Césare Pugni (1802-1870)

Cesare Pugni was an Italian composer of ballet music, while in his early career he scored Bel canto Opera , symphonies, and various other forms of orchestral music quite successfully. He is most noted for the ballets he scored while serving as Ballet Composer to Her Majesty's Theatre in London , and First Imperial Ballet Composer to the Romanov's Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg , collaborating with such distinguished choreographers as Jules Perrot , Arthur Saint-Léon , Paul Taglioni , and Marius Petipa . Pugni is the most prolific composer of the genre of ballet music that has ever lived - by the end of his life he had scored 312 original ballets, and a gargantuan amount of various Pas and incidental dances, such as divertessments, variations, and additional music for interpolation into already exsisting works, as well as adapting and revising scores for ballets by other composers. Of the original ballets for which Pugni wrote music, he is most noted for Ondine (1843); La Esmeralda (1844); The Pharaoh's Daughter (1862); and The Little Humpbacked Horse (1864). Of the various Pas and incidental dances, etc. for which he scored music, he is most noted for the Pas de Six from La Vivandière (1844); the Pas de Quatre (1845); the Venetian Carnival Grand Pas de Deux (AKA The Fascination Pas de Deux from Satanella ) (1859); and his additional music for the ballet Le Corsaire (1856, 1863).

There will likely never again be a greater contributor of music for the art of ballet than Cesare Pugni, who is without question the most prolific composer of the genre that has ever lived. The poet and historian Donald Sidney-Fryer 's A Checklist of Ballet Scores by Cesare Pugni puts the number at 312 complete ballets, the majority of which were written for the most influential choreographers of the 19th century from Milan , to Paris , Berlin , London , and finally St. Petersburg , among them - Jules Perrot , Arthur Saint-Léon , Paul Taglioni , and Marius Petipa . Nearly every great Ballerina of the Romantic epoch, from Marie Taglioni to Fanny Cerrito, Lucile Grahn , Fanny Elssler , Carlotta Grisi , and Carolina Rosati , all danced the majority of their legendary triumphs in ballets set to his music. In Pugni's early career, mostly while in Milan, he also scored five well-received Bel canto operas , over forty masses , 4 (known) symphonies , and many other orchestral pieces, the majority of which were written for small ensembles such as string quartets .

Historians are not certain of the exact year of his birth, as it has been given as both 1802, and 1805. Likewise the place of his birth is not know for certain either, as both Milan and Genoa have been given. The most authoritative facts concerning the composer's birth appear to be Genoa, Italy on May 31 , 1802 . His father, Carlo Pugni, was a well-known clockmaker with a successful shop in the Pallazzo del Duomo , near Milan 's cathedral . It is interesting to note that the word Pugni means fists in Italian.

It was certainly in Milan that the young Pugni received his musical education, though he was not instructed at the Milan Conservatory as has been stated by many historians. He began his musical studies at a very young age, likely by way of private lessons, under Bonifazio Asioli , who taught him composition and counterpoint , and from Alessandro Rolla , who for many years was lead violinist in the orchestra at La Scala and a prominent composer, who taught Pugni the violin (Rolla is also noted as the teacher of the young Niccolò Paganini ). Other names associated with Pugni's musical training are Peter Von Winter and Carlo Soliva , both of whom scored operas for La Scala between 1816 and 1818. At the age of seven Pugni scored his first composition, probably for the violin , an instrument he excelled in. In time Pugni, began to show a great facility for composition, with an extraordinary talent for creating melody and for orchestration.

