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Musica e scena

(Milan, 1924-1926)

Prepared by Nicoletta Betta
Online only (2017)

At the beginning of the nineteen twenties Casa Musicale Sonzogno, which together with Casa Ricordi was one of the protagonists of the Italian music publishing industry, suffered a difficult moment of crisis. The death of Lorenzo, president and nephew of the founder Edoardo, aggravated the preexisting management difficulties and exposed the company to the risk of being wound up and sold to foreign buyers. In 1923 this risk was avoided thanks to the Lombard industrialist, Piero Ostali, who bought the Casa Musicale and committed himself to guaranteeing its economic re-launch and improvement. Mr Ostali was not just a wealthy businessman with a passion for music, but he had also received a solid musical education in organ, violin and composition. Using the pseudonym of “Italos” he engaged in the musical genre that from then on Casa Sonzogno was to specialize in, namely Operetta, with the collaboration of the librettist Arturo Rossato.

At Sonzogno, Ostali placed the publishing and entrepreneurship activities alongside the publication of a magazine that became a center for critical review of the Italian musical scene and at the same time a showcase for the publishing activity of Sonzogno. One aim of Ostali's management was to enhance and re-launch the opera repertoire of Sonzogno, historically made up of the generation of composers known as “Giovane scuola”: Ruggero Leoncavallo, Pietro Mascagni, Francesco Cilea, Umberto Giordano and separately Giacomo Puccini, the main representatives of realism on the Italian music scene. At the same time, Musica e Scena, Sonzogno's journal, reflected the current events of Italian artistic life, particularly regarding the crisis in traditional opera that was irrefutably taking place, demonstrated by the lack of audience, and by the instability of opera houses, which were forced to deal with the drastic reduction in private investment and the consequential need to obtain public funds in order to face the increase in costs. On the pages of Musica e Scena proposals and financial expedients for the renewal of a situation that was closing many theaters in Italy were debated.

Musica e Scena also witnessed the repertoire expansion of the Casa Musicale Sonzogno into operetta, that in the previous decades had enjoyed increasing popularity, first as a product of imported works – the Viennese operetta of Léhar and Fall, the French of Hervé and Lecocq – and then with the first productions of well-known Italian composers such as Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini, who by engaging in this new genre raised artistic value of operetta before the eyes of the Italian audience.

With a nationalistic attitude reflected in Musica e Scena, Casa Sonzogno intended to propose a form of genuine Italian operetta to the audience, as opposed to the foreign production considered frivolous and superficial. The examples, clearly indicated on the pages of the magazine, are those of Giuseppe Pietri, Mario Costa and Mr. Ostali (“Italos” himself). These composers provided, through the Operetta genre, those requests for simple and clear singing, formal simplicity, adherence to reality when choosing libretto subjects.

The new operetta repertoire of Sonzogno was taken on tour around Italian and foreign theaters with the Operetta company “La Gaudiosa”, which was strictly bound to the publishing house. Its activity was followed in detail on the pages of Musica e Scena through press reviews and photographic records.

Musica e Scena was published in Milan, from January 1924 to July 1926, with a regular monthly schedule and a double number during the summer months. The first three publications from 1924 counted 18 pages, later on the number of pages varied from 24 to 36. Until the publication of April 1925 the front page was always dedicated to photographic portraits of composers linked to Casa Sonzogno, to whom were dedicated long biographical front page articles. The iconography was always very curated, with extensive photographic records of theatrical stagings and scenaries of opera and operetta, photographic portraits and caricatures of the composers, photographs depicting operetta singers and soubrettes in their costumes. Every publication contained a musical supplement, generally of four pages, often an adaptation for voice and piano of compositions by the composer to whom was dedicated the opening article.

The layout of the magazine was as follows, with a few variations:

  1. At the beginning of the publication, the column “Echi e novità” was a page of brief news regarding current events about music.
  2. A detailed portrait of a composer who was represented by the Casa Musicale Sonzogno, was generally printed to coincide with the publishing of his new opera; or a full account of the first performance of a new production of Casa Sonzogno or the resurrection of an opera in their catalogue. These articles were signed by contributors such as Federico Candida, Otello Cavara, Claudio de Mohr, and Pino di Valmarana.
  3. One or more articles regarding aspects and problems of the opera theater in Italy and of musical criticism, written by Sebastiano Sani, Pino di Valmarana and Piero Ostali himself. During the opening of the Milanese opera seasons at Teatro Dal Verme, a theater partially financed by Sonzogno, or at la Scala, this third section also included long and accurate presentations of the Operas programmed, followed in the next few months by their relative press releases taken from Italian newspapers as a testimony of the reception of the Operas performed.
  4. A musical supplement, usually an adaptation for voice and piano of a piece of Opera by the composer to whom the opening article of the magazine was dedicated to.
  5. The fixed columns “Scena lirica,” “the Opera Scene,” and “Operetta”, that reported in detail the record of the activities of Italian theaters, with particular attention being paid to the Milanese scene and to minor and provincial theaters. Less importance was given to instrumental music, dealt with in a short column entitled “Concerti” and to drama, discussed from time to time in the column entitled “Scena di prosa”. Equally limited the section “Recensioni e pubblicazioni”, dedicated mainly to musical subjects.
  6. At irregular intervals some letters were published from Italian and foreign cities; the following should be noted: the letters from Leningrad by Mario Apa, from Turin by Enrico Contessa, from Naples by Armogiac (Giacomo Armò).

This catalogue is based on the copy held by the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense di Milano, Milan's National Library.

It has been possible to release the following initials and pseudonyms of these authors:

ItalosPiero Ostali
cidiemme, c. d. m.Claudio de Mohr
ArmogiacGiacomo Armò
GaianusCesare Paglia
e. c.Enrico Contessa