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Classical Composers A-Z: Giacomo Puccini

Peter Wintersgill presents a portrait of Giacomo Puccini, composer of some of the best-loved operas, who was descended from five generations of musicians.

Born
22nd December, 1858, in Lucca, Tuscany.

Father
Michele, organist and composer.

Mother
Albina, musician.

Ancestors
Five generations of musicians from Celle.

Family
Five older sisters, one younger brother.

Childhood
Taught music by Uncle Fortunato, later by Angeloni, father's pupil.

Adolescence
Played organ in village church at 14, started composing at 16. Heard first opera (Aida) at 18. Said, "I was born to write for the theatre.

Early Adult Life
Studied at Milan Conservatoire from 22 to 25 with Ponchielli, who entered him for an opera competition at 26 (1884), the year his mother died. He failed this, but it was heard by publisher Ricordi, who took him under his wing and encouraged him to write more operas. His next (Edgar) was no good, but the one after; Manon Lescaut (1893) was his first success; it was also set to music by Massenet. In 1892 his brother died.

Next came La Boheme ( 1896), also set by Leoncavello. This was a flop at first, but was great success later on.

Later Adult life
Wrote at four year intervals Tosca (1900) and Madame Butterfly (1904), the latter a failure at first, but popular later on.

Also in 1904 married Elvira, having lived with her for 16 years, married after her husband died. Son Antonio born 1886. He had numerous affairs
and kept Elvira in a constant state of jealousy.

Music now more mature with richer harmonies. Next opera Girl of the Golden West (1910), premiere in New York, but never caught on. Wrote three one-acters in 1918, Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and the only comedy Gianni Schicchi.

He was very interested in modern inventions, invested, in turn, in a bike, a car and a motor boat. He had a car accident in 1903, broke his leg and was found to have diabetes. His last success was Turandot, which was finished after his death in 1926. He died on 24th, November, 1924 in Brussels aged 66, where he had gone for treatment of cancer of the larynx with radium needles.

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