About this Recording
8.573501 - PUCCINI, G.: Songs (Complete) (Stoyanova, Prinz)
English 

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
Songs

 

Giacomo (Antonio Domenico Michele Seconda Maria) Puccini (1858–1924) was born into a family with long musical traditions. He studied with the violinist Antonio Bazzini (1818–1897) and the opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–1886), and began his career writing church music. He is famous for his series of bold and impassioned operas that are among the most well-known and popular in the world. These tragic tales of doomed love and betrayal, with their fervent melodies and full, richly harmonised orchestral medium, represent the late Romantic apex of the Italian operatic tradition. Puccini is not thought of as a song composer, and he did not seek to explore the subtleties of this medium in the manner of his contemporaries Fauré or Richard Strauss. But like Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi, he left a handful of settings, which in their pared simplicity and emotional restraint, could hardly be more different from his operas. This collection presents the 19 complete songs for soprano and piano. Some were secular and sacred juvenilia (written between 1875–80 in Lucca); student compositions prior to Le Villi (1880–84 in Milan); others, salon pieces expressly composed as musical supplements for periodicals (1888–90, after the first operatic successes); some are mature works (1902–19 in Torre del Lago). Those dating from the prolific years of La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly (1896–1904) were composed especially for friends.

The pieces are for the soprano voice (two in duet with a mezzo). They cover themes typical of lyric poetry: life, death and personal resolution, love (separation and memories), nature and spring, home and infancy, salutation and religious faith. Twelve poets are represented (with two anonymous texts); these include four librettists (Felice Romani, Antonio Ghislanzoni, and the Puccini collaborators Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Adami); three texts by the composer himself; one by his nephew Carlo Marsili; some minor poets (Renato Fucini, Enrico Panzacchi, Fausto Salvatori, Carlo Abeniacar); as well as the Evangelist Luke and the 6th-century Latin poet Venantius Fortunatus.

[1] Canto d’anime (Luigi Illica)
(Torre del Lago, 1904)

This piece was composed expressly for the new recording medium at the invitation of Alfred Michaelis of the Gramophone Company (Italy) Ltd. The tone of this song, by the famous librettist Illica, a man of exuberant and violent passions, celebrates the positivism of the late 19th century. The text reflects that, although life is transient, we sense the existence of an ideal that transcends it, conquering oblivion and death. The musical setting is confident and aspirational, with rich chords adding to a sense of idealistic purpose, rising to a passionate resolution. The melody served as a model for Rinuccio’s famous aria Firenze è come un albero fiorito (Florence is like a blossoming tree) in the racy operatic farce Gianni Schicchi (1918).

[2] Sole e amore (Giacomo Puccini (?), 1858–1924)
(Lucca, 1888)

This song, the first draft, contrasting the sun coming in at the window with love knocking at the heart, prefigures Mimi’s farewell in the Act 3 quartet of La Bohème (1896). It is almost a piano transcription of that piece, full of wistful melancholy and emotional harmonies.

[3] E l’uccellino (Renato Fucini)
(Torre del Lago, 1899)

This lullaby was written for the infant son of a deceased family friend. The charming image of a singing bird is used as a symbol of the human soul. The setting is characterised by delicate figures, like the hopping of a small passerine songbird, with reiterated treble splashes at musical peaks. The singer reminds us that life is but a prelude to heavenly rest. It was advertised in the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano (8 February 1900) as a song suitable for mezzo-soprano or baritone.

[4] La Primavera (Giacomo Puccini)
(Milan, 1880)

This short song was probably written while the composer was a student at the Milan Conservatory. Spring is the time when storms give way to graceful beauty and rich harvest, with the industrious farmer hard at work. The song is short, serene and confident, with smooth arpeggiated figures, as the composer celebrates the joy of the changing seasons. The music recalls some of Verdi’s song settings (see Romances, 1845) and looks to the syllabic style of Falstaff (1893).

[5] Ave Maria Leopolda (Giacomo Puccini)
(Milan, 20 May 1896)

This short song is a setting of one of the composer’s letters to the conductor Leopoldo Mugnone (who conducted Manon Lescaut and La Bohème in Palermo). It is a jocular salutation, offering greetings to his spouse Maria Leopolda, from the dark Elvira (Bonturi, Puccini’s wife) and the blonde Foschinetta (Germignani, Puccini’s stepdaughter), who send kisses and flowers. It is hymn-like, its choral tone imitating celebrating sailors mustered on deck.

