IT and US: The 150th anniversary of Pietro Mascagni (1863-2013)
- WTI Magazine #2 Oct 25, 2013
WTI Magazine #2 2013 Oct,25
Author : Francesca Albertini Mascagni Translation by: ---
For the skill of evoking human nature, his music holds a great deal in the musical memory of several worldwide generations: this topical issue is the real incentive to the birth of the Promoting Committee of Maestro Pietro Mascagni, constituted by some of his great grand-daughters. He was a successful musician. From 1890 onwards and with the triumphant of his opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, he managed for over half a century to keep interest high in the major Italian, European and American Theatres. He was a lavish and versatile Orchestra Director, a Music Composer for the cinema and a grand well known personality. He was truly a phenomenon of his times.
He was even famous for his proverbial full head of hair. According to popular legends, Mascagni was identified with the mythical image of the happy man who blends together in himself youth and fame. He is the irresistible prototype of the Latin race – extrovert, dressed and groomed very well. He has been an ingenious and eclectic composer , open minded to every change and stimulus coming from the big men of letters (Verga – D'Annunzio) and of music an. He composed 12 operas, among them L'Amico Fritz – Guglielmo Ratcliff - Iris – Le maschere – Piccolo Marat – Parisina – Nerone, and all over his life, he tried new ideas on music, even for the cinema: he was the first Italian musician to realize in 1915, the entire sound track of the movie Rapsodia Satanica.
Figure and works of Pietro Mascagni are an important cultural heritage not only for Italy, but even for the entire world. He developed an incredible artistic experience between the 19° and 20° centuries, as a protagonist and a witness of the big changes of this period in arts, customs, economics and politics.
In this period, he was a star, beloved and cheered by the crowd on the both sides of the Ocean. As a real today pop star, he created and anticipated trends of fashion, on clothing and hair style.
He was born in Leghorn (Livorno), in Tuscany. Livorno is the youngest of the Tuscan cities and the least Tuscan of them all. Leghorn was founded by the Medici family in the 1500s to take the place of the port of Pisa, back then, land locked. Leghorn was governed with extraordinary measures, no taxes and a rap on the hand for crimes committed. Leghorn grew up in a close dependency with the port. The Leghorn constitution written by Ferdinando I began with these words, "to all you merchants from whatever nation, people from Levanto and Ponento and Spaniards".
"Now Leghorn is the only American-like city in the Mediterranean. It is American-like in the sense that it is a new frontier city, build and populated by pioneers, by immigrants of every race and colour and even by ex-convicts. It has a libertarian and an authoritarian foundation, but it is always a well ordered city. It is at the same time a strong smelling city. It is non-conforming by vocation and it is above all a city that is eternally above the rest. Leghorn is a city animated by a south-west wind. It finds its genius in exaggerations and hyperbole. And the exaggeration, or better, the excess is the cardinal rule for someone from Leghorn: do not speak, shout; do not argue, attack; do not love, fall head over heels in love; do not hint, gesticulate; do not eat, stuff yourself; do not invest, spend and enjoy your own money; do not spend, squander". (from Livorno di Aldo Santini e Ferdinando Scianna - Belforte Editore 1986)
Around 1850 Antonio Mascagni, Pietro's grandfather, settled in Livorno . His son, Domenico, was born in 1834 and he bought a bakery near Piazza Cavallotti where he had a small apartment. The piazza was the site of a colourful and picturesque fruit and vegetable market where the shouting, talking and laughter of the Leghorn people provided the foundation of the first whimpers and baby talk of Pietro.
Then he decided to study music at the Milan Conservatory. Milan in those years was at the forefront regarding the publication of newspapers and periodicals. It bragged about the most glorious music conservatory in Italy. Musical life in Milan was vitalised by the three main musical publishing houses: Ricordi, Sonzogno and Lucca. And undoubtedly the Teatro alla Scala, founded in 1778, contributed to Milan's musical life as the most prestigious opera theatre in the world.
