The Tuscan city that gave us three giants of classical music
The historic Tuscan city of Lucca has a lot to offer, from the medieval skyscrapers and cobbled streets and squares of its walled center to the fields of sunflowers that surround it in summer.
ucca’s musical associations are well known. It was the birthplace of Puccini. Nearby, every summer in Torre del Lago where he lived for 30 years in a house by the lake, an annual opera festival is held showcasing his work.
Another Lucca native was Alfredo Catalani, born in 1854, making him four years Puccini’s senior. Highly regarded in his day, his lasting impact was affected by the poor health that dogged him throughout his life.
He suffered from tuberculosis and only managed five moderately successful operas over a creative period of 15 years before finally hitting the jackpot with The Wallyshort for Walburga, the heroine of her tale of the Tyrolean Alps.
The great conductor, Arturo Toscanini, was on the gallery when it was first performed at La Scala in January 1892. Although the opera was very well received, most remembered now is Wally’s astonishing aria – Eben? Ne andrò lontana (“Well then? I’ll go far”) – which is her response when her father kicks her out for rejecting his choice of husband for her.
Toscanini’s support was a key factor in the success of the opera. He even named his first daughter, Wally, after Catalani’s leading lady.
Unfortunately, the composer did not survive long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He died aged 39, just months after the premiere and just before the first royalty payment was due.
Puccini and Catalani were predeceased by Luigi Boccherini, the star cellist of his time, born in Lucca in 1743. There is no cellist who does not know his music. He wrote numerous sonatas and no less than 12 concertos for the instrument.
But unlike his contemporary Joseph Haydn, dubbed the father of the symphony for the impact he had in developing the form and producing over 100 of them, Boccherini specialized in music on a smaller scale. .
He was drawn to the more “conversational” style of chamber music where his instrument could engage on equal footing with the other strings.
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He expanded the framework of the string quartet into a five-part structure, introducing a second cello to take the lead and provide him with the main interpretive opportunity.
You could say he was the father of the string quintet. His most famous piece — his Minuet — is a movement from one of them, E major, opus 11, number 5.
At that time he was in Spain providing music to the court of King Carlos III’s younger brother, the Infante Don Luis.
He was there for so long that he came to be known as a Spanish rather than an Italian composer.
After the infant’s death, he found patrons in Germany and France, working for the cellist King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II, and Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother at the time French ambassador to Spain.
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