Cello Playing in 19th Century Italy

THE MOST important epoch of Italian violoncello playing came to a close with Boccherini. His early withdrawal from his native land caused a loss all the more sensibly felt because there was no one of equal importance to compensate for him in the further development of the art, from the point to which he had attained both in its executive and productive aspect. This task fell principally to Germans, French, and Belgians, whilst Italy was deprived of the position of pre-eminence in regard to violoncello playing which she is asserted to have held for a long time in the previous century. The same phenomenon consequently was repeated here as in regard to violin playing.

Already towards the end of the eighteenth century Art, and especially instrumental music, in which the Italians had accomplished so much that was praiseworthy, fell into decline on the Apennine Peninsula-although Italy brought out some important productions, particularly in the department of opera compositions. The Musical Almanack for Germany, of 1783, contains the correspondence of an anonymous German artist who travelled in Italy in the year 1782. It is there said: "At Naples I found in the Conservatoire ( In the last century there existed in Naples four Conservatoires. But in 1806 they amalgamated into one musical Institute. ) a veritable horror. Caffaro ( Caffaro, opera and church music composer, was Director of the Neapolitan Conservatoire dell& Pieti. Milico was then famous as a stage singer. ) is here with Milico, whose music gave me the most pleasure. As for the rest it is all miserable, heavy, modern Italian opera music, as well as in the churches. I hoped to find a great deal at Venice, but it is no better there. Above all, the execution in the whole of Italy is less good than formerly. . . . But what astonishes me most is the extraordinarily little appreciation of music in Italy now. It is almost a miracle to see people of position who have a love of music. It created a great sensation when we gave concerts in Rome which were frequented by sincere admirers and friends. Instrumental music is at such a low ebb that it is almost beneath any criticism."

At the beginning of the present century things were not changed in this respect. Louis Spohr, who was in Italy in 1816, expresses himself in his autobiography concerning the condition of music there much in the same manner as the anonymous writer cited above, and, a little later, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy likewise.

Under these conditions it cannot excite surprise if Italy in consequence did not produce so many representatives of violoncello playing in the highest sense of the word as hitherto.

LUIGI VENZANO must be mentioned as one of the first distinguished Italian cellists of this century. He was born in Genoa about 1815, and was solo cellist in the orchestra of the Theatre Carlo Felice, as well as teacher at the musical institute of his native town. He died on January 27, 1878. As a composer he devoted himself to vocal and stage compositions.

An incomparably more important player than the preceding artist, or his countrymen to be subsequently mentioned, is ALFREDO PIATTI, born at Bergamo on January 8, 1822, and not in 1823, as Fetis says. His father, who died on February 27, 1878, and who early instructed him in music, was not a singer but a violin player. The boy soon decided for the violoncello, on which he received his first lessons from his great uncle, Zanetti, who was engaged as music master at Bergamo.

Later he was sent to Milan for the benefit of the Conservatoire. Here the excellent violoncellist, Merighi, conducted his further education. Piatti attended the above-named Institution until September, 1837, after having appeared previous to this date at one of the concerts with decided success. In April, 1838, he gave a concert of his own in the Teatro della Scala, at Milan, with the profits of which he supplied himself with the means of undertaking a concert tour. Soon after he was heard very favourably at Venice and Vienna. In the latter town he remained some time; then he returned to Italy and gave concerts at Milan and Padua. In 1843 he went to Munich and joined in a concert with Liszt there. In the following year he presented himself at Frankfort-on-the-Maine, Berlin, Breslaw, and Dresden, when he afterwards visited Paris. In 1845 he was in St. Petersburg, where his performances met with unusual appreciation. Having returned to Milan, the post of teacher was offered to him, in 1846, at the Conservatoire. He did not, however, accept the offer, but established himself in the same year in the English capital, which from that time he has only left occasionally, either to undertake concerts or journeys to recruit his health. In London he soon became one of the most distinguished aitistic celebrities, and he still remains in full favour with the public. His performances are proportionably marked by fine tone, the greatest purity, tasteful rendering, as well as by a perfect mastery of all technical difficulties. He is not only the most important cellist in England, but belongs altogether to the highest rank of artists of the present time. He wrote for his instrument two Concertos (Op. 24 and 26), a Concertino (Op. 18), a "Fantasia romantica,"Capriecios (Op. 22 and 25), it " Sersnade Italienne" (Op. 17), "Airs Baskyrs" (Op. 8), as well as a long list of other works, consisting of Themes with variations and drawing-room pieces of various kinds. Further he has brought out new editions of old cello compositions and six Sonatas by Boccherini. He has also published original songs with violoncello obbligato.

Two other pupils of the Milan Conservatoire are GUGLIELMO QUARENGHI and ALESSANDRO PEZZE. The first, born on October 22, 1826, in Casal Maggiore, was pursuing his studies during the years 1839-1842. Arrived at maturity he was first violoncellist at the Teatro della Scala, at Milan, and from 1851 he gave instruction also at the Conservatoire to which he was indebted for his education. In February, 1879, he took the place of Boucheron as Choirmaster at the Cathedral. He enjoyed this position only a few years, for he died February 3 or 4, 1882. Amongst his compositions the most noteworthy are-Six Capricios, a "Chant elegiaque," with piano accompaniment; two Romances, a Scherzo, "Un pensiero al lago," and some Fantasias on Motifs from Italian operas.

ALESSANDRO PEZZE, born 1835, at Milan, received from his father, a clever dilettante, his first musical instruction, after which, in 1846, he went to the Conservatoire of his native town. Merighi directed his violoncello studies. After he had been for some time first cellist at the Teatro della Scala, he was engaged by the English impresario, Lumley, for Her Majesty's Theatre in London. Pezze belonged to it until 1867, in which year the theatre was destroyed by fire. Later this artist was employed in the orchestras of the Philharmonic Society and Covent Garden. He is still living in London.

The Naples Conservatoire produced GAETANO BRAGA, born on June 9, 1829, at Guilianuova in the Abruzzi. He was originally destined for the church, but the inclination for music came out so strongly that he could not be kept back from it. His parents now wished that he should be educated as a singer; he, however, decided for the violoncello, on which Gaetano Ciandelli directed his Studies. He soon became a pupil of Mercadante for composition. In the year 1852 he had finished his studies at the Conservatoire. Soon after he undertook a concert journey to the North of Italy, and from thence to Vienna, where he formed a connection with Mayseder, and was a member of his String Quartet for a short time. In 1855 he betook himself to Paris, where he was much in request as a favourite solo player. He is at present living in Florence. As a composer Braga devoted himself by preference to stage compositions. For the violoncello he only wrote a Concerto, and some smaller pieces with piano accompaniment, and a Serenade for voice with cello acconipaniment.

Other Italian violoncellists at the present time worthy of notice are--RONCHINI and G. MAGRINI in Milan, PINI in Venice, SERATO in Bologna, TOSCANINI in Parma, SBOLCI and CASTAGNOLI in Florence, FURINO in Rome, CENTOLA in Naples, MONTECCHI (who lives at present at Rennes in Bretagne as a music teacher), and MATTIOLI now in Cincinnati. ( In spite of every effort, I have not succeeded in gaining any more details concerning the above violoncellists.)


Germany in the 19th Century, Part One

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