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Pietro Mascagni (December 7, 1863 – August 2, 1945) was an Italian composer primarily known for his operas. His 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria rusticana caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. While it was often held that Mascagni, like Ruggero Leoncavallo, was a "one-opera man" who could never repeat his first success, L'amico Fritz and Iris have remained in the repertoire in Europe (especially Italy) since their premieres.
Mascagni was born in Livorno, Tuscany, the second son of Domenico and Emilia Mascagni. His father owned and operated a bakery. Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti ("Nanni") was born the same year in the same city and became Mascagni's lifelong friend and collaborator. In 1876, at the age of 13, Mascagni began musical studies with Alfredo Soffredini, who founded the Instituto Musicale di Livorno (later called Istituto Cherubini). Soffredini had just completed his musical studies in Milan. Also a native of Livorno, Soffredini was a composer, teacher and musical critic.
In 1881, Mascagni entered the Milan Conservatory, where he studied composition with Amilcare Ponchielli. He graduated in 1885 with a diploma in composition. After graduation, Mascagni returned to Livorno and began working as a conductor and composer. In 1889, he entered a competition for a one-act opera with his opera Cavalleria rusticana. The opera won the competition and was premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on May 14, 1890. The premiere was a huge success and made Mascagni an overnight sensation.
The success of Cavalleria rusticana led to a number of commissions for new operas from major opera houses around the world. Mascagni's next two operas, L'amico Fritz (1891) and Iris (1898), were also successful and helped to solidify his reputation as one of the leading composers of the Verismo movement. However, Mascagni's later operas were not as successful and he eventually fell out of favor with the public.
In the years following World War I, Mascagni became increasingly involved in politics. He was a vocal supporter of Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party. In 1935, he wrote an opera called Nerone, which was commissioned by Mussolini. The opera was a critical and commercial failure.
Mascagni died in Rome on August 2, 1945, at the age of 81. He is buried in the Campo Verano cemetery in Rome.
Mascagni's music is characterized by its use of folk melodies, its dramatic intensity, and its vivid portrayal of everyday life. He was a master of orchestration and his operas are full of beautiful melodies and memorable orchestral passages. Mascagni's operas are still performed all over the world and he remains one of the most important composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.