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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Verismo (meaning "realism", from Italian vero, meaning "truth") was an Italian literary movement born approximately between 1875 and 1895. It was mainly inspired by French naturalism, and Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana were its main exponents and writers of a verismo manifesto. Unlike French Naturalism, that was based on positivistic ideals, Verga and Capuana rejected claims of scientific nature and social usefulness of the movement. Italian verists were pessimistic, and based their work on the premise of impersonality, meaning that the writer should not impose any personal meaning or point of view to his works, which should seem as if 'written by themselves'.

The Italian operatic tradition carried on in the post-Romantic era by a group of composers that included Pietro Mascagni (1863 - 1945), Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 - 1919), and Giacomo Puccini. These men were associated with the movement known as ""VERISMO"" (realism), whose advocates tried to bring into the theater the naturalism of writers such as Emile Zola and Henrik Ibsen.


Verismo as an opera style

Internationally the term is more widely known as a style of Italian opera that started in 1890 with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana<ref>It's interesting to note that Bizet's Carmen predated Cavalleria by 15 years. Yet Carmen is the archetypical Verismo opera: instead of kings and countesses there are bullfighters and prostitutes. And the volume of bloodshed in Carmen certainly matches that of Cavalleria or Pagliacci.</ref> and lasted into the early twentieth century. The style is distinguished by realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of contemporary everyday life, especially the life of the lower classes, rejecting the historical subjects of Romanticism, or mythical ones, such as Mascagni's Iris. By contrast, the intimate psychological penetration in realistic settings of natural social chatter of a work like Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is not ordinarily discussed in terms of verismo, simply because of its "costume" setting.

The “realistic” approach of Verismo extends to music in that the score of a Verismo opera is for the most part continuous and is not divided into separate “numbers” in the score, which can be excerpted easily and performed in concert (as is the case with the genres preceding Verismo.) This is not always true, however - Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, and Tosca all have arias and choruses that are constantly excerpted in recitals. By contrast, Turandot (incomplete at Puccini's death) marks a return to a 'numbers' style (see say Ashbrook & Powers (1991) Puccini's Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition).

Relationship with the music of Wagner

No Verismo melody, fragment, or leitmotif is composed simply because it sounds pretty. The purpose of each bar of a Verismo score is to convey or reflect scenery, action, or a character’s feelings. In this approach, Verismo composers may appear to have followed Richard Wagner’s method. Indeed, Wagner’s influence on Verismo is obvious. Act One of Die Walküre and Act Three of Siegfried contain the seeds of many future Verismo fragments and melodies.

On the other hand, it has been claimed [2] that the use of the orchestra fundamentally differs between Wagner and Verismo, as follows: in Wagner, the orchestra needs not necessarily follow what the singers are presenting in emotion or even content (for instance, Siegfried (act 2) wonders who his parents are, and we are reminded by a leitmotiv that we have already met them in the previous opera. This is outside of Siegfried's awareness, but for the audience literally expands our understanding of the plot). However, in Verismo, Corazzol [2, p 263] claims that the orchestra merely "echoes and validates the voices" and thus the style offers "a regressive point of view": the orchestra can add nothing to the drama or to the audience's understanding, even if it can serve to deepen the music's emotionality, for example the use in Manon Lescaut of the Tristan chord. The reference to Tristan is emotionally illustrative, but offers no new salient plot detail.

Exponents of the Verismo style

Although worldwide Giacomo Puccini is generally accepted as the greatest Verismo composer, this claim is widely disputed by musical critics in Italy. Even if some critics do view him as part of this style, others merely accept a partial involvement. The most accepted claim is that at least a few of his operas (e.g. Tosca) are classifiable as verist. And if one does not synonymize "Verismo" with "bloodshed," one could postulate that Puccini gave us the most perfect "realistic" opera in La Bohème.

Though Bizet's Carmen (1875) was the first Realistic opera, Verismo came to the fore fifteen years later in Italy, with the historic premiere (1890) of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. The most famous composers of Verismo opera, discounting Puccini, were Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo (whose Pagliacci is often coupled with Cavalleria), Umberto Giordano, and Francesco Cilea. There were, however, many other veristi: Franco Alfano, best known however for completing Puccini's Turandot, Alfredo Catalani, Gustave Charpentier (Louise), Eugen d'Albert (Tiefland), Ignatz Waghalter ("Der Teufelsweg" and "Jugend"), Alberto Franchetti, Franco Leoni, Jules Massenet (La Navarraise), Licinio Refice, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and Riccardo Zandonai.

Of the aforementioned composers, the Italians comprised a group that was called the Giovane Scuola ("Young School"). Don Lorenzo Perosi is included in the Giovane Scuola, even though he wrote almost exclusively sacred music.

Other usages

The term verismo is also sometimes used to describe the very recognizable musical style that was prevalent among Italian composers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For most of the veristi, traditionally veristic subjects accounted for only some of their operas. Mascagni himself wrote a pastoral comedy, (L'amico Fritz), a symbolist work set in Japan, (Iris), and a couple of medieval romances (Isabeau and Parisina). These works are far from typical verismo subject matter, and yet they are written in the same general musical style as his more purely veristic subjects. So context is very important in understanding the intended meaning of the term verismo, as it is used both as a description of the gritty, passionate, working class dramas that the term was coined to describe, and also as the musical movement in which the giovane scuola were participants.

Also refers to painting style. Verga, in literature, comes close to the style of the I Macchiaioli. He lived during the same period 1865-67 in Florence and his Cavallleria risticana contains parallelisms the Tuscan landscape school of this period. "Espousing an approach that later put him in the camp of verismo (verism), his particular sentence structure and rhythm have some of the qualities of the macchia. Like the Macchiaioli, he was fascinated topographical exactutude set in a nationalist framework." [Albert Boime, The Art of the Macchia and the Risorgimento."]

Verismo is also a brand name of espresso machines.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Verismo" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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