It appears that the first ballet to have been associated with the composer was the Balletmaster Gaetano Gioja 's (teacher of Fanny Elssler ) Il castello di Kenilworth ( The Castle of Kenilworth - based on Walter Scott 's novel Kenilworth ), produced at La Scala in 1823 ( Gaetano Donizetti would later write his opera Il castello di Kenilworth based on the same theme). The printed libretti for this work credits the music as being a pastiche of themes derived from "various well-known composers", for which Pugni himself adapted the music. In 1826 Pugni received his first commission for the ballet Elerz e Zulmida , to be mounted by the Balletmaster Louis Henry . The success of that work brought about three more commissions from Henry, and soon Pugni was sought out by some of the most distinguished choreographers then working in Italy, among them Salvatore Taglioni (uncle of the legendary Marie Taglioni ), and Giovanni Galzerani . Pugni's growing popularity as a capable composer of light, melodious music for dancing was attested by the publication of a number of piano reductions of excerpts from his works, among them, the popular Scottish Dance from his 1837 ballet L'Assedio di Calais ( The Siege of Calais ), which like every one of his works which was published throughout his life and career sold very well.

Though he demonstrated considerable talent for composing ballet music, Pugni's real ambition was to become a celebrated composer of opera. There had been occasions where he had been commissioned to compose an aria "to order" for various performances at La Scala, and such assignments encouraged him to pursue his ambition further. In 1831 his opera Il Disertore Svizzero ( The Swiss Deserter ) premiered at the Teatro Canobbiana in Milan, with his teacher Alessandro Rolla as conductor. The work was praised for its variety and originality, and was revered by the composer's fellow musicians. Pugni's next opera was La Vendetta , produced at La Scala in 1832, premiering with great success.

It was during this time that Pugni began to compose a substantial number of masses , symphonies , and various other orchestral pieces. One Sinfonia in particular was scored for two orchestras, both playing the same piece with one orchestra a few bars behind the other. This piece so impressed Giacomo Meyerbeer that he was known to hold up a manuscript of the work in order to show his friends a supreme example of virtuosity in composition. Such success as a musician appropriately coincided with his appointment as Maestro al Cembalo (or Director of Music ) at La Scala. Next to this appointment Pugni also taught the violin and counterpoint when time allowed. He even instructed the visiting Mikhail Glinka , who revered Pugni as a composer and teacher of music.

Pugni scored two more operas for the Teatro Canobbiana in 1833 and 1834, both of which were listened to with considerable respect (many historians have claimed that Pugni's last three operas were utter failures, which is wholly inaccurate). Pugni also continued composing various orchestral pieces, all of which were earning him great prestige and notoriety.

It would seem that all of the composer's ambitions were about to be fulfilled, especially that of becoming celebrated composer of opera, for which he had put forth much effort in laying the groundwork. But only two years after his appointment as Maestro al Cembalo , all of his prospects collapsed, and he was dismissed from La Scala for what appears to have been the misappropriation of funds, a likely by-product instigated by his notorious passion for gambling and liquor. The post of Maestro al Cembalo was taken over by Pugni's two assistants, Giacomo Panizza and Giovanni Bajetti . In 1834 the composer left La Scala in utter disgrace, and did not return to Milan for many years.

With his wife and children Pugni made his way to Paris, where for some time they lived in extreme poverty while the composer searched desperately for employment. In late 1834 Pugni was reunited with an old friend, the Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini , who at that time was engaged at the Théâtre Italien to premiere his opera I Puritani , while at the same time preparing a special version of the work for the opera in Naples . For the Naples production the principle soprano role was to be revised for the vocal talents of the Prima Donna Mailbran , and since the production of I Puritani in Paris was putting Bellini under considerable pressure, he called upon Pugni to copy the parts of the score that would be presented in Naples without change. Not only did Pugni do this, but he also made a second copy of the complete score, and subsequently tried to sell the manuscript to La Scala at a high price. La Scala refused, and not to long after word reached Bellini, who was crushed, as he had not only paid Pugni for the copying but had also given him money when needed in order to feed his family, and was often known to not only give Pugni his own unwanted clothes but also begged his lady friends to send their unwanted dresses over to Signora Pugni. Bellini would later recall in an unfinished letter written not long before his death in 1835 how Pugni's "infamous conduct shattered my faith in human nature".
In 1836 Pugni received a commission from Louis Henry , the choreographer for whom he had written several of his first ballet scores while in Milan, to compose music for the ballet Liacone , to be produced in Naples . At that time Henry was engaged at the Paris Opera, staging the ballet sections of Gioacchino Rossini 's opera William Tell , for which Henry utilized music from Pugni's ballet L'Assedio di Calais . Pugni then travelled to Naples to assist with the music for the opera's dance-sections. This was to be Henry's last ballet; he died soon after of cholera .
Pugni then returned to Paris where he accepted a position teaching violin at the Paganini Institute , and subsequently no music flowed from his pen for nearly ten more years.

