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Letter Vigorously Protesting Accusations of Plagiarizing Puccini’s “La Boheme”

$1440 net
Item: 22581
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LEONCAVALLO, RUGGERO. (1858-1919). Italian composer whose most enduring work is the one-act opera Pagliacci, made famous by Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso. ALS. (“R. Leoncavallo”). 4pp. 8vo. Genoa, N.d. (After May 1897). Written on Hôtel de Gênes stationery to the French music publisher (HENRI GEORGES) HEUGEL (1844-1916). In French with translation.

“M. Sonzogno just sent me a word-for-word copy of a passage from your letter which had a wonderful way of poisoning the great joy over my success here. It is really sad to see this unheard of war against me from all sides. From the beginning I have been used to open battles and I know that my colleagues, unable to deny neither my success with the public nor my being known, are doing all they can to find a measure here, a note there, to deny me all originality. But that you, a serious man, would write that without a doubt, I plagiarized, that does surprise me. I have witnesses that will support my statement that I wrote my piece at Brissago where I did not have a single printed sheet of music. I can prove it! I wrote this piece, composition and orchestration, in ten months (M. Sonzogno can confirm it!). Maybe after living in France for a long time and having studied a lot, a rhythm here or there that resembles something got into one work that was written in a very short time, but I haven’t plagiarized from anybody, not in La Bohème, not anywhere else. That is not how I work, and thank God, I do not need to! I must protest this defamatory accusation. Perhaps there is a resemblance, but it would not be the first time that an astonishing resemblance is found in music and even among great masters. All that Monsieur has to do is open Paradies und Peri by Schumann and in the bass solo he will find, note for note, the main phrase of Wagner’s Walküre and in the Chorus of the Harpies of the Nile an amazing resemblance with the Ride of the Valkyrie!!! Not to mention the Andante of Beethoven’s Septet which shows up in the duo finale of the Norma of Bellini, who, at least to my knowledge, had no need to plagiarize! Ah, the nice things they would say about me in France if I were Russian! But for now I will content myself with being represented elsewhere and never being performed in Paris. It is better that way, I think…”

Richard Wagner

Puccini portrait

Giacomo Puccini

Leoncavallo portrait

Ruggero Leoncavallo

Both in style and form Leoncavallo was strongly influenced by the artistry of German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883), mentioned in our letter. Leoncavallo wrote his first opera, Chatterton, in 1876 and then set to work on a Wagnerian trilogy entitled Crepusculum of which I Medicis, the first part, was the only completed portion. Inspired by Theodore Barriere’s play based on Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, Leoncavallo began to work on an operatic treatment of the story.

He and his friend Giacomo Puccini had neighboring summer cottages and often engaged in friendly competition over their work. But when it came to light that both were working on the same subject, the atmosphere grew tense. “Although Leoncavallo claimed precedence, Puccini’s opera reached the stage in 1896, while Leoncavallo’s was performed at La Fenice in Venice on 6 May 1897, successfully at first, but losing ground as Puccini’s version established itself,” (The New Grove Dictionary). Despite its initial popularity, (likely the “the great joy over my success,” Leoncavallo describes in our letter) and his claim of precedence, accusations of plagiarism followed. Leoncavallo’s publisher, Eduardo Sonzogno (1836-1920) who had brought his family’s firm to prominence, rigorously defended him. Written in an agitated manner with many words underlined once, twice and even three times.

Light wear and in fine condition.

Letter Vigorously Protesting Accusations of Plagiarizing Puccini’s “La Boheme”

$1440 net • item #22581

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