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MMD > Archives > December 1997 > 1997.12.07 > 01Prev  Next

Puccini Uses Music Box Air
By Ian McDonald

A week ago I video-recorded the 1977  BBC Great Composers documentary
on the life of Opera composer Giacomo Puccini, 1858-1924, with young
stars Jose Cura and Julia Migenes singing roles.  Rave! Rave!

Puccini's last Opera, "Turandot", was produced in 1926 after his death.
Puccini had never been to China.  He wrote the Opera's setting and did
research by listening to "Chinese recordings" on his present from
Edison (the horn phonograph shown was not an Edison), and called up
people for advice.  He had a great friend who lived in Peking, who had
collected mechanical boxes; he used melodies that were taken from these
extraordinary music boxes.  One of them that is identified with
Princess Turondot was developed into the tremendous melody, Act 1
"Princess Turondot's theme".

The box was shown closed only, and played the notes almost one note at
a time (sounded like a very small movement) in a Chinese cream lacquer
work box with colored relief figures on top and sides.  The box looked
like about 8 inches long by 4 high and 5 inches deep.

Has any one further information on this?  I don't think they made music
boxes in China.   How many other famous melodies came from music boxes?

Ian McDonald

 [ Editors note:
 [ A former MMD member, Miss Miho Matsuo, wrote to me in October
 [ 1996 concerning a Swiss music box, now in California, which plays
 [ Oriental melodies:
 [ > Today I hit on the idea that I should also check Puccini's
 [ > "Turandot", and it was not useless.  As far as I could recognize
 [ > there were 2 [Chinese] tunes included in the opera.  This story
 [ > takes place in Beijing, and these melodies were described as
 [ > Chinese folk songs.
 [ snip - "ascii music" ]
 [ > This could be the song number one, which I mentioned as a song
 [ > brought into Japan about 50 years ago.  Some books say that it was
 [ > also popular in Europe at the end of 18th century, and was called
 [ > "Moo-Lee-Wha".  Judging from the Chinese characters shown in the
 [ > book, it is a kind of chicken often used as a metaphor of dawn.
 [ > The motiv appears through out the whole play, representing a
 [ > Chinese princess named Turandot.
 [ > Also, some books had an interesting story.  I will try to
 [ > translate.  "It is said that Puccini quoted several melodies from a
 [ > music box which his friend, Barone Fassini, a consul long resided
 [ > in China, had owned.  It played the newly decided national anthem
 [ > of Ching [the Ching Dynasty], and other old Chinese folk music..."
 [ Robbie Rhodes

(Message sent Sat 6 Dec 1997, 07:54:49 GMT, from time zone GMT+1000.)

Key Words in Subject:  Air, Box, Music, Puccini, Uses

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