Personalities of the musicians Works

Puccini’s hangout

Puccini was a very sociable man, quote often putting this before his composing.  Even when he was working hard, he maintained an active social life:

With the opening of the 1894-1895 season not far way, Puccini began steady work on La Bohème in Torre.  But he also needed a place to relax, so his “second home” became a café that was housed in a shack near the lake.  Patched together out of slab timbers and scrap lumber, it was roofed with marsh hay.  Two sides had large panels that could be opened in the summer for ventilation.  The proprietor, Giovanni Gragnani, was nicknamed Blackbird Legs, Stinchi di merlo.  He served wine, bread, salami, and other salted meets, and let the local artists, peasants, and fisherman play scopa and briscola, among other legal and illegal card games.  Crude practical jokes became the daily fare.  After Gragnani departed Torre for Brazil, he left behind a relative, Arnaldo, who later helped Puccini with little errands.  In 1896 the café was christened the Club la Bohème, and an absurd set of rules was drawn up by the composer and his friends.  The members should swear and drink well, and eat better; the president could act as conciliator but had to stop the treasurer from collecting dues whenever possible; the treasurer was allowed to abscond with the money; the room should be lighted by an oil lamp, but candles could be used if the oil ran out; all legal gambling was prohibited; silence was forbidden; wise men were not allowed; and grouches, professional types, and a number of hapless [people were not admitted or, if there, could be thrown out by any member.

Eventually, an old upright piano was installed, presumably for Puccini, but in truth the “members” only played card games, talked and drank.  Puccini helped to furnish it in summer 1896, asking Clausetti to send him used items such as painted vases, blinds and wall hangings or rugs.  Early and late, Puccini fled to it, using it as a source of refuge from the problems he had at home.  Above all Club La Bohème became recognized as his headquarters, a place where he met neighbors and treated them as equals, something the much more reserved Verdi never did in Sant’Agata.  Puccini was always a man of the people, freely available during hsi visits to Gragnani’s bar, and later, the Club La Bohème.  Because he always composed at night, he would spend whole days at the club, meeting almost everyone in that tiny community.  According to many accounts, he also took several club members at home with him at night.  They chatted and played cards while he worked.  They repaid him with loyalty and even with love.

Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane (2002) Puccini: A Biography.  Boston: Northeaston University Press, p.96-97.

By Greg

Australian composer and pianist