Giacomo Puccini

Helen M. Greenwald

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Giacomo Puccini

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Giacomo Puccini (b. 1858–d. 1924) composed twelve operas as well as songs, choral compositions, and instrumental works. He was born into the final stages of the Italian battle for unification (Risorgimento) and grew up in the shadow of Verdi, Risorgimento hero and iconic composer of Italian opera. Puccini faced a splintered artistic world that can be understood, at least in part, by considering a single event for each year in the decade immediately following the composition of La bohème (1896): Brahms died in 1897; Gershwin was born in 1898; Poulenc was born in 1899; Copland was born in 1900; Verdi died in 1901; Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande premiered in 1902; Hugo Wolf died in 1903; Dvořák died in 1904; Strauss’s Salome premiered in 1905; and Shostakovich was born in 1906. Puccini developed an international style that drew on French and German operatic elements as well as Italian ones. He was not easily inspired and frequently sought out the work of lesser-known authors such as Murger, Gold, Prévost, Sardou, and Belasco. The public afforded him great success, while the press was less kind. As early as 1901 anti-Puccinists criticized the composer unmercifully. Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in a review of Tosca (La revue d’arte dramatique) compared the opera to junk food, full of “hackneyed refrains . . . rancid corny old tunes of the fairground, . . . the nauseating stench of candy-floss, of fried food and—above all—the hopeless odour of intellectual scum!” (Wilson 2007, cited under Reception and Dissemination). The negative critical wave peaked in 1912 with Italian journalist and musicologist Fausto Torrefranca (Puccini e l’opera internazionale/Puccini and International Opera), who declared Puccini a poster child for Italian cultural decline in the post-Verdian era, and who accused him of misusing and abusing the most important component of Italian identity, its language. Such criticism was perpetuated well into the 20th century by writers such as Joseph Kerman, who equated admirers of Puccini’s Tosca with fans of “chainsaw” movies. Puccini and his works became subjects for study beginning in his own lifetime. A comprehensive list would include well over one thousand entries, including memoirs, interviews, reviews, feuilletons, program notes, and scholarly studies that range in tone from the condescending, politically driven, and polemical to the brilliantly positive, defensive, and protective (see Fairtile 1999, cited under Reference Works; and Wilson 2007, cited under Reception and Dissemination). In 1958, the 100th anniversary of Puccini’s birth, Mosco Carner published Puccini: A Critical Biography (see Life and Works), the first major English-language study of the composer. Scholarly interest in Puccini has increased notably since the late 1980s, and as of 2010 important new publications about Puccini include a full-length analytical study of the late works (Davis 2010, cited under Analysis and Interpretation), a research guide (Fairtile 1999, cited under Reference Works), a new expanded catalogue (Schickling 2003, cited under Reference Works), three new biographies (Girardi 2000, cited under Life and Works; Budden 2002, cited under Life and Works; and Phillips-Matz 2002, cited under Biography), and a major critical study of Puccini’s conflicts with the press and the academy (Wilson 2007, cited under Reception and Dissemination). Many sources have been made available through collections, editions, and facsimiles. Interpretive and analytical studies address individual works, compositional process, performance, and reception.

Article.  13014 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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