In 1843 Pugni accepted a position as Ballet Composer at Her Majesty's Theatre in London from its director Benjamin Lumly . These were very successful and productive years for the composer, where between the theatre's 1843 and 1850 seasons Pugni produced an impressive series of scores for three of the greatest choreographers at that time: Jules Perrot , Arthur Saint-Léon , and Paul Taglioni . Working under pressure and having to meet deadlines drove Pugni to produce, as he had no problem meeting the heavy demand for ballet music. Next to the complete ballets he composed during his time in London, he also scored a substantial number of supplemental Pas , variations, divertessments, and incidental dances. In 1845 alone he produced six new scores, including the celebrated divertessment Pas de Quatre . His music was always highly praised by the public and critics alike - his almost super-human capacity for creating a nearly endless variety of lively, infectious, and danceable melodies was all the more accented by his clever and colorful orchestrations.
Jules Perrot always made certain that Pugni was involved in composing the music for his work, as from 1843 on-wards few ballets were produced by him that did not have Pugni as composer. Nearly everyone of these works were great successes, and the public and critics marveled at how fresh and new both choreographically and musically each spectacle was. In 1843 Perrot produced Ondine , a tale of a jealous Naiad inlove with an Italian fisherman, for the great Ballerina Fanny Cerrito , for which Pugni wrote one of his greatest scores. In 1844 Perrot produced his most celebrated and enduring work, the spectacular La Esmeralda for the great Ballerina Carlotta Grisi , set to Pugni's joyous music. In 1846 Perrot produced the oriental extravaganza Lalla Rookh for which Pugni composed a score full of Arabian influence, and that same year Perrot and Puigni also mounted the celebrated Catarina , which was one of Lucile Grahn 's greatest triumphs.
It was throughout the late 1840s that Pugni began to collaborate with Paul Taglioni and Arthur Saint-Léon on a regular basis, who were both occasionally engaged in London as guest choreographer. During this period Pugni was composing four to five full-length works every year between these choreographers and Perrot, and showed no signs of it weighing down on his fantasy. Pugni left a profound impression on Saint-Léon, who was just as skilled a musician as he was a dancer and choreographer. During the 1840s Saint-Léon was engaged as Balletmaster at the Paris Opera, and Pugni traveled there often to score music for the choreographer's works. Pugni and Saint-Léon created many successful works while in Paris, among them, La Vivandière in 1844, La Violon du Diable in 1849, and Stella in 1850, for which Pugni wrote a score filled with a great variety of sparkling Neopolitan melodies.
In the short span of their collboration Pugni wrote many wondrous scores for Paul Taglioni, who would later site Pugni as the greatest composer of ballet music he had ever worked with. In 1847 Pugni wrote no less than four short ballets for Taglioni, among them - the lavish Coralia where a woman falls inlove with an English Knight, and the magical Thea where the Flower Fairy brings together a harem maiden and an Arabian Prince. Taglioni's 1849 The Winter Pastimes was set to Pugni's scintillating music suggesting an enchanted wood in winter, and in 1850 Taglioni produced Les Métamorphoses , where a distracted student is taught a life lesson by a sprite.
During the 1840s Pugni accompanied Perrot on many occasions to stage a substantial number of their ballets in various theatres throughout Europe. In 1845 they staged La Esmeralda for La Scala in Milan, and later that year for the Court Opera Ballet in Berlin, where the title role was danced by the great Fanny Elssler . In 1847 Pugni and Perrot mounted Catarina for La Scala, where they returned later that same year to stage Lalla Rookh . In 1848 Perrot was invited at the behest of Fanny Elssler to stage La Esmeralda for the great Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. While in the Imperial capital Perrot was offered the position of Maître de Ballet (First Balletmaster/Chief Choreographer) to begin in the 1850-1851 season, which he accepted.