[6] Ad una morta! (Antonio Ghislanzoni)
(Lucca, 1882)

The poem is by the famous librettist of Verdi’s Aida, who in his time had experienced arrest and imprisonment for revolutionary activities. It looks to the soul in heaven, which has escaped from the prison of earthly life: could she let him know if heaven holds great joys? A solemn rising figure emerges from the depths, establishing minor-key hues and a restrained hushed tone throughout. The first stanza ends with a thoughtful postlude. The second verse is characterised by echoing figures, with an emotional mood that looks forward to the composer’s tragic operatic heroines.

[7] Morire? (Giuseppe Adami)
(Torre del Lago, 1917)

The song was written as a charitable contribution to a music album sold for the benefit of the Italian Red Cross during the First World War. The poem by Adami, Puccini’s lifelong friend and collaborator, asks questions about life and mortality, concluding that we who are living cannot know what lies beyond death; only those on the far shores beyond this world can tell us. Deliberate arpeggios lead into a long sustained conversational line. The second subject is characterised by restrained fervour, again with echoes of the composer’s tragic operatic characters. Unaccompanied declamation rises to a passionate climax. The melody was put to further use as Ruggero’s entrance aria in the second version of La Rondine (1917, rev. 1920).

[8] Salve Regina (Antonio Ghislanzoni)
(Milan, 1882)

This variant on the famous Marian hymn ‘Hail, Queen of Heaven’ was written while Puccini was a student at the Milan Conservatory. It is introduced by solemn piano harmonies with strong treble line. The melody is shaped by slow lingering inflections of considerable emotional intensity. The hymn moves on to a more questioning phase, and concludes with a smooth piano postlude. The tune was used by the composer in his first opera Le Villi (1883) as the orchestral introduction to No. 5 and the following prayer Angiol di Dio.

[9] A te (Anonymous)
(Lucca, 1875)

This was probably written while Puccini studied composition with Carlo Angeloni at the Pacini Institute. Separation from the loved one causes restlessness. This song of romantic badinage begins with a hesitant piano part leading into rapid arpeggios. It is dominated by speech inflections over an accompaniment of reiterated chords, and invested with a solemn but hardly tragic mood. The second section is faster, with rapid piano figures closely following the words, before becoming more reflective and lingering at the last lines: ‘kiss me, and you will drive the whole world instantly from my mind’.

[10] Casa mia (Italian popular nursery rhyme)
(Torre del Lago, 1908)

‘My little house, my little house, as small as you may be, you seem an abbey to me.’ This brief piece was written at the request of Edoardo De Fonseca, as part of a published interview in the periodical La Casa in which the composer discussed his various residences in Torre del Lago, Chiatri and Abetone. It is a light, slight and sprightly little scherzo, capturing the popolaresco character of the little ditty.

[11] Sogno d’or (Carlo Marsili)
(Torre del Lago, November 1912)

This little poem, by the son of Puccini’s sister Nitteti, was written for the Christmas edition of the magazine Noi e il Mondo. A mother sings to her baby of the encompassing guardian angels who will bring dreams of fairies and treasure. Rising piano figures create the rocking motion of a lullaby, sustaining an atmosphere of reverie. The harmonies look to the dark and evocative Il Tabarro (1918), while the melody was used as the basis of the Act 2 quartet Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso (I drink to your fresh smile) in the lighter ‘Viennese’ La Rondine (1917), where it becomes the motif of the love between Magda and Ruggero.

[12] Terra e mare (Enrico Panzacchi)
(Torre del Lago, 1902)

The piece was written for Edoardo de Fonseca’s Albo Annuale d’Arti e Lettere, Novissima 1902. The poem is a powerful evocation of nature: the stormy wind in the poplar trees makes the sleeper dream of the distant sound of the sea. The music has a rapid forward propulsion, again thematically reminiscent of Puccini’s tragic operatic heroines. The setting avoids the overtly programmatic depiction of the elements, emphasising instead the protagonist’s psychological state of mind, and demonstrating the composer’s growing accomplishment as a song writer.

[13] Inno a Roma (Fausto Salvatori)
(Torre del Lago, 1919)

The text was supplied by Fausto Salvatori, a Roman poet and playwright. The poem, evoking the immortal city of Rome and the figure of an armed, glittering Victory, seems to reflect the rise of Fascism in Italy. In 1922, Puccini in a letter to Adami, had conjectured: “I wonder if Mussolini will introduce a little order into our national economy! I hope so.” The song is initiated by a grand fanfare and festive figures, with martial dotted rhythms appropriate to extrovert public celebration. The second stanza is smoother, more lyrical and reflective, before the third resumes a more forward and solid progression, like an anthem, with allusive hints of national songs, rising to a climax.

