Mascagni, Pietro

1863 - 1945

Biography

Pietro Mascagni was born on December 7, 1863 in Italy, in the city of Livorno, in a poor baker's family. His uncle, Stefano Mascagni, was the first to distinguish Pietro’s talent. The man did not have musical education, but subtly felt and loved music; he strongly promoted the formation of his nephew as a musician. At the age of 13, Mascagni Jr. began studying under Alfredo Soffredini, a composer, teacher, and the founder of the Livorno Institute of Music, which was renamed the Cherubini Institute later. During this period, Pietro Mascagni wrote the Symphony in F-major, the song La Tua Stella and two important choral works - In Filanda, 1881 and Alla Gioia 1882. Soffredini taught Mascagni art of composition, and granted him the opportunity to perform his compositions in Livorno. The cantata In Filanda, which premiered in 1881, brought such success to the author that Stefano Mascagni decided to sponsor his second concert in the Avvalorati Theater. The manuscript of the notes, stored in Pierpont Morgan’s library in New York, contains a commentary written by Soffredini at the end of one of the arias: “Bravo, Pietro! This aria is a little masterpiece”.

A few years later, Soffredini mentioned the name of his talented student to the composer Amilcare Ponchielli, the author of the popular opera La Gioconda. In 1881, the teacher decided that it was high time to send Pietro to Milan for further education. In 1882, Mascagni entered the Conservatory. However, in the process of learning he had discrepancies with the Conservatory director Antonio Bazzini. The students of the Milan Conservatory were not allowed to perform at third-party concerts without the director’s permission, but the young composer regularly violated this rule. To avoid problems, the composer used a pseudonym - Pygmeo Sarkanti, the anagram of the name Mascagni. In early 1885, the composer finished the intermezzo from the third act of the opera William Ratcliff and showed it to the conductor of Teatro Alla Scala, Franco Faccio. The conductor’s reaction was enthusiastic. He suggested that young Pietro performed the intermezzo under the condition that the director of the conservatory approves it. Bazzini was not impressed with the work, calling it "the music of a madman" and did not give permission to perform it in Teatro Alla Scala. Mascagni slammed the door with the words "Who are you to judge me?" Moreover, he left the conservatory in March 1885, without receiving a diploma.

However, the time at the Conservatory was not spent in vain. While studying, Mascagni shared the room with the student from the Ponchielli class, Giacomo Puccini. They became great friends. The composer created a romance based on the words of Andrea Maffei “Il Re a Napoli in Cremona” during this period. The romance was written especially for his childhood friend, tenor Dario Acconci, the accomplished operetta singer. The song became known throughout Italy thanks to the performance of this vocalist on guest tours.

After leaving the conservatory, thanks to the assistance of Acconci, Mascagni was promoted as the conductor’s assistant in a touring opera company, managed by Vittorio Forli. He was later enlisted in Scognamiglio troupe, and then joined the touring troupe of Luigi Maresca. There he was acquainted with his future wife, soubrette Lina Carboniani. The couple decided to settle in the provincial town of Cerignola, where the composer received the work of the piano teacher and director at the newly opened music school. The salary was 100 liras per month.

Mascagni complained that the lessons’ income was fluctuating: “Piano lessons in this part of the city do not last long. Young girls willing to get married take the piano lessons to attract attention. As soon as they get married, the lessons end”. In Cerignola, his spouse gave birth to a child who died 19 months later.

In 1888, the music publishing Casa Sonzogno announced a competition for one-act opera. Thus was marked the beginning of a new movement in the musical culture - Verismo. The creation of the opera originates from its literary source. The writer Giovanni Verga narrated his own story of peasant life in a Sicilian village in a highly successful one-act play, which premiered in Turin on January 14, 1884 with the famous actress Eleonora Duse as Santuzza.