The Imperial Ballet (today the Kirov / Mariinsky Ballet) of St. Petersburg, Russia was the most opulent and well-funded ballet company in the world at that time, being a dependant of the Tsar , who had the wealthiest and most resplendant court in all of Europe. The Imperial treasury lavished a yearly budget on the company of over 1,000,000 roubles , and it was to this legendary ballet company that Perrot was now the head Balletmaster and choreographer. Not willing to occupy such a position without his favorite collaborator, Perrot recommended that Pugni accompany him to Russia so that he may serve as the official composer of ballet music. With Pugni's considerable talent and expertise in the field, he was offered the post of First Imperial Ballet Composer , and naturally took the job, as the terms were excellent.
In the winter of 1850 Pugni severed all ties to London and Paris, never to return to western Europe again. At some point not long after his relocation to London in 1843 Pugni married his second wife Marion (or Mary Ann) Linton, with whom he fathered a large family, though upon his relocation to Russia he supposedly went alone, the reasons of which are not clear. Whatever the case, in 1860 Pugni began a relationship with a Serf woman named Daria Petrova, with whom he had eight children, though the two were never married. Aside from his duties to the Imperial Theatres, Pugni began teaching violin and counterpoint at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1852, a position he held until shortly before his death.

In 1855 Pugni wrote The Star of Granada , his first ballet for the choreographer Marius Petipa , who had been serving as Jules Perrot's assistant and Premiere Danseur to the Imperial Ballet since his arrival in Russia in 1847. Petipa was fast becoming a celebrated choreographer in his own right, creating ballets more and more.
In 1858 Perrot left Russia, and Pugni found himself in need by both Petipa and Arthur Saint-Léon, who was by then engaged as Maître de Ballet . The two choreographers, both highly gifted their art, were engaged in a rather healthy and productive rivalry on the Imperial stage, and though their ballets were considerably different in style and technique Pugni scored the music for nearly every one of them.
In 1862 Pugni wrote for Petipa The Pharaoh's Daughter , produced in only 6 weeks for the Italian Prima Ballerina Carolina Rosati . The production was so successful it won for Petipa the position of second Balletmaster, though Petipa still had to contend with Saint-Lèon. In 1864 Pugni scored the music for Saint-Lèon's ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse , which itself was as equally as successful as . A brilliant march from the third act of The Little Humpbacked Horse was a favorite of Tsar Alexander II (many of Pugni's marches and entr'actes were performed at Imperial balls and diplomatic functions). The Pharaoh's Daughter
Sadly, Pugni began to become more and more unreliable as he aged, becoming severely depressed and retreating more and more into the bottle to the point of addiction, and gambling away his money, often neglecting his work and leaving his family to fend for themselves for days at a time. As a result, Petipa found it increasingly difficult to extract music from him, and the quality of his music became increasingly "run-of-the-mill" and banal, though there were occasions where he would find inspiration and deliver a fine score.
In his memoirs Petipa quoted a letter written him by Pugni in 1860, "I tearfully ask you to send some money; I am without a penny". The letter also included freshly composed sections for Petipa's upcoming ballet The Blue Dahlia . With the premiere fast approaching, Petipa had been receiving music from the composer piecemeal, and it had become clear to Petipa that Pugni had put off scoring the more difficult sections, the action sequences, to the last. By the mid 1860s, such situations became commonplace.
Pugni began inventing unbelievable excuses for not delivering music on time; for example he once told Petipa his cat had scratched his hand, making him unable to hold his pen. On one occasion Pugni came to rehearsal without the day's required music, informing Petipa that it was due to having no candles in which to write by. Petipa subsequently arranged to have a large box of candles delivered to Pugni's home, only to have the composer inform him at the following day's rehearsal that he did not write the required music because he was forced to sell the candles in order to eat. Many of Pugni's colleagues, who respected his talent very much, found themselves helping him whenever possible, though eventually many of them found his irresponsibility to be beyond all redemption. Petipa came to the point where he was forced to hire someone to watch over the composer to insure music would be prepared for the next day's rehearsals, and likewise to make certain scores were completed on time. Regardless, Pugni managed to compose eight new scores between 1865 and 1868 alone for the Imperial Ballet, though they were mostly short one act ballets and divertessments.
