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Chailly, Luciano

(January 19, 1920 - December  24, 2002)

Luciano Chailly was born in Ferrara on 19th January 1920.
He took a diploma in violin in Ferrara in 1941 and another in composition in Milan in 1945. In 1948 he went on to do an advanced course in composition with Paul Hindemith in Salzburg.
In 1951 he was appointed as Maestro Assistente Musicale (Assistant Music Expert) at the Milan branch of Rai, a post he held until 1967 and that enabled him to meet all the major interpreters of the day, including Maria Callas.

In 1954 he installed a highly fruitful partnership with the writer Dino Buzzati, who went on to write 5 opera libretti for him (Ferrovia soprelevata, Procedura penale, Il mantello, Era Proibito, L’Aumento), often taking a hand in the stage productions as well. This bond between composer and writer also extended to the ballet Fantasmi al Grand Hotel (libretto by Luciana Novaro on a subject by Buzzati) and to the music for the theatre piece Drammatica fine di un noto musicista and the cabaret song for Laura Betti La morticina.

In 1962 Chailly’s work in Rai led him to move with his family to Rome. In fact, when a second television channel was established, Chailly was appointed head of music programmes.
In this context the Ferrara musician began to write music for a range of television dramas: from The Idiot (by Dostoyevsky), directed by the TV and film director Giacomo Vaccari, to Mastro Don Gesualdo (by Verga), once again directed by Vaccari. He also composed music for films, like Madre ignota directed by Gian Vittorio Baldi, and for documentaries. A particularly important event in this period was the composition of the Missa Papae Pauli in honour of Pope Paul VI, to whom, moreover, Chailly had the honour of personally presenting the score.

In 1968 he moved back to Milan with his family after being appointed artistic director of the Teatro alla Scala, a post he held up until 1971 and that put him in contact with the most important artists of the era. Subsequently he fulfilled the same role at the Teatro Regio in Turin (1972), the Angelicum in Milan, the Arena in Verona (between ’75 and ‘76) and the Teatro Margherita in Genoa from 1983 to 1985.

These demanding roles did not prevent him from continuing to compose. Thus in 1970 the world premiere of his opera L’Idiota from Dostoyevsky was performed at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome.
In 1980 the London Sinfonietta commissioned him to write a work which eventually took the form of the Newton-Variazioni for orchestra. Subsequently the composer reduced and wrote a musical score for Eugene Ionesco’s La cantatrice calva. This went on stage at the Piccola Scala in the presence of Ionesco himself. 

The composer travelled to Asia on two occasions, the first time to Tokyo in 1984, as the Italian delegate to the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Compositions (CISAC), and the second time to China in 1987. These experiences brought him into direct contact with the music scene in the East, even though they did not inspire him to write any new compositions. In fact, the Tre liriche su testi cinesi, which Chailly took with him in his travels to pay homage to his far-away colleagues, were composed in 1953.

His last works were: the one-act L'aumento, his fifth opera based on a short story by Dino Buzzati and composed in 1996, and his Te-Deum for choir and orchestra, written in 2001.

The composer died in Milan on 24th December 2002.

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