Giacomo Puccini came of a race of musicians. The second of the name, and the fifth musician of his family, he was born at Lucca in 1858. He was one of six children, all of whom were so devoted to the art that their house was described by a friend as a gigantic musical-box. The father, Michele, died when his most gifted son was only six years old, and Giacomos education was continued by his great-uncle, Dr. Nicolao Cerù, till he received a pension from the Queen of Italy sufficient to enable him to study at the Milan Conservatoire for a year. When this pension expired, Dr. Cerù again came to his assistance and provided the necessary funds for the completion of his studies. At the close of the course at the Conservatoire, his Sinfonia-Capriccio for orchestra was performed and very favourably received.
Ponchielli, who had been his master, was so struck with the dramatic bent of his mind that he promised to find him a suitable "book" for an opera. At his suggestion Puccini wrote "Le Villi," to the libretto of Fontana, in view of the first of the "Con corsi" (Competitions) instituted by the publisher Sonzogno. It failed to win the prize, but was produced at the Teatro dal Verme, in 1884, with such success that it was bought by Ricordi and given at La Scala a few months later. His second work, "Edgar," which was presented at the same theatre in 1889, did not increase his popularity, largely owing to the weakness of the libretto. After some years came "Manon Lescaut," showing a wonderful advance in his art; while in "La Bohème," first heard at Turin in 1896, he surpassed all his previous achievements and asserted his position as one of the foremost living operatic composers. "La Tosca," produced at Rome in 1900, did not enhance his reputation, owing perhaps to the rather sordid character of the story; but it is often performed in England, and is apparently enjoyed.
Before his death in 1924 he produced three other remarkable works. "Madam Butterfly," first produced in 1904, is generally recognised as his greatest triumph. "Gianni Schicchi" (1918) is clever and amusing, and is highly popular, while "Turandot," at which he was at work when he died, is held by some critics to represent the high-water mark of his genius.