Saint-Léon was also having difficulty with the unreliable Pugni, and he began to turn to the Czech composer Léon Minkus for ballet music. In 1865 Saint-Léon wrote to his friend Charles Nuitter , "Pugni has nearly died. He was found in the woods 16 versts from the city (St. Petersburg) owing 300 roubles to tradesmen. The Court Minister paid the sum, and a collection from the dancers of the company, who produced 200 roubles, is serving to feed him, his wife, and his eight children, five of whom are very young. He owes 5,800 roubles in all, while for the past twenty years he has been receiving 1,200 francs a month (for Royalties for scores performed in Paris) plus a benefit!" (Pugni was also receiving a substantial amount of Royalties for performances in London, as well as his fees for composing in St. Petersburg).
In 1868 Pugni composed the music for Petipa's Tsar Candavl (AKA Le Roi Candaule ), a lavish ballet with fantastical themes that premiered to a resounding success. It was to be Pugni's last evening-length score. Unbeknownst to many, Petipa originally made plans to have Pugni compose music for his ballet Don Quixote , which was to be mounted at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre in 1869. But Pugni's irresponsibility quickly forced Petipa to reconsider, and instead he turned to Léon Minkus. Don Quixote would prove to be one of both Petipa and Minkus' most celebrated and enduring works, surviving well into the present day.
In late 1869 Pugni pulled himself together to score the music for Petipa's one act ballet The Two Stars . His score was considered by everyone involved to be among his greatest works for the ballet, but it was to be the sad and wayward composer's swan song - he died on January 26, 1870.
Cesare Pugni, the art of Ballet's most prolific composer, was laid to rest in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. Today, he lies not far from such great artists of the ballet as Marius Petipa , Lev Ivanov , and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky . Pugni died in utter poverty, and with his death his large family was completely destitute. In honor of the composer, and for a benefit performance for his family, a gala was prepared with excerpts from many of Pugni's works by Petipa in May of 1870. Later that year, Petipa mounted a revival of Catarina , premiering on November 1, 1870, again as a benefit performance for the composer's family. Petipa then presented Pugni's final work, The Two Stars , on January 21, 1871 for the benefit performance of the Imperial Ballet's Premiere Danseur Pavel Gerdt . The ballet premiered to great success and was retained in the repertory of the St. Petersburg ballet until not long after the Russian Revolution . Petipa also staged the work under the title The Two Little Stars for the Ballet of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre in 1878. The ballet was restaged for the company in a new version by the Balletmaster Ivan Clustine in 1897, a production which was retained in the Bolshoi's repertory until 1925.
Today Cesare Pugni has no other memorial than his music, the vast majority of which goes unplayed, sitting in various libraries and theatre archives. The hardships brought upon the Russian Ballet by the events of the 1917 Revolution incidentally caused a great number of works to cease being performed, many of which were set to Pugni's music. Today, these ballets live on only in faded photographs and old newspaper reviews. Recent movements and interests in restoring the heritage of the art of ballet has brought about revivals of the old ballets of the Romantic and Classical epochs - and the soundtrack of this era was composed mostly by Cesare Pugni.

It is significant to note that three of Cesare Pugni and Daria Petrovna's descendants danced with the Imperial Ballet - his son Nicolai Cesarevich Pugni, who danced in the Corps de Ballet from 1882 until a few months before his death in 1896. Another was his granddaughter Léontina Konstantsiia Tsezarevna Pugni, daughter of Pugni's son Cesare Cesarevich, who danced as a soloist from 1903 to 1913 as well as touring Scandinavia and Germany with Anna Pavlova 's company from 1908-1909.
Pugni's grandson Alexander Shiryaev , son of Pugni's daughter Ekaterina Cesarevna, was a much celebrated soloist and character dancer in St. Petersburg. He served as the Imperial Ballet's second Balletmaster, succeeding Lev Ivanov upon his death in 1901. Shiryaev later served as Balletmaster to the post-revolution Imperial/Petrograd Ballet. Shiryaev revived many ballets, among them Petipa's staging of Pugni's Ondine with Anna Pavlova in the title role, as well as the first post-revolution Nutcracker staged in Russia, with Fedor Lopukhov , along with many other works. Another of Pugni's grandsons is the celebrated artist Ivan Puni (or Jean Pougny) (1894-1956), son of Pugni's son Albert Linton-Pougny (1848-1925), who was born of his second wife, Marion Linton.