[14] Beata Viscera (after Luke 11:27)
(Lucca, 1875)

This piece was probably written for the religious profession of Puccini’s sister Iginia. She eventually became abbess of the Augustinian Convent at Vicopelago near Lucca. The paraphrased Gospel verse, in praise of the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary and honouring the Son of God she bore, was part of the Christmas liturgy and sometimes used after Benediction. The sequence has a hushed piano accompaniment, with rich broad harmony, as the two female vocal lines overlap. Unusually, there is no instrumental introduction or postlude, probably because of its liturgical function.

[15] Avanti, Urania! (Renato Fucini)
(Torre del Lago, 1896)

Puccini composed this for his friend and patron Marchese Carlo Ginori-Lisci, who had acquired a Scottish iron screw steamer for licence under the Italian flag as Urania. The song, written for the launch of the ship, alludes to the patron god of the heavens, Uranus. While lacking the effortless airborne mastery of the kingfisher or elemental power of the fish in water, the steamer embodies a glowing human ambition and a desire for glory. This resolution in the face of personal limitation, characterised by rapid melodic impulse, suggests the rising determination of the last stanza. There are fleeting melodic pre-echoes of both Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904).

[16] Storiella d’amore (Antonio Ghislanzoni)
(Lucca, 1883)

The poem presents a little domestic love story of growing passion, as two people reading a love story together realise it reflects their own feelings. A measured piano introduction establishes a narrative medium for the tale, with the more excited second movement providing a variant. The first section is resumed, with marked rallentandi at appropriate points of restrained excitement and passion. There is a full reprise of the opening subject in the third part, rising to an emotional high-point, and followed by an extended postlude. Part of this song was used in the Act 3 trio of Edgar (1889).

[17] Inno a Diana (Carlo Abeniacar)
(Torre del Lago, 1897)

This song was written for Puccini’s hunting companions, and dedicated to the fraternità cacciatori italiani. The words are by Puccini’s friend Carlo Abeniacar, an author, photo-journalist and fellow hunter. This sport was one of the composer’s great passions: his study at Torre del Lago had a special revolving chair so that he could turn from composing at the piano to view the ducks landing on the lake. This secular hymn, a paean to the chase, is dedicated to Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt (using the Roman epithet Cynthia, after the mountain of her birth). It has a bright leaping quality, without any preliminary introduction, the piano always following the voice. The panoramic view of the country initiates a change of melody in the description of the landscape, before the resumption of the positive opening theme. Again, the motifs prefigure ideas more fully developed in Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

[18] Mentìa l’avviso (Felice Romani)
(Lucca, 1883)

This song was written as an exercise for final examinations while the composer was studying at the Conservatory in Milan. The setting recreates the sense of a dramatic operatic scena, appropriate to the words of the famous bel canto librettist Romani, portraying the ghost of a faithless woman rising from the grave. It begins with a hushed, hesitant introduction, with reflective treble passages, moving into modified recitative and arioso sections. Dramatic declamation is used for the mention of the dead person’s name. There is a return to the reflective chords, moving into a full lyrical line at allusion to the night. Agitation is suggested in the little ruffled figures in the accompaniment and in the restrained anguish of the vocal line. The melody was used later for Des Grieux’s famous aria Donna non vidi mai (I never saw a maiden so fair) in Manon Lescaut (1893).

[19] Vexilla Regis prodeunt (Venantius Fortunatus)
(Lucca, 1878)

This setting was commissioned by the little church in the fashionable mountain resort of Bagni di Lucca. The processional nature of this famous sixth-century Latin hymn is immediately established, with the duet for two female voices marked first by overlapping lines and then in unison, with discreet piano chords. The second subject is more reflective, for single voice over piano arpeggios. The last section sees the resumption of the duet, the two voices singing in thirds in emotional meditation on the lance, the blood and the water of the Cross, with a reprise of the opening movement.

Robert Ignatius Letellier

Grateful acknowledgments are due to Giacomo Puccini. Songs for Voice and Piano. Collated and edited by Michael Kaye (Oxford University Press) and Puccini Rediscovered. Six Songs for Voice and Piano. Edited and annotated by Michael Kaye (Master Music Publications, Inc.); The Operas of Puccini, William Ashbrook (New York, 1968); and Giacomo Puccini: Epistolario, ed. Giuseppe Adami (Milan, 1928), translated as Letters of Giacomo Puccini (London, 1931).


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