Giacomo Puccini: I Crisantemi
Although mainly celebrated for his operas and vocal pieces, Giacomo Puccini also wrote a handful of works for chamber ensembles. Puccini had an affinity with the string quartet, which was something he experimented a lot with whilst studying at conservatory. 1890 was the year he composed I Crisantemi (The Chrysanthemums). The piece was a quick response to the sudden death of Amadeo di Savoia, Duke of Aosta. Savoia was a friend of Puccini’s and his untimely death at age 44 really touched Puccini.
The title of the piece comes from the significance of the flower itself. Chrysanthemums represent heroism, loyalty and mourning traditionally, and so Puccini named this elegiac piece after the flower of loyalty. As well as the piece itself, Puccini also reused some of the content of this work in his opera Manon Lescaut, which was composed just three years later. The music serves as a backdrop through at least two acts in the opera.
I Crisantemi was composed in one night according to a letter that Puccini had sent to his brother. Set into just one lamenting movement, the elegy is based around two main themes. Unusually, both of the themes are in C# minor, however they develop in very different ways. The first, growing from slow and intense chromaticism, builds power from within and moves in contrary motion.
The mournful central section builds in intensity as the top violin plays over a lilting viola pattern. The rich cello sound acts as a strong and stable foundation for the melody to sit on. There are a set of climaxes throughout I Crisantemi, with each one developing in intensity. Puccini’s use of unison playing adds to the power of these climaxes. The opening theme is then heard again before the elegy finishes.
Giacomo Puccini’s mournful I Crisantemi is a moving piece that encapsulates the composer’s feelings at the time of writing. From the elegiac melody lines to the rich timbres, I Crisantemi is one of Puccini’s hidden gems.
Ⓒ Alex Burns