Mascagni, Pietro



Italian operatic composer; born at Leghorn, December 7, 1863. His father, a baker, intended him for the law so he was compelled to study secretly, and took a course at the Institute Luigi Cherubini, studying piano, counterpoint, composition and harmony, chiefly under Alfredo Soffredini. On learning of his son's musical studies the elder Mascagni would have stopped them at once, but a kindly uncle offered to adopt the young musician, and allow him to pursue his chosen career. In this uncle's house he wrote his first musical compositions, a symphony in C minor for small orchestra and a Kyrie in honor of Cherubini's birthday which were both performed at the Institute Luigi Cherubini in 1879. In 1881 appeared In Filanda, a cantata for solo voices and orchestra, which was favorably mentioned at a prize composition arranged by the International Exhibition of Music at Milan. During this same year Mascagni's uncle died and he returned to his father, who had now become reconciled to his musical pursuits. His next effort was a musical setting for a translation of Schiller's Ode to Joy, which, performed at the Teatro degli Awalorati, attracted the interest of Count Florestano de Larderel, a musical amateur, who offered to send the young composer to Milan Conservatory. The offer was accepted, but Mascagni derived little benefit from study at this institution, although taught by such professors as Saladino and Ponchielli. He chafed under the restraint of the strict academic training for some time, then left to become conductor to a traveling opera troupe. For several years he traveled through Italy as conductor to various opera companies, and in this way gained his knowledge of orchestration. Finally he married and settled at Cerignola as piano teacher, director of the Municipal School of Music and conductor of the Musical Society. He was rescued from this life of insignificance and poverty by his one-act opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, the libretto of which is by Targioni-Tozzetti, after the book by Verga. This opera was offered to the publisher, Sonzogno, who awarded it first prize in a competition. The opera was produced at the Costanza Theatre in Rome, in May, 1890, and from the night of its presentation was proclaimed a success. The composer was awarded the order of the Crown of Italy by the King, and in 1895 he was made director of the Conservatory at Pesaro, a position which he lost in 1903, owing to protracted absences from his post while leading a special orchestra with which he traveled through America and Europe. His other operas have not proved lasting successes, and it appears that all of his inventiveness and originality were exhausted in the production of his first work. The names and dates of his other operas in chronological order are L'Amico Fritz, 1891; I Rantzau, 1892; Guglielmo Ratcliff, rewritten in 1895 from a work of his student days; Silvano, 1895; Zanetto, 1896; Iris, 1898; Le Maschere, produced simultaneously in seven Italian cities in 1901; Arnica, 1905; to which may be added incidental music to the play built from Hall Caine's Eternal City; a cantata for the Leopardi centenary in 1898, which was performed at Recanati, and a hymn in honor of Admiral Dewey in 1899.