Giacomo Puccini: A Guide to Research

LINDA B. FAIRTILE, Giacomo Puccini: A Guide to Research, New York and London, Garland Publishing Inc., 1999, (Composer Resource manuals, vol. 48; Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 1906), XVI-381 pp.

Garland has long held an important place in the publishing world of musicology, largely through its many series focussing on various aspects of research. These have made available a wealth of primary materials in facsimile (including both scores and librettos), reliable and attractive modern editions of music, and a steady flow of ‘guides to research’ in a number of different fields. Among them, however, the Composer Resource Manuals occupy a peculiar, and problematic, position. Within ten years of its inauguration in 1981, the series had grown to thirty volumes that revealed little uniformity of method, format, or organization. Some were written by leaders in their fields of research, others by relative unknowns; some treated ‘canonic’ composers, others did not (bringing relief to legions of Adolphe Adam scholars, for example). Basic questions regarding which features to include (an introduction tracing the history of research in a particular field, discography, work-list, index of compositions mentioned, etc.) were answered differently from volume to volume. The one discernable constant was an annotated bibliography. Even this feature, however, was treated in divergent ways. To be sure, excessive uniformity would have been little better: an annotated bibliography for Manuel de Falla will necessarily be organized differently from one for Josquin des Prez. On the whole, however, the early Guides to Research create a collective impression not so much of authorial flexibility as of editorial chaos. Since the late 1980s the series has seen a slowing of production, with a commensurate increase in consistency. Scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian opera will be pleased to note that the recent volumes on Verdi (by Gregory Harwood) and Fairtile’s on Puccini are among the strongest in the series.
     Fairtile was an ideal choice for this task. A Puccini scholar in her own right, she is also one of the few contributors to the Composers Resource Manuals series to work as a professional librarian (currently in the Music Research Division of the New York Public Library), and her organization of the material bears witness to long experience in locating information quickly and efficiently. The music collection at her home base, combined with a number of other libraries she visited in the United States and Italy, have enabled her to establish comfortable bibliographic control of her subject. Those familiar with her appearances in the between-theacts quizzes during live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York will also recognize a ready wit and lightness of touch that complement her mastery of a wide range of research materials. Fairtile divides the book into three main parts of unequal length. An introductory section (Puccini and Puccini Studies: An Introduction) is further divided into a chronology of the composer’s life and works, a detailed work list, and a brief but stimulating chapter on Puccini Studies 1884-1997. The large section that follows (An Annotated Bibliography of Puccini Studies) consists of over six hundred bibliographical entries, with descriptions ranging from a single sentence to a full page, most tending towards conciseness. The volume concludes with several appendices and an index.
     Fairtile’s division of the bibliography into eleven major sections is a distinct advantage for the reader. The first nine of these sections are determined by subject matter: surveys of Puccini’s life and works, biographies, letters, reference materials, editions and related studies, individual works, compositional style and method, drama and text, and criticism and reception studies – all but the last broken down into sub-sections again determined by subject. Items are presented in chronological rather than alphabetical order, permitting an overview of the development of research (and offering amusing insights as to which writers were not keeping up with the work of colleagues). Some of the more minutely defined subcategories appear too slight to merit chronologically organized subsections of their own. Within section VII (Compositional Style and Method ), for example, there are only two items in a sub-section on Self-borrowing, and of the two items in the sub-section headed Vocal Writing; Aria Techniques, the first fits awkwardly at best under this heading, judging by Fairtile’s description. Due to an unusually thorough network of cross-references, however, there is little danger that relevant items will go unnoticed amid the multiplicity of categories. Only rarely do references fall through the cracks, as for example in Section VI (Individual Works, by far the longest section of the bibliography), where the subsection on La Fanciulla del West fails to include a cross-reference to item 38 (a 1907 interview with Puccini in which the composers states, remarkably, that Belasco’s Girl of the Golden West did not appeal to him as an operatic subject), or in Section VIII (Drama and Text), where the sub-section on Verismo lacks cross-references to item 8 (Vincenzo Terenzio’s Ritratto di Puccini, 1954) and item 647 (Rubens Tedeschi’s Addio fiorito asil: il melodramma italiano da Boito al verismo, expanded as Addio fiorito asil: il melodramma italiano da Rossini al verismo, published in 1978 and 1992, respectively). But overall, Fairtile’s many categories and sub-categories are preferable to lumping together a multitude of items dealing with more than a single composition into an undifferentiated heap of ‘general studies’, a solution not infrequently encountered in bibliographies of composers. The last two sections of the bibliography, neither of them subdivided further, are a detailed list of contributions to important collective volumes devoted to Puccini, again extensively cross-referenced, and a list of doctoral dissertations relating to the composer and his works.