After Saint-Léon's death in 1870, Petipa was named Maître de Ballet , selecting Léon Minkus (1826-1917) as Pugni's successor as First Imperial Ballet Composer to the Imperial Theatres. Minkus held the post from 1871 until 1886, when it was abolished by the director of the Imperial Theatres Ivan Vsevolozhsky . Minkus would score the music for such ballets as Petipa's Don Quixote (1869), and La Bayadère (1877), among others

The music of Cesare Pugni
Revivals and Works still in performance
Historical Lithographs and Photos
from the ballets of Pugni

Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Ondine
in the Pas des Travestie from the Pugni/Petipa/Perrot
" Ondine", St. Petersburg, 1899

Lithograph of Carolina Rosati and Miguel Charles in the Pugni/Taglioni
"The Winter astimes", London, 1849

Lubov Egorova in the title role of Pavel Gerdt's revival of the Pugni/Petipa
"The Blue Dahlia", St. Petersburg 1905

Lithograph of Fanny Cerrito (front left)
in a scene from the Pugni/Perrot
"Zélia", London, 1844

Mikhail Mordkin as Taor in the Pugni/Petipa "The Pharoah´s Daughter",
St. Petersburg, 1905

Mariia Surovshchikova-Petipa
in the Pugni/Petipa
"The Parisian Market", Paris, 1861

Lithograph of Lucile Grahn
in the title role of the Pugni/Perrot
" Catarina", London, 1846

Lithograph of the scene L Sicilienne
from the Pugni/Saint-Léon "Stella"

Sofia Fedorova as the slave Hita with unidentified children in the Pas des Caryatids from Alexander Gorsky's staging
of the Pugni/Petipa
The Pharoah´s Daughter, Moscow 1909

Lithograph of the scene The Procession of the Fool's Hope from the Pugni/Perrot
" La Esmeralda", London, 1844

Lithograph of the Entrance of Ondine with Jules Perrot as Mattéo and Fanny Cerrito
on the title role of the Pugni/Perrot
"Ondine", London, 1843

Louis Meranté and Marfa Muravieva
in the Pugni/Saint-Léon
"Diavolina" , Paris, 1893

Lithograph of Marie Taglioni the younger (Marie Taglioni´s niece)
* in the Pugni/Saint-Léon Thea
(AKA "The Flower Fairy" ), London, 1847

Lithograph of Adèle Dumilatre
and Lucien Petipa in the Pugni/Saint-Léon "The Marble Maiden", Paris, 1847

Tamara Karsavina as the Tsar Maiden
in Marius Petipa's 1895 revival of the Pugni/Saint-Léon " The Little Humbacked Horse", St. Petersburg, 1910

Lithograph of Carlotta Grisi, Carolina Rosati, Marie Taglioni, and Fanny Cerrito
in the Pugni/Perrot
"The Four Seasons", London, 1846

Lithograph of the Pas de Symbolique
from the Pugni/Perrot, "Lalla Rookh",
London, 1846

Olga Preobrajenskaya in the
Grand Pas de Venus from the Pugni Petipa
"Tsar Candavl", St. Petersburg, 1903

Lithograph of Fanny Cerrito,
Arthur Saint-Léon, Marie Taglioni, and Lucille Grahn in the Pugni/Perrot
" Le Jugement de París", London, 1846

Anna Pavlova as the Princess Aspicia with Mikhail Mordkin as Taor in the Pugni Petipa
"The Pharoah´s Daughter",
St. Petersburg, 1905