Alfredo Catalani



Alfredo Catalani was born into a family of well-respected local musicians. He studied at the Liceo Macchiavelli, and in 1872 went to the Istituto Musicale Pacini in his home town of Lucca, where he studied counterpoint with Fortunato Magi (Giacomo Puccini's uncle) and won a first prize. In the summer of 1872 he left for Paris, where he attended the Conservatoire, studying with Bazin for composition and Marmontel for piano. In the autumn of 1873 he returned to Lucca for military service, but was rejected because of ill-health. So Catalani went to Milan and studied at the Conservatory there. He became friends with his teacher Bazzini, who introduced him to members of the Scapigliatura, a movement advocating both a revolt against existing artistic conventions and the formation of new ones.


Here he met other composers such as Böito, through whom he was exposed to Wagner's music. Catalani's graduation exercise for the conservatory was La Falce, a one-act eclogue with text by Böito, performed on July 19th, 1875. Catalani met the music publisher Giovannina Lucca, who agreed to pay him 250 lire a month to compose a full-length opera. The result, Elda was published in 1876 and again, revised, in 1877, but was not performed until 1880 at the Teatro Regio in Turin. After another opera, Dejanice, Catalani turned his back on classical subjects, and moved towards Romanticism. His next opera, Edmea (1886), was well-received. In April 1886 he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Milan Conservatory (succeeding Ponchielli) at a monthly salary of 240 lire, a post he kept until his death. 


The merger of the Lucca firm with that of Ricordi in May 1888 proved a serious blow to Catalani. Giulio Ricordi was then so absorbed in the final phase of Verdi's career and in grooming Puccini that he was unwilling to commission a new libretto. Catalani struggled to get his works performed until, in 1891, he wrote perhaps his most famous work, La Wally. Ricordi finally decided to publish Catalani’s work and the opera was performed at La Scala on January 20th, 1892. Encouraged, Catalani began work on a new opera, Nella Selva, but he became ill and had to abandon the project. After suffering a haemorrhage while travelling to Switzerland, he was brought back to Milan, where he died five days later. Catalani was important for his influence on the Verismo school, before the rise to fame of Puccini.


Related composers: Puccini

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