Composer Profile: Pietro Mascagni, The Man Behind ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’

By David Salazar

Pietro Mascagni was a composer of great talent, even if today he remains in the opera conversation because of one great work.

He was born on Dec. 7, 1863, in Tuscany. He began his musical studies at age 13 and by 1880, not yet 20, Mascagni had composed a number of works. His first cantata, “In Filanda” premiered in 1881. He would continue to compose vocal works in the coming years and the latter end of the 1880s saw him appointed as master of music and singing at the new Philharmonia of Cerignola. He also started to give piano lessons during that time period.

His big break came in 1889 when he sent the manuscript for “Cavalleria Rusticana” to compete at the second competition of the Teatro Illustrato. He was summoned to Rome in 1890 for the world premiere of the opera, having won the competition. The opera was an instant success, allowing the composer to become an international opera celebrity by age 26. He would continue composing operas throughout his career, including “L’Amico Fritz,” and “Silvano,” among others, though he never quite matched the pure success of that first work.

He died on August 2, 1945.

Major Works

We honestly wouldn’t be talking about Mascagni if not for the massive popularity of “Cavalleria Rusticana” from the very beginning. This hour-long work remains a major repertory staple to this day, often paired with Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.”

Much of the appeal from “Cavalleria” is its melodic invention, intense emotions, and directness of narrative and emotional drive.

Read more on Mascagni

A Look At His Other Operas

Watch and Listen

Here is a video performance of “Cavalleria Rusticana.”


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