Music Giacomo Puccini
Helen M. Greenwald
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0026


Giacomo Puccini (b. 1858–d. 1924) composed twelve operas as well as songs, choral compositions, and instrumental works. He was born into the final stages of the Italian battle for unification (Risorgimento) and grew up in the shadow of Verdi, Risorgimento hero and iconic composer of Italian opera. Puccini faced a splintered artistic world that can be understood, at least in part, by considering a single event for each year in the decade immediately following the composition of La bohème (1896): Brahms died in 1897; Gershwin was born in 1898; Poulenc was born in 1899; Copland was born in 1900; Verdi died in 1901; Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande premiered in 1902; Hugo Wolf died in 1903; Dvořák died in 1904; Strauss’s Salome premiered in 1905; and Shostakovich was born in 1906. Puccini developed an international style that drew on French and German operatic elements as well as Italian ones. He was not easily inspired and frequently sought out the work of lesser-known authors such as Murger, Gold, Prévost, Sardou, and Belasco. The public afforded him great success, while the press was less kind. As early as 1901 anti-Puccinists criticized the composer unmercifully. Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in a review of Tosca (La revue d’arte dramatique) compared the opera to junk food, full of “hackneyed refrains . . . rancid corny old tunes of the fairground, . . . the nauseating stench of candy-floss, of fried food and—above all—the hopeless odour of intellectual scum!” (Wilson 2007, cited under Reception and Dissemination). The negative critical wave peaked in 1912 with Italian journalist and musicologist Fausto Torrefranca (Puccini e l’opera internazionale/Puccini and International Opera), who declared Puccini a poster child for Italian cultural decline in the post-Verdian era, and who accused him of misusing and abusing the most important component of Italian identity, its language. Such criticism was perpetuated well into the 20th century by writers such as Joseph Kerman, who equated admirers of Puccini’s Tosca with fans of “chainsaw” movies. Puccini and his works became subjects for study beginning in his own lifetime. A comprehensive list would include well over one thousand entries, including memoirs, interviews, reviews, feuilletons, program notes, and scholarly studies that range in tone from the condescending, politically driven, and polemical to the brilliantly positive, defensive, and protective (see Fairtile 1999, cited under Reference Works; and Wilson 2007, cited under Reception and Dissemination). In 1958, the 100th anniversary of Puccini’s birth, Mosco Carner published Puccini: A Critical Biography (see Life and Works), the first major English-language study of the composer. Scholarly interest in Puccini has increased notably since the late 1980s, and as of 2010 important new publications about Puccini include a full-length analytical study of the late works (Davis 2010, cited under Analysis and Interpretation), a research guide (Fairtile 1999, cited under Reference Works), a new expanded catalogue (Schickling 2003, cited under Reference Works), three new biographies (Girardi 2000, cited under Life and Works; Budden 2002, cited under Life and Works; and Phillips-Matz 2002, cited under Biography), and a major critical study of Puccini’s conflicts with the press and the academy (Wilson 2007, cited under Reception and Dissemination). Many sources have been made available through collections, editions, and facsimiles. Interpretive and analytical studies address individual works, compositional process, performance, and reception.

Reference Works

Bernardoni, et al. 1998 lists and indexes 1,485 items without annotations. Fairtile 1999 catalogues and comments on nearly eight hundred publications. Hopkinson 1968 catalogues editions, and Schickling 2003 is a comprehensive descriptive catalogue of works. Grove Music Online articles on the Puccini family by Biagi Ravenni and Girardi and individual operas by Budden provide efficient introduction to life and works. Rescigno 2004 defines people, places, and things in Puccini’s cultural and professional orbit.

  • Bernardoni, Virgilio, Gabriella Biagi Ravenni, Michele Girardi, et al. “Bibliografia degli scritti su Giacomo Puccini.” Studi pucciniani 1 (1998): 127–209.

    List of nearly 1,500 items, including hard-to-find essays in program books and early journals. Topical chronological list (to 1998) includes sources, librettists and librettos, individual works, memoirs, anecdotes, performances, etc. Appendixes include bibliographic index of Puccini family. No annotations.

  • Biagi Ravenni, Gabriella, and Michele Girardi. “Puccini.” Grove Music Online.

    Detailed overview of life and compositional process. Commentary on individual works. Illustrations, music examples (available by subscription). See also Life and Works.

  • Budden, Julian. Articles in Grove Music Online.

    Individual entries on all of Puccini’s operas. Includes character lists, synopses, brief commentary.

  • Fairtile, Linda. Giacomo Puccini: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland, 1999.

    Essential annotated and cross-referenced guide to the vast Puccini literature from the composer’s time to 1997. Chapters on biography and source material, style, compositional method, and reception. Introduction contains revealing reception history of composer. Appendixes include a guide to source material, institutional resources, literary sources, often amusing FAQs, discography, and videography.

  • Hopkinson, Cecil Hopkinson. A Bibliography of the Works of Giacomo Puccini, 1858–1924. New York: Broude, 1968.

    Essential chronology of printed editions, multiple versions. Appendixes include a list of autograph manuscripts and locations, list of dedicatees, Ricordi plate numbers, comparative versions of Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly, short essays on the F. B. versus B. F. Pinkerton problem and the Messa a Quattro voci. Should be used together with Schickling 2003.

  • Rescigno, Eduardo. Dizionario pucciniano. Milan: Ricordi, 2004.

    Extremely useful dictionary of publishers, literary figures, friends, acquaintances, contemporaries, works, and places in Puccini’s milieu.

  • Schickling, Dieter. Giacomo Puccini: Catalogue of the Works. Translated by Michael Kaye. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2003.

    New catalogue raisonné of Puccini’s works. Objectives different from those of still useful Hopkinson 1968. Includes many student works, works noted only in auction catalogues, extensive material on sources, comparative editions, sketches, fragments, and arrangements.

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