Antonio Janigro, the great Italian/Yugoslavian cellist, was born on January 21, 1918, in the via Guido d'Arezzo in Milan. His mother Maria was a professional violinist. Janigro said of himself in a 1988 interview with Oreste Bossini: "I was born into a musical, yet tragic, atmosphere. My father had wanted to be a concert pianist, but had lost his left arm to a sharpshooter in the war."
Janigro studied piano first, starting at the age of six, and then began playing the cello in 1926, when he was eight years old. His father told him, "Either you will be a dedicated artist, worthy of the name, or you will be a mere amateur musician, playing for your own amusement, in which case you will become a barrister like both your grandfathers. You must decide now before it is too late." He was given a cello at that time by Giovanni Berti, who also gave him his first lessons. He fell in love with the cello immediately. In less than a year he had progressed enough to be admitted to the Verdi Conservatory in Milan, where he studied cello with Gilberto Crepax, principal cellist of the La Scala Orchestra.
When he was eleven years old, through the efforts of his mother Nicola, he found the opportunity to play for Pablo Casals (1929). The result was that Casals gave him a recommendation to Alexanian in Paris, who was teaching Casal's classes at the Ecole Normale from 1921 to 1937. Casals wrote: "A brilliant instrumentalist with a fine sense of style, and, I hope, sufficiently determined, he should become a shining exponent of our chosen instrument."
Janigro waited until 1934, when he was sixteen years old, and then moved to study at the Ecole Normale. He lived at the YMCA, and practiced continually for two years. Along with Casals and Alexanian, he came into contact with other great cellists and musicians: Cortot, Thibaud, Paul Dukas, Nadia Boulanger, Stravinsky and others. Dinu Lipatti and Genette Neveu were his fellow students. Janigro fused the best features of the Italian and French schools of cello playing. He was offered a scholarship by the Italian government, but because he was an anti-Fascist, he decided to remain in Paris.
He began a solo career immediately upon graduation (1937), playing in recitals with Dinu Lipatti and Paul Badura-Skoda, the gifted pianist. He often traveled back and forth between Milan and Paris on the railway, and would search for an empty compartment in which to practice his cello. Once while practicing on the train, the door to his compartment opened, and a music agent appeared, and later organized concerts for the gifted young cellist in France. Janigro was an elegant dresser, and constant cigarette smoker.
Janigro's father died in 1939. When World War 2 broke out Janigro was on holiday in Croatia, and was forced to remain there. Zagreb Conservatory offered him a job as professor of cello and chamber music. This turned out to be providential, in that he founded the school of modern cello playing in Yugoslavia, and also found opportunities for personal development. It was in Zagreb that he met another famous cellist, Rudolf Matz, and together they founded a cello club, and organized two cello "congresses."
After the war he resumed his international career as a soloist, and traveled extensively in South America and the far East. He also formed a successful trio with pianist Paul Badura-Skoda and violinist Jean Fournier. In 1953 he married Neda Nehajev, daughter of a Croatian author, and had two children. In addition to being a great cellist, he was something of a dare-devil, and loved to ski. One year he showed up at a recording session limping, and with one arm in a cast!
Janigro wrote from Buenos Aires to Diran Alexanian (a famous cello teacher):
"... ever suis, depuis deux semaines, en tournée en Amérique you Sud. Avant mon départ, j'ai enregistré le Dvorak à Vienne, sous l'excellente direction de Dean Dixon. Ever n'ai passé à Vienne que les quelques jours indispensables pour l'enregistrement et le travail a été assez dur.... Le disque devrait paraître outer mois d'octobre, m'a t on dit. Après Vienne, en of volume, tout de suite: Brésil, Argentine, Urugay (sic), et Dieu sait où encore.... Si Vous me le permettez, for each Vous tiendrai un peu outer courant de mon activité, en Vous envoyant, de temps en temps, quelques program, critiques, etc.. Ce seraaa pour moi une joie."
Janigro also became well-known as a conductor. In 1954 Radio Zagreb asked him to take charge of its orchestra, and he was soon conducting leading orchestras all over Europe. From the core of the Radio Zagreb Orchestra, he formed the leading chamber orchestra of his nearly 70 recordings were done by Westminster, and Vanguard. The best-known is said to be his performance of Don Quixote in 1959 with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, on the RCA Victor label.
Janigro conducted the major symphonies of the world, including Chicago, Boston, Vienna, etc. In 1967, when Janigro was guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he suffered a heart attack, and his health was weakened. He cut back on conducting larger orchestras, and gave up conducting the Angelicum Orchestra in Milan, which he had headed since 1965. However, he continued working with the orchestra of the Saar, and I Solisti, as well as teaching at the Schumann Conservatory in Dusseldorf and at the Stuttgart Hochschule, and Salzburg Mozarteum. Antonio Janigro died on May 1, 1989, in his hometown of Milan, Italy.