Opere, 1000 Episodi (Milan, 1940); D. Cellamare, M. e la “Cavalleria” visti da Cerignola (Rome, 1941); M. parla (Rome, 1945); Comitato nazionale delle onoranze a P. M. nel primo centenario della nascità (Livorno, 1963); M. Morini, ed., P. M. (2 vols., Milan, 1964); G. Gavazzeni, Discorso per M. nel centenario della nascità (Rome, 1964); D. Cellamare, P. M. (Rome, 1965); R. Iovino, M: L’avventuroso dell’opera (Milan, 1987); C. and L. Pini, M. a quattro mani (Viareggio, 1992); C. Criscione and L. Andalò, eds., M. ritrovato: 1863–1945: L’uomo, il musicista: Mostra itinierante per il cinquantenario della scomparsa del musicista livornese (Milan, 1995); M. Morini, R. Iovino, and A. Paloscia, eds., P. M:Epistolario (Lucca, 1996 et seq.).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire