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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Why is Mascagni's music so neglected today?

Mascagni was once considered the "foremost living composer of opera". Around the turn of the 20th century, he was second to none in popularity and fame. How has his artistic output been, for all intents and purposes, reduced to Cavalleria rusticana? There is probably no single answer to this question. Here are a few reasons:

  • Mascagni's tenor and soprano parts are very demanding. It is difficult nowadays to find tenors able to sing Guglielmo Ratcliff, Osaka, Florindo, Folco, Ugo, or Il piccolo Marat, among others.

  • After the fall of the Fascist government in Italy near the end of World War II, artists involved with the Fascist movement were largely ostracized, and Mascagni was no exception. Only his greatest popular success escaped the ban on his operas. The reality is that Mascagni's involvement with Fascism was largely ornamental and opportunistic. There is in particular no evidence that he was an anti-semite. On the contrary, he once asked Mussolini to allow the operas of Alberto Franchetti to be performed. Franchetti's operas were banned under Italy's anti-semitic laws. Mascagni's request was denied.

  • An unfortunate tradition of misinformation about Mascagni's life and music has developed, especially since his death. Even opera dictionaries and encyclopedias, for some reason, have kept transmitting falsehoods. Those have nowadays largely been corrected, thanks to the research work of many serious scholars. In particular, the recent biography by Alan Mallach presents a very fair view of Mascagni's life and music.

  • Mascagni has been, unfittingly for a large part, labeled as a verismo composer. Since the verismo category and period has long been regarded as somewhat inferior to others by many music critics, in particular due to the type of subjects chosen, Mascagni has suffered from this categorization. The music of Puccini himself had to wait for a long time to be reconsidered by critics.

  • Mascagni's subjects vary greatly from opera to opera. From a verismo hit to idyll to unabashed romanticism to symbolism to comedy to... Mascagni was fittingly called by a biographer l'avventuroso dell'opera (the adventurer of opera). This diversity may make it difficult for the average person to "grasp" Mascagni's works, even if his music and style, throughout his works, remain very personal and recognizable.

  • Mascagni's operas are often challenging in their subject. Compare for example Madama Butterfly to Iris, Puccini and Mascagni's operas on a Japanese subject: the former is an extremely dramatic story, organized from beginning to end to touch the heart (very much in a verismo style); the latter revolves around the symbolism of the sun and flowers; its story is more intricate, and the last act consists largely of comments about Iris's demise. Independently from the works' artistic value, the story of Iris is probably less likely to touch the average person.

  • The story of a composer who wrote a single successful work (Cavalleria rusticana in this case), and then struggled all his life to renew this success only to die forgotten and in poverty, has probably too much romantic appeal to be revisited by most. But while Cavalleria remains undeniably Mascagni's greatest and longest-lasting success, Mascagni did enjoy many further successes. L'amico Fritz, Iris, Isabeau, and Il piccolo Marat, for example, were very successful during Mascagni's life, and had a long history of performances by the greatest singers of the time. Cavalleria was in fact far from Mascagni's artistic ideal, which he was able to develop fully with a work like Parisina much later in his life.

Mascagni has enjoyed recently, if not a revival, at least a regain of interest. The proof is the number of recordings and live performances of some of his rare operas that have been done over the last twenty years.

2. Can you recommend a good recording of Cavalleria Rusticana?

Mascagni.org recommends first the 1940 performance conducted by Mascagni himself. This performance has been released under many labels, in particular Naxos (with 8 additional tracks of Mascagni conducting Rossini and his own works), EMI (with the fantastic collection of Mascagni arie sung by Gigli), and Pearl. The tempo is slow and may feel a little incomfortable if you are used to faster tempi, but give it some time and it will feel just right. All the protagonists are wonderful in this historical performance. Check also Karajan's version (older or newer release), which is more recent and has superb stereo sound.

3. How do I pronounce "Pietro Mascagni" and "Cavalleria Rusticana"?

The best way to get an answer is to listen to how Mascagni himself pronounced it!

4. Where can I find a recording of the Ave Maria from Cavalleria Rusticana?

There is religious music in Cavalleria rusticana, but no Ave Maria. The Ave Maria you are thinking about is an adaptation of the famous Intermezzo of Cavalleria rusticana made well after the opera's premiere which took place on May 17, 1890. In the opera, the Intermezzo is purely orchestral.

The Intermezzo was first written as a work for piano. The original score is dated October 26, 1888, and was not long after orchestrated to become the famous Intermezzo of Cavalleria rusticana. The opera was sent to the Sonzogno competition on May 27, 1889, and of course contained the fully orchestrated Intermezzo.

There are several Ave Maria versions adapted from the Intermezzo. One version is by P. Mazzoni, and starts with "Ave Maria, madre Santa, Sorreggi il pie". The version sung by Bocelli starts with "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, ...". There is also an English version by Fred E. Weatherly. For recordings, consult the discography.

This Ave Maria, sometimes referred to as Sancta Maria, should not be confused with another Ave Maria also known as Salve O Maria, which has completely different music and was composed in 1880, long before the Intermezzo.

5. What can I do to help promote Mascagni's music?

If you can, perform Mascagni's music, or get it performed!

If you know singers, conductors, or other musicians or people involved in organizing opera seasons or music festivals, talk with them, write to them, send them CDs and background material about Mascagni and his music, and try to get them to perform it. Many people, even professional musicians, are not familiar with Mascagni's musical output.

Tell your friends about Mascagni's music, and contribute comments, additions, corrections to Mascagni.org.

6. Can you recommend a good book in English about Mascagni and his works?

Until recently the literature about Mascagni in English was poor, but several excellent books have been published in the past years:

For additional books and articles, consult the complete bibliography.

David Stivender also wrote several fantastic essays on several of Mascagni's works. Those essays unfortunately are not available in print at the moment.

7. Can you recommend a good book in French about Mascagni and his works?

Unfortunately not! The literature in French about Mascagni is close to non-existent. There is an issue of L'avant-scène opéra about Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci.

8. I like Cavalleria Rusticana, which opera should I try next?

None of Mascagni's other operas really resembles Cavalleria rusticana. As a matter of fact, Mascagni's operas are all very different from each other, even though they all share a very distinctive style unique to Mascagni's music.

This being said, Mascagni.org recommends L'amico Fritz and Iris first, because they are very accessible operas, of excellent musical quality and reputation, and very good recordings of both are available (see here and here for L'amico Fritz and here for Iris).

Parisina, arguably Mascagni's absolute masterpiece, should not be missed, but it requires patience to really appreciate it, and the only good quality recording has numerous cuts and lacks the last act entirely. Il piccolo Marat is another masterpiece, also difficult to appreciate at first. Guglielmo Ratcliff, Mascagni's first and favorite opera, Isabeau, Le Maschere, Zanetto, Lodoletta, Amica, are all worth listening to.

Silvano is very disappointing as an opera, but at the same time contains very beautiful music and has been a favorite of many for that reason. Nerone is an uneven work, premiered in 1935 but containing some music from the 1890's with later additions. It works on stage though, and definitely contains musical gems. I Rantzau, Mascagni's first post-Cavalleria relative failure, is still misunderstood and needs to be re-evaluated. Si, Mascagni's only operetta, is hard to judge from an opera lover's standpoint. All these works need some attention, but someone just discovering Mascagni's music should probably get acquainted with the better works first, or risk disappointment.

9. What is that nice music in Raging Bull?

Martin Scorsese uses three different pieces written by Mascagni in Raging Bull. Needless to say, the music was not composed specifically for the film, released in 1980.

1. The movie opens and closes with the Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, an opera premiered in 1890. Composition of the Intermezzo seems to predate most of the music in the opera, since a piano version of this piece is dated October 26, 1888. There are literally hundreds of versions of this piece available on record.

2. At about 40:50 into the movie, the music playing over the faded color scenes of Jake La Motta's family life is the Barcarolle (or Barcarola in Italian, which refers to a boating song, especially in the Venetian gondoliers style) from Silvano, an opera premiered in 1895. In the opera, the Barcarolle is composed of two parts:

  1. A 2-minute part sung by the tenor, "S'è spento il sol" (also called Notturno).

  2. A mostly instrumental part (the tenor singing a few notes here and there) of about 4 minutes, which is the part played in the movie in its orchestral version.

Not many recordings of this piece are available in addition to the version present on the Raging Bull soundtrack CD set, but a recently released live CD on the Dynamic label contains a purely orchestral version of both parts. There are other versions with tenor voice, and at least one other orchestral version conducted by Franco Ghione. See the Silvano discography for more details.

3. Between around 58:00 and 59:00, and then between 1:18:08 and 1:21:25, is music from the Intermezzo from Guglielmo Ratcliff, an opera premiered in 1895 as well, but actually the first opera composed by Mascagni. Composition of the Intermezzo dates back to Mascagni's days at the conservatory of Milano (it is certain that the piece was completed by April 1885 when he left the conservatory). This part is also known as Il Sogno di Ratcliff (Italian for Ratcliff's Dream). Several versions of this piece are available on CD in addition to the version present on the Raging Bull soundtrack CD set. See the Guglielmo Ratcliff discography for more details.

The movie's soundtrack was released in 2005 on label Capitol. Please visit the discography entry for more information.

More information about the movie can be found at IMDB . See also the discography entry for information about the movie in DVD.

10. Did Mascagni use music from Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

No. The beginning of the melody of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is indeed found almost verbatim in the Sogno di Ratcliff (Ratcliff's Dream) from Guglielmo Ratcliff, but Mascagni's piece was composed possibly as early as 1885 before being included in the opera as an intermezzo. The music from The Wizard of Oz  was composed by songwriter Harold Arlen  (1905 - 1986) probably in 1938 or 1939. It is not strictly impossible that Mascagni's melody served, consciously or not, as inspiration for Somewhere Over the Rainbow, or that both versions came from a single source of inspiration. Most likely it was simply a coincidence, Harold Arlen himself recalling that the melody came to him all of a sudden while driving on Sunset Boulevard.

The Sogno di Ratcliff, in spite of being an early work of Mascagni, was probably at the time one of its most elaborate compositions. It is more complex, in particular harmonically and orchestrally, than Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which remains a charming piece.

11. Can I find all of Mascagni's works on record?

As of January 2006, most of the major works are available* on record, including all operas, the operetta , the film music Rapsodia Satanica, and the early cantata In filanda. The notable exceptions are the incidental music for The Eternal City and the other early cantata Alla gioia (in both cases the complete orchestral score seems to be lost, but piano / vocal scores exist), and the early Symphony in C Minor.

More importantly, there is no complete version of Parisina available on record. The RAI version, although quite complete, features a number of cuts. The Montpellier version has even more cuts and lacks the entire act IV.

Available versions of Guglielmo Ratcliff and Le Maschere may all have cuts. The alternative ending of I Rantzau has not been recorded yet.

Regarding minor works, the orchestral version of the Canto del lavoro and La canzone del sole do not seem to have made it to LP or CD, and only one recording on LP of the orchestral version of La gavotta delle bambole was published. No recording of the Danza dei gianduiotti e giacomette is available (the score appears to be lost).

Several works, in particular early works, have not been recorded, sometimes because the scores are lost or have been only recently found. Examples include two Alleluja from 1879 and 1881, a Pater Noster in G Major from 1880, and O Roma felix, Mascagni's last composition.

* Please note that by "availability" we refer to the fact that a recording was published and sold. Actual availability is extremely volatile.

12. Inno al Sole or Inno del Sole?

Iris starts with a beautiful, 10-minute long orchestral and choral piece evoking a sunrise. This piece is often referred to as Inno al Sole or Hymn to the Sun. This is actually an incorrect title, because the piece is not sung to the sun, but sung by the sun itself. The piece is composed of several parts:

  • La notte (The night)
  • I primi albori
  • I fiori (The flowers)
  • L'aurora (The dawn)
  • I primi raggi (The first rays of light)
  • Il sole (The sun)
  • Il giorno (The day)

The choral part starts only when the Sun appears (The first rays of light). The sun sings:

Son Io ! Son Io la Vita !
Son la Beltà infinita,
La Luce ed il Calor.

Or, in English:

It is I! I am Life!
I am Infinite Beauty,
Light and Warmth.

If there is an hymn, it is an hymn of the sun or from the sun, not to the sun.

Both Inno del sole and Inno al sole, or Hymn of the Sun and Hymn to the Sun, have been widely used in articles, books and on records, with an incorrect preference for the "to" and "al".

Two authorities about Mascagni, namely Mario Morini in Italy and David Stivender in the US, used Inno del Sole and Hymn of the Sun in their works. See Mario Morini's volumes about Mascagni (the reference work in Italian about the composer) and Stivender's Mascagni autobiography as well as the wonderful MET Centennial Gala DVD which features Stivender conducting the piece. Alan Mallach, in his recent Mascagni biography, says "del sole" as well.

A question remains: who started using Inno al/del sole or Hymn to/of the sun? Did Mascagni ever call the piece in any of those ways? In his letters, he refers to the piece simply as "il Sole". The piece was certainly referred to as the Hymn to the Sun in the US as early as 1903, when it was performed many times in San Francisco under the direction of Mascagni. But Mascagni can't be held responsible for that title, since he did not speak much English, if any.

13. What Orchestral Works do You Recommend?

Mascagni did not write many orchestral works. There are mainly:

The orchestral score to The Eternal City is now lost.

A Giacomo Leopardi (1898) is a symphonic poem that contains some vocal parts, but it is mainly orchestral.

The longest and most beautiful and interesting piece of of Mascagni's orchestral output is the film music for Rapsodia Satanica. There is only one recording commercially available. Unfortunately, this performance is very flat and does not do justice to this great piece. Other, better performances are circulating, but they are not available commercially. Visone Lirica, a beautiful piece, is also available on the same CD. A piano version of Visione Lirica is also available on CD.

One great but short piece is Apoteosi della Cicogna, found again in the early 90s and bought at an auction by the publisher Sonzogno to be recorded soon after. The performance is available on this double CD set from Bongiovanni. This set also features A Giacomo Leopardi.

A CD of several orchestral and choral pieces from Mascagni's operas was released on label Dynamic. The choice of pieces is good and includes Danza Esotica, but the performances are not of the greatest level. Most of the opera intermezzi and overtures found on this set have better performances scattered on other recordings.

Mascagni wrote many beautiful overtures and intermezzi for his operas, including:

  • Intermezzo of Cavalleria rusticana
  • Prelude and Intermezzo of L'amico Fritz
  • Prelude and Intermezzo of I Rantzau
  • Intermezzo of Guglielmo Ratlicff, also known as Il sogno di Ratcliff
  • Barcarola of Silvano (with some vocal parts)
  • Inno del Sole of Iris (with a choral part)
  • Sinfonia of Le Maschere
  • Intermezzo of Amica, a piece over 8 minutes long
  • Intermezzo of Isabeau
  • Overture of Parisina
  • Intermezzo of Nerone

The Intermezzo of Amica is unique in its power and length. It is available in a very good version conducted by Marco Pace on the Kicco Classic recording of Amica. Unfortunately, some saturation can be heard in the loud sections of the piece, and the rest of the CD is a weak performance of Amica from a vocal point of view.

14. I like the Messa di Gloria. Where can I find a recording?

Six complete recordings have been released since the early 1990s, but at the time of writing, only the most recently released version appears to be available. Mascagni.org's favorite versions are the one conducted by Flavio Colusso, which is probably the most difficult to find, and the recently released version conducted by Claudio Scimone, which as of early 2005 should be available.

15. Why are there two versions of Parisina, one in three acts, another in four acts?

It is important to note that there is no such thing as a three-act version of Parisina: Mascagni wrote only one version of the opera, in four acts.

At the premiere of the opera, on December 15, 1913 at La Scala in Milan, the opera was presented, under Mascagni's baton, in its entirety, without any cuts. According to Mascagni, he decided to do so in spite of pressures made on him to perform cuts. This is what he says in a letter to Anna Lolli written in Livorno on March 12, 1914:

Ieri ebbi una letteraccia di D'Annunzio che si arrabbia con me per il taglio del 4o atto di Parisina. Pare davvero che io abbia voluto quel taglio, mentre tu sai quante pressioni mi furno fatte e quanti telegrammi ebbi da D'Annunzio stesso. Ora pare che sia stato io a tagliarlo. Lo vedi com'è il mondo? Eppure la mia fede seppi dimostrarla eseguendo, la prima sera, tutta l'intera opera, malgrado i consigli e le pressioni di tutti quelli che mi circondavano. Ma non importa. Bisogna sopportare tutto.