While he was at the Milan Conservatory, he got to know Vittorio Gianfranceschi (Vienna 1861 – Milan 1932) whom he affectionately nicknamed "Vichi". Vichi was one of Mascagni's dearest friends throughout his life. Giacomo Puccini also shared a type of Bohemian life-style with Mascagni when they went to school together. A solid and eternal friendship developed between the two men. The two young Tuscan musicians were Maestro Ponchielli's brightest students. Since they were both had little money, they shared the same room in a modest apartment on the top floor of a building in the centre of Milan for a long period of time. This time was reminded by Puccini in "La bohème".
This was an extremely formative period for Mascagni, but the extrovert and rebellious young man from Leghorn was not what would be called a model student of the conservatory in Milan. The incompatibility between Mascagni and his professors came to a head when he decided to leave the conservatory.
He started to travel around Italy, he intensified his activity as an orchestra director in the world of opera. He directed some operettas at Genoa's Politeama in 1885. Luigi Maresca became his manager in 1886 and they together travelled around Italy until landing in Apuglia in Cerignola near Foggia. Mascagni brought his nomadic lifestyle to an end in Cerignola. He wanted more than anything to have a stable job because he was no longer alone. He suddenly found himself with a girl at his side. This girl was originally from Parma and she was one year older than Mascagni. Her name was Argenide Marcellina Carbognani. She was affectionately known to everyone as Lina.
Pietro Mascagni met Lina in Parma where he had stopped to direct the operetta Cuore e Mano by Lecoque. The young Lina joined the troupe to follow Mascagni when they were getting ready to leave. They lived together in Cerignola under very tight economic conditions. They got married only after the birth of their first son in 1887. Their son unfortunately died when he was only 4 months old.
Lina was a rather reserved, yet volatile and possessive woman. She lived her entire life in her husband's shadow. She was, however, always ready to fight at Mascagni's side with all the force and energy she could muster. She had a fighter's temperament. She was the one who ran to the post office to send the music score of the Cavalleria Rusticana in 1989 when Sonzogno was holding his annual music competition. Mascagni was suffering through a period of uncertainty, doubt and uncomfortableness. He did not feel up to participating in Sonzogno's competition. But it was his wife Lina who, unbeknown to him, took the musical score and sent it in.
He won the competition and his life had a revolution. He went to Rome and stayed there until his death, the2nd of August of 1945.
In Rome Mascagni began his artistic activity with Cavalleria Rusticana and ended it with Nerone. He was so fond of the Teatro Costanzi that he considered it his very own theatre.
In 1901, he wrote to the editor of the Messaggero, "If I had to spend my entire youth and if I had to spend my entire life to earn and keep the spontaneous affection of the Romans, I would bless my destiny and I would feel like the happiest Italian in the world".
If he loved Rome, then Rome adored Mascagni. This is so true that he tried to put all of his passion into his work. The Maestro was convinced that the Romans constantly revealed in his every action, a sense of justice and an awareness of the right measure.
The Cavalleria Rusticana was such a success that there were a total of sixty curtain calls. The enthusiasm felt in the theatre spread throughout the entire city and shortly afterwards, "the notes of the Cavalleria were heard in all of the prestigious Roman living rooms". On 6 and again on 10 September, Maestro Alessandro Vessella performed the Cavalleria Rusticana in Piazza Colonna. The piazza, the cafés and the balconies of the near-by buildings could not hold all of the people.
Thus, a Mascagnian tradition began in Rome. L'Amico Fritz was performed at the Teatro Costanzi on the evening of 31 October 1891. The people started queuing to buy a ticket at 6:00 p.m. on the evening of the performance.
The same thing happened for I Rantzau. Even though the public warmly received the performance, the critics were a bit more reserved.
On 22 November 1898 Iris was performed in front of an over-flowing crowd at the Teatro Costanzi even after all of the polemics surrounding the choice of the director Edoardo Mascheroni. Mascagni himself had wanted to direct the performance. Finally, the burdensome day arrived.
Among the politicians and artists, the Maestros Puccini, Franchetti, Mugnone, Boito, Sgambati etc. various directors of the Conservatory and critics and editors representing newspapers from all over the world were present.
