Italian composer. His one success, Cavalleria rusticana (known to opera buffs as Cav), is an enduring part of the repertoire of many opera houses.
The son of a Livorno baker, Mascagni was forbidden to waste his time learning about music and had to study in secret. When he was found out by his father he was for a time adopted by a sympathetic uncle; however, after his early efforts at composition, a symphony for small orchestra and a Kyrie, were performed at the local music school, parental opposition ceased and Mascagni returned home (1881). A successful performance of a setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy encouraged a wealthy patron, Count Florestano de Larderel, to pay to send Mascagni to the Milan Conservatory. However, Mascagni found the academic discipline unacceptable and he left to join a travelling opera company.
Conducting and composing with a series of such companies, Mascagni made a living until 1889, when he won a publisher's competition with his one-act opera Cavalleria rusticana, based on a story of Verga. It was performed in Italy, France, England, and the USA, spawning a crop of similar works in the verismo style. Having achieved fame and fortune by the age of twenty-six, Mascagni went on to write several more operas, including Iris (1898), Le maschere (1900), and Nerone (1935). None of these, however, achieved any real success.