Ballets By Cesare Pugni - Paris


Despite Pugni's initial success in the field of music, 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 which had caused him to amount considerable debt. In early 1834, Pugni left Milan in an effort to flee from his creditors.

With his wife and children, Pugni made his way to Paris, where they lived in poverty while the composer searched desperately for employment. By the end of 1834 Pugni found work as chief copyist for the famous Théâtre Italien. Through his association with the theatre he was reunited with an old friend, the Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini, who at that time was engaged at the theatre to mount his opera I Puritani while simultaneously preparing a special version of the work for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. For the Naples production the principal soprano role was to be revised for the vocal talents of the Prima Donna Maria Malibran, 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. Pugni did this, but also made a second copy of the complete score and subsequently sold the manuscript to the Teatro di San Carlo at a high price. Soon Bellini was told that the theatre had purchased an official copy of score, and would no longer require his services. Bellini was crushed, for he had not only paid Pugni the five francs 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 begged his lady friends to send their unwanted dresses over to Signora Pugni. Bellini wrote in his journal, "It will be a lesson to me. Were it not for his six innocent children, I should like to ruin him." Bellini would later recall in an unfinished letter written in 1835 how Pugni's " ... infamous conduct shattered my faith in human nature."

In 1836, Pugni received a commission from Louis Henry, choreographer of several of his first ballet scores, to compose music for the ballet Liacone. This work was to be produced in Naples for the Ballet of the Teatro di San Carlo. At that time Henry was engaged at the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique, 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 traveled to Naples to assist with the music for the opera's dance-sections. Soon after this, Henry died of cholera.

In 1837 Pugni returned to Paris where he began working for the Casino Paganini until its closure in 1840. He then began serving as a "musical ghost writer" of sorts for the legendary Paris Opéra. Pugni was charged with the editing, correcting, and orchestrating of nearly all of the music for the ballets presented on the stage of the theatre. Often composers of the era left orchestrations to the copyist or principal conductor of an Opera House, and with his extraordinary facility at sight reading and scoring, Pugni was often given the task of arranging the compositions of others. A tradition passed down among his descendants claims that during this time Pugni either composed or orchestrated all or part of Adolphe Adam's score for Giselle, though no evidence is known to exist in support of this, and it is likely derived from the fact that Pugni composed supplemental pas and provided orchestration for the St. Petersburg production some years later. Pugni served in this function at the Paris Opéra from 1836 until 1843, and even supplied anonymous supplemental pas and variations for visiting ballerinas when needed.

It was during this time that Pugni became acquainted with Benjamin Lumley—director of Her Majesty's Theatre in London. Through Lumley Pugni became acquainted with Jules Perrot—the renowned choreographer and Ballet Master of Her Majesty's Theatre—who during his engagements as a guest artist to the Paris Opéra encountered Pugni's extraordinary facility with composition and orchestration. In 1843 Lumley offered Pugni the post of Composer of the Ballet Music to Her Majesty's Theatre.

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