Spotlight on Castelnuovo-Tedesco Spotlight on Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Posted by Ricordi 14 February 2017 Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence on April 3, 1895 to a family of Jewish origins. He studied composition under Ildebrando Pizzetti, and soon caught the attention of Alfredo Casella, who launched him in Italy and internationally. He was an extremely versatile and prolific musician.

Compared to his maestro, Pizzetti, whose influence may be heard, we note fresh melodic facility, tempered by an elegance often associated with French composers – more along the lines of Ravel than Debussy, for the precision of his contours, and the liveliness and variety of his rhythms. His modern musical language encompasses movements found in contemporary dance, including the fox trot, and the blues, while he clearly did not shy away from recouping a “traditional”, neo-romantic expressiveness.   

Music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco was featured at the first Modern Music Festival in Salzburg in 1922; his compositions would later be played at the Venice Biennale, La Scala in Milano, in Germany and in the United states. His vast output embraces a host of musical genres, from pieces for solo piano to operas, from concertos to cantatas, from sonatas for solo instrumentalists to symphonic overtures. An avid reader, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s favorite authors included Aeschylus, Virgil, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman, Cervantes, García Lorca and Shakespeare. Indeed, he entitled his eleven symphonic overtures after plays by Shakespeare.

Jewish culture was for Castelnuovo-Tedesco another source of great inspiration, whose influence is perhaps best seen in his Violin Concerto N. 2 (The Prophets), dedicated to Jascha Heifetz, which made its world premiere in New York in 1933, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was greatly esteemed by Toscanini, who also conducted the premieres of The Winter’s Tale (Vienna, 1935) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1940).  He met Andrés Segovia in Venice in 1932, an encounter which led to Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra – the first of over a hundred compositions he wrote for the guitar, which makes Castelnuovo-Tedesco one of the 20th century’s most prolific composers of guitar music. Faced with persecution as a Jew, he left Italy in 1938 and moved to the United States, and settled in Los Angeles in 1940. Thanks to the influence of Toscanini and Heifetz, he signed on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and began composing film soundtracks. He received U.S. citizenship in 1946. Around that time, he had also begun teaching harmony and composition in Los Angeles, where his pupils included André Previn, Henry Mancini and Jerry Goldsmith.

In 1958 he won the prestigious Campari Competition at La Scala in Milano for his opera The Merchant of Venice, though it was never performed there – it made its premiere in Florence in 1961, and was a rousing success.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco died in Los Angeles on March 17, 1968.


Violin Concerto No. 2 (I Profeti) (1929)
for violin and orchestra  
WP: New York, April 1933
Instrumentation: / / Timp. Perc. Piano. A. / Strings
Duration: 35'
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The Merchant of Venice (1933)
Overture after Shakespeare for orchestra  
WP: Turin, January 1935
Instrumentation: / / Timp. Perc. Piano A.(2) / Strings
Duration: 13'
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Twelfth Night (1933) 
Overture after Shakespeare for orchestra
WP: Rome, January 1935
Instrumentation: / / Timp. Perc. Xyl. Hand Bells / Cel. Cmp. A. / Strings
Duration: 9'
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The Winter’s Tale (1935)
Overture after Shakespeare for orchestra  
WP: Vienna, December 1935
Instrumentation: / / Timp. Perc. Xyl. Hand Bells Cel. Cmp. A. / Strings
Duration: 15'
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The Taming of the Shrew (1930)
Overture after Shakespeare for orchestra  
WP: Florence, February 1931
Instrumentation: / / Timp. Perc. Xyl. Hand Bells Piano A. / Strings
Duration: 9'
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Photo: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's heirs
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