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October 27, 2019: Quartetto di Cremona

On February 6, 1890, Puccini wrote to his brother Michele (who had settled in the far-off little city of Jujuy in the Andes) that he had composed a work for string quartet in just one night and dedicated it to the memory of Prince Amadeo di Savoia, Duca d’Aosta and King of Spain, who had died on January 18. Puccini called it Crisantemi because in Italy chrysanthemums are associated with funereal ceremonies and events. (Michele, always interested in his brother’s music, made piano versions of it both for two and four-hands from a copy his brother had sent.)

The February 6 letter also mentions a successful—probably the first—performance of the work at the Milan Conservatory by the Campanari Quartet and another performance by the same musicians in Brescia. Though the piece is now performed by quartets or string ensembles looking for an interesting addition to their standard repertoire, Crisantemi is most often heard in Puccini’s reworking of it for some of the most poignant moments in Acts III and IV of his opera Manon Lescaut. The short melancholy quartet follows da capo form—A-B-A, where A is an exact repeat of the opening section. The “A” theme is used for the opening of Manon Lescaut’s final act, and the “B” theme for the orchestral passage accompanying Des Grieux as he addresses Manon through her prison window in Act III.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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