Pietro Mascagni (December 7, 1863 – August 2, 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 singlehandedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. However, though it has been stated that Mascagni, like Leoncavallo, was a "one-opera man" who could never repeat his first success, this is inaccurate. L'amico Fritz and Iris have been popular in Europe since their respective premieres. In fact, Mascagni himself claimed that at one point Iris was performed in Italy more often than Cavalleria (cf. Stivender). It is certainly a better vehicle for a popular lyric soprano.
Mascagni wrote a total of seventeen operas and 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. If he never repeated the international success of Cavalleria, it was probably because Mascagni refused to copy himself. The variety of styles in his operas—the Sicilian passion and warmth of Cavalleria, the exotic flavor of Iris, the idyllic breeze that ventilates the charming L'amico Fritz and Lodoletta, the Gallic chiaroscuro of Isabeau, the steely, Veristic power of Il piccolo Marat, the overripe postromanticism of the lush Parisina—demonstrate a versatility that surpasses even that of Puccini.
Pietro Antonio Stefano Mascagni was born in Livorno, Tuscany. He was the second son of Domenico and Emilia Mascagni. The father was the owner of a bakery. Mascagni's lifelong friend and collaborator, Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti ("Nanni") was born the same year in Livorno.
In 1876, he began musical studies with Alfredo Soffredini (1854-1923), who founded the Instituto Musicale di Livorno (later called Istituto Cherubini) after having just completed his musical studies in Milan. Also from Livorno, Soffredini was a composer, teacher and musical critic.
In 1879, he composed several works: Sinfonia in do minore, Elegia, Kyrie, Gloria and Ave Maria.
The premiere of Mascagni's first cantata, In Filanda, took place at the Istituto Cherubini on February 9, 1881. The cantata was presented at a musical contest in Milan and won the first prize. In the same year Mascagni met Arrigo Boito and Amilcare Ponchielli in Milan.
In 1882, he composed his Cantata Alla Gioia from a text by Schiller, La stella di Garibaldi for voice and piano and La tua stella. On May 6, Mascagni left Livorno for Milan. He passed the admission examination of the Conservatorio di Milano in October 12. In Milan, Mascagni met the engineer Vittorio Gianfranceschi ("Vichi"), born in Vienna in 1861, and Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858.
On January 9, 1883, Mascagni's sister, Maria, died. The cantata In Filanda became Pinotta, and was proposed for the musical contest of the Conservatorio, but the registration, being late, was not accepted.
In 1885, Mascagni composed Il Re a Napoli in Cremona, romance for tenor and orchestra, on a text by Andrea Maffei. He left Milan without completing his studies. He toured as 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. 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, and became master of music and singing of the new philharmony of Cerignola, where he earned a lot of esteem. He also gave piano lessons.
In February 1888, work on the Messa di Gloria started. In July, Casa Sonzogno announced in the Teatro Illustrato its second competition for a one-act opera.
On February 21, 1890, Mascagni was summoned to Rome to present his opera. The première of Cavalleria rusticana, winner of the Sonzogno contest, was held May 17 at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. The success was tremendous, and very soon the opera was performed in Florence, Turin, Bologna, Palermo, Milan, Genoa, Naples, Venice and Trieste. In December, Gustav Mahler conducted the opera in Budapest. Soon thereafter, the cities of Monaco, Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Dresden and Buenos Aires welcomed the opera. In March 1891, it was sung in Vienna. At age 26, Mascagni had become famous overnight.
He composed the opera Silvano in 1894.
On February 16, 1895 Guglielmo Ratcliff was premiered at the Teatro alla Scala of Milan. On March 15, Silvano was premiered at the Teatro alla Scala of Milan. Mascagni accepted the direction of the Liceo Rossini of Pesaro.
On June 29, 1898 in Recanati, Mascagni conducted the première of a symphonic poem, A Giacomo Leopardi. November 22 Iris, Mascagni's first collaboration with Luigi Illica was premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.
Mascagni's father died in May 1899.
On January 17, 1901, Le maschere was premiered in six Italian theaters. Giuseppe Verdi died on January 27 and the following month Mascagni commemorated Verdi's passing. That same year, he conducted Verdi's Requiem in Vienna.
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.
He signed a contract with the French editor Choudens in 1903.
Mascagni was director of the Costanzi for the season beginning in August 1909.
Mascagni ceased his activity as director of the Scuola Musicale Romana in 1911. That May, he left for Buenos Aires, beginning a 7 months tour in South America. On June 2, the première of Isabeau took place in Buenos Aires. Mahler died that year.
The Italian première of Isabeau took place simultaneously at la Scala in Milan (conductor Tullio Serafin) and at La Fenice in Venice (conductor Mascagni) in 1912. On March 28, work on Parisina began. Composition of Parisina in Bellevue, near Paris, sometimes with his daughter Emi, his mistress Anna Lolli, and the librettist Gabrielle d'Annunzio.
In October 1913, Emi Mascagni married the musician Guido Farinelli in Rapallo. Parisina was premiered in Milan on December 15. Almost all the important Italian composers of the time were present, among them Puccini, Giordano and Zandonai.
Parisina was premiered in Livorno and Rome in 1914. World War I began on July 28. Puccini and Mascagni were against the involvement of Italy in this war, where Mascagni's son Dino was later made a prisoner. Luigi Illica was a volunteer for the front.
Mascagni wrote music for Nino Oxilia's movie Rapsodia Satanica in 1915; 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.
Mascagni composed Il piccolo Marat in 1920. The opera was premiered in Rome on May 2, 1921, following by a premiere in Buenos Aires in September. The composer returned to South America for a tour beginning in May 1922.
Giacomo Puccini died from cancer in 1924. His nearly complete opera Turandot was premiered at La Scala on April 25, 1926, with Arturo Toscanini conducting. The score was completed by fellow composer Franco Alfano and that complete version has been performed ever since.
In 1927, Mascagni moved to the Albergo Plaza in Rome, a place he would not leave until his death.
In June 1936, Dino Mascagni 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 Catholic, as saying that his consumption 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.
In 1951, the mortal remains of Mascagni were transferred from Rome to Livorno, and finally Mascagni received an official homage.
During his long career, Mascagni contemplated writing many operas. The following is an incomplete list of such projects, which never saw the light of day:
The 1990 film The Godfather Part III used a production Cavalleria Rusticana to set the climax of the film, with Michael Corleone's son Anthony performing the lead. The movie ends with the Intermezzo playing.