Techniques | Verismo | Turn of the Century | Opera
The term has been liberally applied to a range of musical styles but, properly, it refers to a movement in Italian literature of which the main exponent was Giovanni Verga. The major influence on the veristic writers was Émile Zola who believed that reality could be best understood by objective observation. For instance, a character would be placed in a situation and his reactions observed. The generating influence behind Zola’s ideology was the rapid industrialization of France. Italy was not undergoing such rapid changes, but the essential idea remained an attractive one. The Italian veristi tended to concentrate their work on the lower social classes. The language used is always that of the subject – Verga, for example, obsessively collected short phrases and idioms that he would incorporate into his work. The result is that we hear the words of the subjects themselves, not polished verse given to them by the author. The associated traits of verismo – stark emotions, brutal violence and strong regional colour – are also part of the desire to give a true reflection of real life. As a result of these characteristics, however, the term verismo came to imply vulgar sensationalism and it rapidly lost its essential meaning. Properly speaking the term is applied to a certain literary style and not to music at all. The fervour with which operas with veristic texts, such as Mascagni’s setting of Verga’s Cavalleria rusticana, were taken up meant that the term verismo quickly became associated with any kind of high-octane opera.
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