In his student years in Milan, Mascagni saw a play presented in Teatro Manzoni with Annette Campi as Santuzza. Then he realized that Cavalleria Rusticana was the ideal operatic material. He decided to create a one-act opera based on this play for the announced competition. Mascagni could not afford the services of a professional librettist and turned for help to his school friend from Livrono, Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti. The local poet and writer, Guido Menasci, added the final touches to the plot. Mascagni did not have any difficulties with creating music on the verismo libretto; it suited the dynamic drama ideally. However, the composer was not confident in his talent. His spouse secretly sent his work. The premiere of the opera was held on May 17, 1890 at the Teatro Costanzi di Roma. The composer received the first prize and cash prize of 3 thousand liras. Over the next two years, the opera was staged in all major European theaters, in the USA and even in Australia, bringing its author worldwide fame.

Thus, the new musical direction originated from literary works. Verismo was characterized by the aggrandized dramatism and expression, bare emotions (an aria of “cry” with free melody and duplication of the vocal by the orchestra for the first time appeared in the operas of Mascagni) and the narration about the lower classes way of life.

After the triumph of Cavalleria Rusticana, Sonzogno suggested that the composer write an opera on the plot of Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian novel L’amico Fritz. The premiere took place on October 31, 1891 at the Teatro Costanzi di Roma. Enthusiastic audience give thirty encores to the composer; seven concerted numbers from the opera were performed encore. Despite the fact that Mascagni’s operas were widely staged abroad, the musician himself did not traveled before. The chance was presented in September 1892, when Sonzogno suggested that the authors, who collaborated with him, visit the International Exhibition of Music and Theater in Vienna. Among those invited were Francesco Cilea, Giordano and Ruggero Leoncavallo. Both works of Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana and L’amico Fritz were accepted in Vienna with enthusiasm.

In Vienna, Mascagni presented his next work, the opera The Rantzau Family based on Erckmann-Chatrian novel Two Brothers. It was staged on November 10, 1892 in Florence and the composer scored great success with it. This work led the composer to London in 1893 for the premiere at the Royal Opera. Fernando De Lucia Fernando de Lucia and Nellie Melba played the leading parts.

On July 15, 1893, Mascagni was invited to the Windsor Castle, along with soloists, choir and the Royal Opera orchestra to perform Cavalleria Rusticana for Queen Victoria and the second act from the opera L’amico Fritz. For his merits, Mascagni was awarded with the gift - a silver frame with the photo and signature of Her Majesty.

In the late 1980’s, he created the operas Silvano (1895), Zanetto (1896), finished the opera Guglielmo Ratcliff (1895) and cantata Giacomo Leopardi (1898).

Guglielmo Ratcliff was staged on February 16, 1895 at the Teatro alla Scala, when the theater was headed by Sonzogno. The opera was accepted by the audience favorably and withstood 16 performances throughout the season.

In 1895, the composer was appointed to the post of the Director of the Musical Lyceum in Pesaro that was founded following the will of Gioacchino Rossini and transformed into the Conservatory in 1939. In Pesaro Mascagni wrote two more operas, showing the full caliber of his talent. He created both operas on librettos by Luigi Illica, known for his collaboration with Puccini. The opera “Zanetto” was created for the students of musical school and was presented there in 1896. The opera Iris, based on a Japanese legend was the second one. It was the first serious opera in which all the characters were Japanese. Mascagni included authentic melodic patterns, retaining the basis of the Italian romantic orchestra.

Maskány’s next major work was the opera Le Maschere, 1901, which retained Rossini’s legacy. The idea of creating a comic opera belonged to Eduardo Sonzogno. The opera debuted in several cities at once - in Milan, Genoa, Turin, Rome, Venice and Verona, bringing success to the composer.

Constant touring marked the subsequent years - Mascagni visited the USA, Brazil, regularly performed in Europe. The operas staged in Teatro Alla Scala in Milan (Parisina, 1913; Nerone, 1935) and the operas staged in Teatro Costanzi in Rome (Il piccolo Marat, 1921) brought great success to the composer.

Pietro Mascagni died on August 2, 1945 in Rome.