In English translation:

Yesterday I received a nasty letter from D'Annunzio, who is angry with me because of the cut of the fourth act of Parisina. It really looks like I was the one who wanted this cut, while you know how much pressure I had to endure and how many telegrams I had from D'Annunzio himself. Now it looks like I was the one to cut it. You see how the world is? But I demonstrated my faith by performing, the first evening, the entire opera, in spite of the advice and the pressure from everybody around me. But it is not important. I have to endure everything.

It has been suggested that Mascagni somehow endorsed cuts made to Parisina. In particular, the edition of Parisina from Montpellier in 1999, released later on CD, claims that the cuts made in that recording are "the cuts made by Mascagni himself". This remains to be demonstrated, but there is evidence that Mascagni made cuts only under pressure. The following letter to Anna Lolli, written in Milan shortly after the premiere on December 25, 1913, illustrates this point very well:

Le cose di Parisina vanno di male in peggio: non sono ancora contenti dei tagli fatti: ora ne ho fatti dei nuovi, fra i quali c'è tutto il postludio del 2o atto che è tagliato completamente: ho tagliato anche tutta la Scena del 1o atto, quando Ugo parla alla madre; e così ho dovuto togliere la frase: e in qualche luogo, in un cammin selvaggio... Povera Parisina!... Oramai e morta.

In English translation:

The situation with Parisina is getting worse and worse: they are still not happy with the cuts that have been made: now I have made new ones, among them the whole postlude of the second act, which is cut entirely: I have also cut the whole scene of the fist act, where Ugo speaks to his mother; which means that I had to remove the sentence: e in qualche luogo, in un cammin selvaggio... (and in some place, on a savage road...) Poor Parisina! She is now dead.

Finally, this letter written in Livorno on March 21, 1914, alludes to Mascagni's editor, Renzo Sonzogno, having made even further cuts in the opera behind Mascagni's back:

Pensa alla nostra Parisina assassinata a Roma! Renzo mi ha ingannato nel modo più vergognoso! Ha avuto il coraggio di telegrafarmi che a Roma erano gli stessi tagli della Scala. Egli approfitta della mia disgraziata posizione: io non posso dirgli e telegrafargli che so tutto, che conosco i tagli, che so che l'opera è eseguita male!

In English translation:

Think about our Parisina murdered in Rome! Renzo has deceived me in the most shameful way! He had the nerve to telegraph me that in Rome they made the same cuts as at La Scala. He takes advantage of my unfortunate position: I cannot tell him and telegraph him that I know everything, that I know the cuts, that I know that the opera is being performed badly!

The epistolary evidence, as well as circumstancial evidence around the composition of the opera, indicate that Mascagni intended the opera to be performed in its entirety, not only with its fourth act, but also without cuts in the other three acts. There are also indications that D'Annunzio felt strongly about the work being performed completely. Finally, there are no convincing arguments of a musical nature that can be made in favor performing cuts in this opera: a lot of the music cut in available recordings is arguably some of Mascagni's best, and those cuts often disrupt the story itself. One can hope that future performances of Parisina will be more faithful to the author's intentions.

Epistolary sources: Mario Morini, Roberto Iovino, Alberto Paloscia, Pietro Mascagni, Epistolario Volume I, Libreria Musicale Italiana, 1996; and Epistolario Volume II, Libreria Musicale Italiana, 1997.

16. I have this wonderful score signed by Mascagni himself. It must be worth a fortune, right?

You have to be careful with "signed" scores. The editions of Mascagni's first operas all feature a facsimile signature, that is a reproduction of Mascagni's signature. In other words, the signature was just printed, like the rest of the book.

See for example the Cavalleria rusticana, I Rantzau, and Guglielmo Ratcliff dedication pages. If the page you are looking at is any of those, you don't own an autographed score. Unless another page features a real signature, of course.

Also, Mascagni never signed without putting a place and date. Not seeing a place or date is a sign that it may not be a genuine signature. When in doubt, you can also look at the signature under different lights, to try to figure out if it was printed or if a fountain pen was used.

A real signed score, or other signed memorabilia, will most likely be worth something, particularly if in good condition. Signed items have been known to sell for a few hundreds of dollars. Be aware that Mascagni left huge number of signed items. They are not rare by any means. Autograph letters and scores, that is letters and scores of Mascagni's own hand, usually sell for even more.

A regular, non-signed original score will be worth anywhere between $5 and a few hundreds of dollars, depending on rarity and condition. Note that Cavalleria rusticana scores are more common than others.