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12 news and curiosities about Pietro Mascagni
Men sought to imitate him, women adored him, and at the height of his popularity, Mascagni was portrayed in Vanity Fair (1912) and made the cover of Time (1926). His works, passions, style and collections tell the story of a character who dragged an era with his unique talent and charisma.
Pietro Mascagni (Livorno, 7 December 1863 - Rome, 2 August 1945) occupies a position of absolute prominence in the musical panorama between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is most famous for his first opera, Cavalleria Rusticana (Rome 1890), emblem of verismo opera, still among the most loved and most performed in the world.
He wrote another 15 operas including Iris (which totaled 800 productions). L'amico Fritz, Guglielmo Ratcliff, Isabeau, Parisina on a libretto by D'Annunzio, Little Marat, Nerone, etc. He also composed vocal and instrumental music, piano pieces, sacred music. He wrote music for the cinema, and also played an important role as conductor.

1 – A true 'trend-setter' and influencer ante litteram

Pietro Mascagni was known not only for his musical activity, but he quickly became a character who set trends, a true 'trend-setter' and influencer ante litteram.

He dictated fashions, and his style, made up of impeccable clothes and refined details (he loved waistcoats and cufflinks, for example), was imitated by the elegant men of the time, who wanted to show themselves à la page. As well as the hairless face, an extravagance in a time when everyone had a beard and mustache (actually Mascagni made a virtue of necessity, they didn't grow enough...), and the hair was worn 'alla mascagna' (rather long, combed back and without parting).

2 – The two great passions of the composer

Just the cover of Time, in addition to elegance, underlined two great passions of the composer, portrayed with a cigar between his lips and cards in his hand: Mascagni was in fact a fan of the game of scopone, a real mania in which he involved family members , friends and collaborators, unable to escape long and sometimes exhausting games, often played at night, sometimes until dawn. The composer never played for money, the game for him was a sort of ritual in which he was completely engrossed, but if he lost he could get angry to the point of fury.

Curiously, another famous composer of his contemporary, Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) had the same almost maniacal passion for cards, in that case for the game of Skat, very popular in Germany.

Close in hand was his passion for cigars, naturally Tuscan, which he smoked in large quantities (according to reports, about 36 half Tuscans a day). If he had to travel, he carefully prepared an adequate supply, which he carried in suitcases and briefcases that he had specially made by skilled craftsmen.

At home he kept a large closet to keep the precious cigars, equipped with special boxes with vents to dry them at the right point. Men imitated him, women went crazy for him, cut his photographs out of magazines, wrote to him. . . at the peak of popularity, he was portrayed in Vanity Fair (1912) and made the cover of Time (1926).

3 – Mascagni collector

Mascagni was also an omnivorous collector, he had collections of paintings, watches, pipes, batons for conducting, cigar boxes, cigarette holders, ties, medals, sticks, ceramics, musical instruments, out-of-date banknotes, letters with strange addresses or contents.

Among the sticks, he kept the one that belonged to Rossini, among the conductor's rods the very precious one in ebony set with rubies and turquoises, a gift from Queen Victoria who had invited him to conduct at Windsor Castle, among the letters one from San Francisco with a an extravagant address to say the least: 'To the very kind Italian postmen to send this letter to Professor Pietro Mascagni, the illustrious composer of the Cavalleria Rusticana. ITALY'

4 – A rather intricate love life

Mascagni had a rather intricate love life. He bonded very young (1886) to Argenide Marcellina (Lina) Carbognani, one year older than him. The girl, originally from Parma, followed him on his long tour through Italy, when Mascagni was engaged as conductor by Luigi Maresca's operetta company. He stayed with him in Cerignola (FG), where the then mayor offered the young maestro the position of director of the newly formed Philharmonic. Before the marriage they had a son who died in infants, and they finally married in February 1888. The couple had three other children, Domenico, Emilia and Edoardo.

However, in the spring of 1910 Mascagni, 47, began a relationship with his young chorister of only 22 years, the beautiful Anna Lolli, with whom he had fallen madly in love. The relationship was never made official, Mascagni was divided between his partner and family. Anna remained with him with discretion for 35 years, until his death in 1945. It was a mutual and profound love, witnessed by the more than 4,500 letters that the composer wrote to his beloved Annuccia (now preserved in the Mascagni Museum in Bagnara di Romagna , country of origin of Lolli, who died 85 years old there in 1973).

5 – The publisher Giulio Ricordi: “Nothing amazes me about Mascagni!”

In 1897, the publisher Giulio Ricordi characterized Mascagni's temperament with a dazzling comparison: “Nothing amazes me about Mascagni! I don't think it bad, quite the contrary: but it's like an electric battery that isn't yet complete, so that one gets shocks, sparks, fired at random, by surprise! Let's hope that platinum, copper, zinc and acids then find the right balance and then the battery will work well."

6 – Mascagni and Puccini

Having moved from his native Livorno to Milan to continue his studies at the Conservatory with Amilcare Ponchielli and Michele Saladino, Mascagni shared a rented room with Giacomo Puccini.

The two students, Ponchielli's favorite pupils, had met right at the Conservatory, and for some time they shared a room in a simple apartment on the top floor. The result was a friendship and mutual esteem that lasted a lifetime, even if there were occasional clashes and criticisms.

