Puccini: A Critical Biography

Puccini: A Critical Biography

Puccini: A Critical Biography

Puccini: A Critical Biography

Excerpt

To the critical biographer Puccini presents a fascinating subject for study -- an artist who bore the authentic stamp of genius but who for some reason failed to cross the boundary into the realm of absolute greatness. If there was ever a 'border-line case', it is Puccini. Here was an operatic composer, endowed with a sense of the theatre that may rightly claim the epithet 'stupendous'; equipped with a technical savoir faire that with growing maturity attained sovereign mastery; born with a most original gift for lyrical melody that, bursting forth in his very first stage work, scarcely ever deserted him during his entire career and made his finest inspirations common musical property; dominating the opera houses of the world, great and small, with five out of the total of twelve works he wrote and thus qualifying for inclusion in the company of Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Strauss. Puccini, it would appear, possessed all the prerequisites for a supreme musical dramatist -- why was it not given to him to achieve this stature? Did his limitations reside in a restricted range in sheer creative imagination, or did they largely spring from peculiar twists in his mental make-up? These are some of the major questions which will occupy us in this book.

No less interesting are the curious vicissitudes his work suffered in the opinion of the musical world. For two-thirds of his career rapturous praise and fierce denunciation held the scales of judgment in a precarious balance. While large majority audiences of five continents have been acclaiming him ever since his early Manon Lescaut, critical opinion has been singularly reluctant to extend to him the recognition he deserves. Indeed, time was when in serious musical circles the subject of Puccini was held to be no less than taboo. Surprisingly enough, the most articulate anti-Puccinian phalanx was active, during the first decade or so of this century, in the composer's native country; but condemnation of his art and its ethos, or lack of it, was widespread. I myself still have vivid memories of the unmitigated hostility to his operas shown in the Vienna of my youth. Though the accidents of geography and history made the Austrian capital an ideal musical clearing-house between north and south, with a large operaloving public that could scarcely be accused of a bias against Italian opera in general or Puccini in particular, there were factions to whom Puccini's name was a synonym for meretriciousness, false sentiment and brazen exploitation of the lower instincts. His art was dismissed as kitsch. No responsible critic would deny the element of truth contained in such gross . . .

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