The evening was a success even if the differing of musical opinion between the public and the critics grew ever wider. After Iris, Mascagni was called to the capital to direct a choir of 170 voices for the funeral of King Umberto who had been assassinated in Monza on 29 July 1900. A Requiem Mass composed of various pieces was performed a cappella precisely because of the limited space available inside the Pantheon. Given the solemnity of the occasion, it would have been extremely complicated to have had an orchestra accompany the choir. Mascagni invited all the Italians at the conservatory to collaborate with their best compositions for the occasion. It was a gigantic enterprise by the final result was admirable.
Mascagni's love for the Romans was accentuated in Le Maschere. It was performed at the same time in seven of the most important Italian opera theatres. The critics' reviews were mixed. The second performance was a success and later Mascagni addresses the editor of the Messaggero with these words:
"You have invited me to write a few lines. I would like to call your attention to those who talked and wrote about the wonderful outcome of Le Maschere performed in Rome. Its success is due exclusively to the love the Roman operagoers have for me. I answer by saying that no eulogy has ever moved my heart more than this. It is to the citizens of Roman, that have such an exquisite feeling for art and with whom I share a kindred spirit that carries in every verdict a sense of justice and right measure that I turn my thoughts and express my most heartfelt thanks."
Pietro Mascagni in Europe and in the United States
Since 1895, the composer, already famous in Italy after Cavalleria Rusticana, started to travel around Europe. He left for an extended tour of Germany and Central Europe (Budapest, Vienna , Graz, Praha). While he was in Germany, he received a letter in which the board of the Liceo Rossini offered him the position of director. He accepted with enthusiasm because he was finally invited to enter the musical establishment. For the early years he was determined to replace a system (from "Pietro Mascagni and his operas"- Alan Mallach), "teaching music like catechism" rule by rule.
He decided to bring with him students of the Liceo abroad, he established a student Orchestra. Meanwhile, he took Zanetto to La Scala, with its fresh charm, delicacy and lyric beauty, then he went on working to Iris and started to be a symphonic conductor outside the Liceo Rossini.
In 1898 "he soon became a familiar podium figure throughout Europe as both a symphonic and an operatic conductor" (Alan Mallach). He was the first Italian conductor of Tchajkovski (Patetica), and directed as well Beethoven Dvorak, Brahms and Goldmark.
Unfortunately, some years later, controversies began between Mascagni and the board of Liceo Rossini. He was accused to be a not careful financial manager. In 1902, the board determined to fire Mascagni, but he had already signed a contract with the American impresario Aubrey Mittenthal for a tour in the United States.
As Mallach writes "Opera in 1902 was still an imported art, performed by Europeans and Europeanized Americans singing the works of European composers, and dominated by a system that focused attention on visiting stars such as Francesco Tamagno or Nellie Melba. .....Mascagni, whose fame preceded him was different....Audiences were eager to hear Mascagni conduct the staple Cavalleria and to hear the new and important Iris and Guglielmo Ratcliff from the pen of the master of verismo, while reports of his eccentric dress and behavior appealed to the American taste for the unusual and exotic. "
When the composer and his wife arrived in New York, "thousands of the New York Italian Community marched up Broadway with him, bands blaring to the Savoy Hotel". He had just two days of rehearsal before opening at the Metropolitan Opera House on October 8 with Cavalleria Rusticana and Zanetto. The audience was enthusiastic, and Mascagni and singers were often interrupted by applause. The Musical Courier and the New York Times praised the operas, even if the orchestra has been assembled with American musicians and musicians from Italy, because of a misunderstanding with the Musical Union. Three days later, the true American debut was the first performance of Iris in Philadelphia. IRIS was a challenging and difficult work. The opera was the product of the decadent winds blowing from Paris and Vienna, the Japanese atmosphere calls the taste for the exotic of that period, taste that later gave the sense of success of "Madame Butterly" of Maestro Puccini. With the prelude, the Hymn of the Sun, the audience "roared its approval". Once again, the Musical Courier, was enthusiastic, considering Mascagni "an unconscious metaphysician, a master, a man of deepest and most subtle refinement".