The first congratulatory telegram Mascagni received for the success of Cavalleria Rusticana was that of Puccini; Mascagni in 1930, saddened by the premature death of Puccini (1924), together with Giovacchino Forzano started what would later become the Puccini Festival of Torre del Lago, directing the Bohème.

7 – From a competition the “Cavalleria rusticana”

Mascagni wrote Cavalleria rusticana, the opera that brought him worldwide success at a very young age, after reading in a newspaper the news of a competition organized by Sonzogno, a music publishing house in Milan.

The competition, for a one-act work, was launched in the summer of 1888 and was aimed at all young Italian composers who had not yet had one of their works performed. It provided for cash prizes, and above all the staging at the Teatro Costanzi (the current Teatro dell'Opera) in Rome for the first three classified (1. Prize 3,000 lire, 2. Prize 2,000, 3. Prize the only "benefit of execution").

Mascagni signed up, completed the score (with a libretto by Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti and Guido Menasci), prepared the package which weighed a good two kilos and eight hundred grams, goliardically writing to his librettists “Speriamo che ci frutti kg. 2,800 thousand-dollar bills”. At the last moment, however, he had doubts about the quality of his work, so much so that he almost wanted to give up sending it. Fortunately the score was sent by his wife, Lina Carbognani, arriving at its destination in Milan on the last valid day for participation.

Mascagni obtained the first prize, Cavalleria Rusticana debuted at the Costanzi on 17 May 1890, conducted by Leopoldo Mugnone, with two extraordinary singers as protagonists, the soprano Gemma Bellincioni and the tenor Roberto Stagno. It was the triumph that we know of, it brought Mascagni worldwide fame and . . . it yielded much more than the thousand bills he had hoped for.

8 – Mascagni conductor

Mascagni today is mainly known as a composer, less known outside the specialist field is his intense activity as conductor, to which he devoted himself from 1885 and which continued throughout his life. With growing fame, Mascagni was called everywhere, and made extensive tours that took him across Europe, from Italy to England, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Romania, up to Russia.

In 1902, he signed a contract with impresario Aubrey Mittenthal for a tour of the United States, which included New York, Boston, San Francisco. Subsequently he went twice to South America, where in 1911 he triumphed with the premiere of Isabeau – his only work to debut abroad – at the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires.

In addition to his own works, Mascagni proposed multifaceted programs, he conducted the great Italian musicians of the recent past from Rossini to Verdi, and the works of his peers from the Giovine Scuola, from Puccini to Giordano to Leoncavallo. However, his repertoire also included Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Tchaikovsky.

9 – Mascagni artistic director

Mascagni was also artistic director of the Teatro Costanzi (the current Teatro dell'Opera di Roma), a position to which he was called in 1909. He thus found himself directing the theater which had seen him make his debut as an unknown newcomer, and become famous from the evening in the morning with the clamorous success of Cavalleria rusticana (May 17, 1890). Due to disagreements with the management company of the Theater he resigned from his position already in 1911.

10 – Mascagni and Hollywood

He was a pioneer in writing for the cinema: at the invitation of the Cines production house he created the soundtrack for Nino Oxilia's film, Rapsodia Satanica, interpreted by the great silent diva Lyda Borelli.

Hollywood cinema reciprocated it, one could say: in The Godfather III by Francis Ford Coppola a part of the soundtrack is taken from Cavalleria rusticana, and Michael Corleone's son makes his debut as a tenor at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in the part of Turiddu. Martin Scorsese for the soundtrack of his film Raging Bull instead used excerpts from three of Mascagni's operas, the intermezzo of Cavalleria Rusticana, the intermezzo of Guglielmo Ratcliff, the Barcarolle by Silvano.

11 – Mascagni and the Rome Olympics

The initial chorus, the Hymn of the Sun, from Mascagni's Iris (Rome 1898) was chosen as the official anthem of the Rome Olympics (the XVII in 1960). Consequently, the first bars of the same piece were also used for the official ring. Mascagni's music thus became the theme song for all the official ceremonies of the Roman Olympics.

12 – Mascagni and the Hotel Plaza

Hotel Plaza
Hotel Plaza – Mascagni Hall
Mascagni lived for a long time in an elegant apartment on the noble floor of the Hotel Plaza (originally Albergo di Roma) in Via del Corso 128. He began to reside there in 1927, although he owned a villa in the Pinciano district, at no. 21 of Via Po, which no longer exists today. In 1936 he left the cottage and moved permanently to the Plaza, where he lived until his death in 1945. On the facade of the building, right in front of the church of San Carlo, he is commemorated by a bronze bust by the sculptor Publio Morbiducci and a large plaque marble bearing the inscription “PPietro Mascagni – From this house where he lived and worked for a long time on 2 VIII 1945 he passed to Immortality.” The bust and the plaque were inaugurated on 28 December 1948 in the presence of Giulio Andreotti, then Undersecretary of the Prime Minister; Beniamino Gigli intervened, performing several arias from Mascagni's operas.

The bust and the plaque were inaugurated on 28 December 1948 in the presence of Giulio Andreotti, then Undersecretary to the Prime Minister; Beniamino Gigli intervened, performing several arias from Mascagni's operas.

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