(Born; Naples, 23 April 1857; Died; Montecatini, 9 Aug 1919). Italian composer and librettist. He studied literature at Bologna University. The failure of an early opera, I Medici (1893), conceived as the first of a Renaissance trilogy (unrealized) and written for Giulio Ricordi who rejected it, prompted him, in a defiant quest for fame, to write the poem and music of Pagliacci (Milan,1892), the single work for which he is widely known. In its economy and consistent impetus, notably with the commedia dell'arte playlet and the Zola-inspired prologue invoking naturalism, the opera represents a skilful exploitation of the 1890s verismo trend; it made Leoncavallo a celebrity overnight. That success was never repeated. However, he set La bohème (1897) in opposition to Puccini and the sentimental Zazą (1900) was favourably received. One of the first composers to become involved with gramophone records, he wrote the popular song Mattinata (recorded by Caruso,1904) and conducted Pagliacci (1907), both for the G Amp; T Company.
© Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK
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