"To the largely impoverished immigrant Italian community, Mascagni's presence itself was a triumph, an occasion to glory in their nation's artistic tradition." As Mallach remembers in his book. "When Mascagni arrived in Philadelphia, his train delayed until well after midnight: five thousand Italian Americans, bands and all, stood patiently waiting for him at Broad Street Station. To Mascagni's amazement, nearly every Italian Community in the eastern United States had its Mascagni Society and its Mascagni band".
Even in Boston. Boston Herald called Cavalleria "a revelation " and "Zanetto "a gracious and beautiful little work". But the impresario Mittenthal decided to abandon and to be done with it, he accused the composer owed him a considerable amount of money, while he, with the musicians, had not been paid yet. Only at the end of November, Mascagni signed a new contract with a new manager, Richard Heard and went on with his tournée. "he had a series of successful concerts in January with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (subsequently the Chicago Symphony), that helped raise the composer's spirit. At the end of January he and Lina boarded a train for San Francisco." He stayed in San Francisco for almost two months, feted by the Italian Community and by the exclusive Bohemian Club.
On the morning of February 7, 1903, Mascagni arrived in the city accompanied by his wife Lina. The local press immediately showed unreserved enthusiasm for the composer's unexpected visit. The Bulletin published a front-page article on the very day of this arrival, and the following day the Examiner followed with an interview. Over the course of Mascagni's stay, W. R. Hearst's leading newspaper was to regularly publish, under the pen of its drama critic Ashton Stevens, full-page articles lavishly illustrated with drawings and photos of the composer and his wife. Such trivia as a mention that Mr. Greenbaum had to translate Mrs. Mascagni's laundry list into English was deemed worthy of publication with illustration. Mascagni's appearance, habits and colorful personality were discussed at length. He was pictured smoking, smiling, waving, playing the piano, and conducting.
The first concert at the Alhambra Theater on February 17 was a triumph. The critic was unanimously positive: "His interpretation of the music carries his initial audience by storm", trumpeted the Chronicle. Tchaikovsky's Pathétique symphony and Mascagni's own Hymn of the Sun, the opening piece of his Japanese opera Iris, generated the highest praise from the critic, while the eternal Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana conquered the audience. The repertoire also included pieces by Rossini and Schumann, as well as other Mascagni compositions. Commenting on the programs of his symphonic concerts, the composer said: "[...] my principal desire is to show that [...] I can interpret my own music. I [also] want to show my audiences that I am broadminded enough to be able to comprehend and interpret the works of other composers, and particularly the classics."
Two days later, the second concert generated even more excitement. This time Mascagni conducted works by Wagner, Goldmark's second symphony, and more of his own works including, by popular demand, the Hymn of the Sun. The Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana caused an unbelievable frenzy: "The women of San Francisco went hysterical over Pietro Mascagni yesterday afternoon", reported the Examiner, "five hundred women turned into Jones street and stood at the large door, lined up by the police, waiting for a glimpse of his muffled figure."
Such a reception did not leave the composer cold. On February 20, 1903, he composed a short fragment for piano entitled Un pensiero a San Francisco (A Thought for San Francisco), published the following day: "Never before has a great composer written music in this city", declared Stevens, "Mascagni, in joyous mood, makes this message for people of his own heart in universal language of melody for those who have made him forgetful of troubles under these blue skies."
Mascagni's final concert in San Francisco (and North America) occurred a few days later, with the purpose of raising funds for a monument to Verdi in the city. With the news that the Mittenthal lawsuit had just been settled in his favor, the composer left San Francisco on March 27, 1903, not without having signed the last autographs and sent these words to the press: "Through the kindness of your paper I also beg to thank the good people of San Francisco for their continued exhibit of sympathy and hearty reception". The "Mascagni season", as the San Francisco Chronicle called it, was over for "the only successful audience for Mascagni in the United States". Less than a week later the composer and his wife were boarding the Savoie in New York, on their way back to Italy.