His paesanos extol him as “the greatest Italian opera composer since Verdi”. After all, Puccini wrote La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, all as popular today as they were 100 years ago. His style is called “verismo”, meaning realism that focuses on the average man and woman and the challenges of their lives.
But I did not know that a composer born for the big stage also wrote some small-scale chamber pieces on the side. Only Crisantemi has survived the test of time, and when you hear it, you’ll understand why. When you know the story – or even if you don’t – it’s a gripping six minutes. Puccini wrote it in the stress of the moment upon learning of the unexpected death of his good friend Amadeo di Savoia, the former King of Spain, at 44 years old. A heartfelt lament, he produced it in just one bleak night. It is an eloquent elegy. Why chrysanthemums? In Italy, they are the flowers of mourning used for funerals and gravesites.
Puccini later used this piece’s two main themes in his opera Manon Lescaut, a story of an ill-fated romance. The main theme serves to heighten the drama when Manon and her lover wander in the desert on their way to her death. With her last breath she says she loves him.
Thank you Eric for bringing this hidden nugget to our attention.