     In a refreshingly bold move, Fairtile has decided to include a number of items that fall below acceptable scholarly standards, as she indicates in her descriptions. Often what prompts such decisions is uniqueness of perspective. Thus, she includes Wolfgang Marggraf ’s deeply flawed Giacomo Puccini (Leipzig, 1977) as apparently «the only large-scale Marxist analysis» of the composer and his works – a statement, by the way, that I would hesitate to make before combing through the literature in Russian, Polish, and other languages that I cannot read – and Antonio Fernandez-Cid’s problem-ridden Puccini: El hombre, la obra, la estela (Madrid, 1974), which nevertheless offers observations on Puccini’s relation to Spanish music not found in other publications. Some items are of a popularizing nature, often unreliable from a scholarly point of view, which she feels are important as documentation of the history of writings on Puccini. There are also writings apparently included for the purpose of rebutting them or advising readers. Such items, however, are heavily outnumbered by those Fairtile feels have made a contribution to Puccini and his music. Her decision to list but not describe university dissertations unless «they are available in published form», on the other hand, though understandable, is regrettable (and overly modest, depriving herself of the opportunity to summarize her own dissertation), since it has the odd and certainly unintended effect of giving greater weight to German research (where dissertations are usually published) than to Italian and American. Cross-references to dissertations, moreover, end up being reduced in effect to a sort of redundancy, and, since they are signaled with the identical asterisks that in other cases direct the reader to full descriptions, can be somewhat misleading as well. For example, a reader browsing through the sub-section on Verismo, might, upon encountering cross-references to the dissertations by Kenneth Schuller and Peter Wright, attempt to track them down in section XI (the dissertation list), where there is no further information to be found.
     Fairtile’s descriptions of the monographs, articles and essays she examines are admirably direct and to the point. When dealing with controversial matters, she appears at times to stake out (at least rhetorically) a neutral position, limiting herself to a strictly descriptive account of the dispute; such, for example, is her treatment of the disagreement between Allan Atlas and Roger Parker on the question of long-range tonal planning in Puccini’s operas. At other times she jumps into the fray with her own frankly expressed convictions as to which side is right, as in the brief preface to the eight items documenting the journalistic battle between Denis Vaughan and the Ricordi publishing house during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Often the simple act of placing a word within quotation marks is enough to show how much she distances herself from some of the writings she discusses, and indeed much of her commentary is permeated by an air of detachment at once understated, ironic, and bemused. Publications such as these, if they are praised at all, are generally praised for thoroughness, usefulness, dependability; Fairtile’s book is all of these things, but is also a delightful read – a rare feat for an annotated bibliography.
     The five appendices to the volume constitute an interesting miscellany. Appendix 1 provides a library-by-library Guide to Music Manuscripts and Other Autograph Materials, of obvious utility. Appendix 2 (Selected Institutional Resources) lists organizations in Milan, Berlin, and Lucca, as well as Puccini museums in Lucca, Torre del Lago, and Celle dei Puccini (Pescaglia), and Appendix 3 gives the literary sources of the operas. Following these are the Answers to Some Fre-quently Asked Questions about Puccini and his Works that make up Appendix 4, itself a miscellaneous assortment ranging from questions of genuine scholarly interest («what were Puccini’s political views?») to the sort of material that makes for the lively broadcast quizzes mentioned above, another example of the humor so often missing from other publications of this type. If only the distance between the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Tiber had not been so grievously overstated (it is far less than «a few hundred yards», as Fairtile declares)! Appendix 5 is a selected discography and videography of complete works, presented in alphabetical order for easier reference; the sound and video recordings are listed without comment. The index at the end of the volume contains names only; surely it would have been worth the trouble to add other terms, including titles of works.
     It is apparently the policy of Garland not to issue any of the Composer Resource Manuals in updated or expanded editions, and this seems a pity for a book that covers Puccini research so splendidly through the year 1997. Conference papers proliferate, a new journal is up and running, the literature continues to grow, and new recordings – and now DVDs and websites – have appeared. An updated edition might also allow Fairtile to examine certain items she lists in her bibliography but was unable to consult before, and would provide an opportunity for a more comprehensive approach to indexing. One would like to know that Fairtile’s helpful and discriminating assessment of Puccini research is an ongoing project rather than a retrospective fait accompli.

Jesse Rosenberg