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Happy Birthday Giacomo Puccini!

Happy Birthday Giacomo Puccini

Happy Birthday Puccini!

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Italy on this day in 1858. He was one of nine children. His family were already established as a local musical dynasty. Since the time of Puccini’s great-great-grandfather (who was also named Giacomo), the family had held the position of maestro di cappella, which meant they were in charge of a private orchestra for the Lucca Cathedral.

Puccini’s father Michele died in 1864. By this time, the position had been held by the Puccini family for 124 years and it had been assumed that Giacomo would also take up the position. However, at the time of his father’s death he was only 6 years old and wasn’t capable of taking over. He did, though, participate in the musical life of the Cathedral as a member of the boys’ choir.

Giacomo received a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca. In 1880 he got a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca. He moved on to study at the Milan Conservatory where he studied composition. There, at the age of 21 in 1880, Puccini composed his Mass, which marks the culmination of his family’s long association with church music.

Puccini wrote an orchestral piece called the Capriccio sinfonico as part of his thesis composition at the Milan Conservatory. His teachers were impressed with his work and it was performed on 14th July 1883 at a student concert. The work was favourably reviewed, and this saw the start of Puccini building a reputation as a promising young composer.

Puccini continued composing, writing several operas including Le Villi (1884) and Manon Lescaut (1893). But it was his next work that would really stand him apart – La Boheme.

La Boheme was a 4-act opera based on a book by Henri Murger. In 1896 it premiered and within a few years had been performed in many of the leading opera houses in Europe as well as in the United States. To this day, La Boheme is one of the most frequently performed operas ever written.

Puccini was seriously injured in a car crash on 25th February 1903. He was pinned under the vehicle, with a severe fracture of his right leg and with a portion of the car pressing down on his chest. His injuries from the crash did not heal well and he received treatment for months afterwards. During the subsequent medical examinations it was discovered that he was also suffering from diabetes. All of this slowed Puccini’s completion of his next work, Madama Butterfly. This finally premiered in February 1904, although it was initially greeted with hostility.

After 1904 Puccini’s workload slowed. He completed several works, including La fanciulla del West (1910) and La rondine (1916), but these were not comparable to his earlier compositions.

Puccini was a chain smoker of both cigars and cigarettes. Towards the end of 1923 he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He died the following year, 1924, aged 65 from complications after receiving radiation therapy. He has been called the “greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi”.

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