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.

Pietro 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 Bohme, 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 Pinottafrom 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 Forl, 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 Lina 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 Cavelleriaachieved.

Mascagni followed his massive success with the 1891 opera L'amico Fritz, a lyrical composition 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 Ratcliff on 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 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.

Amica premiered with a libretto by Choudens in Monte-Carlo 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 S in Rome. Finding success with a balance of lyricism and drama gave Mascagni confidence to compose Il 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 an enduring favorite.

by Karen Gordon

Pietro Mascagni's Career

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 Sonzogno contest for Cavalleria Rusticana, premiered the opera in Costanzi Theater in Rome, opera played throughout Italy, 1890; premiered L'Amico Fritz at Costanzi Theater in Rome, 1891; premiered and directed I Rantzauat La Pergola Theater in Florence, 1892; premiered Guglielmo Ratcliff and Silvano, both at Teatro alla 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 Il Piccolo Marat in Rome, 1921; conducted La Bohemeas 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;

Pietro Mascagni's Awards

First place in Sonzogno Competition for Cavalleria Rusticana, 1890.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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