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De Sabata, Victor

(April 10, 1892 – December 11, 1967)

Victor de Sabata was born in Trieste in 1892. His father, Amedeo, was a choirmaster and passed on his love for music to his son; his mother, Rosita Tedeschi, was of Hebrew origins. In 1900 the family moved to Milano, where De Sabata enrolled at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory. There he studied counterpoint and fugue under Michele Saladino, and composition under Giacomo Orefice.  He graduated in 1910, with the thesis project Suite for orchestra, which was later performed at La Scala in Milano and at Teatro Augusteo in Rome. The first official recognition of his compositions came in 1917 with the opera Il macigno (“The Rock”), with libretto by Alberto Colantuoni, which premiered at La Scala; De Sabata’s musical poem Juventus was performed by many conductors, including Strauss and Toscanini.

De Sabata’s true calling, however, was as a conductor. He combined the qualities of a strong leader with a masterful command of technique to become one of the greatest orchestra conductors of the 20th century. After working in Rome and Montecarlo, in 1926 De Sabata returned to Milano. In 1930 he made his conducting debut at La Scala, in a performance of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West. His performances of Tristan und Isolde were considered among his very best and helped seal his reputation as a master. Around this he also composed the symphonic poem Le mille e una notte (“Arabian Nights”), with libretto by Giuseppe Adami. In 1931 it was staged as a ballet at La Scala, where De Sabata conducted the premiere.

He toured Europe with the La Scala Orchestra, with performances in Munich, Berlin, London and Edinburgh; he also conducted numerous major orchestras outside of Italy, in Amsterdam, Berlin, Bayreuth, Salzburg, New York, Philadelphia and Boston. In 1953 he once again returned to Milano, where he had been named artistic director at Teatro Scaligero, a position he held until 1957; he later worked as an artistic consultant.

As a composer, De Sabata was linked to the descriptive tradition, though he did not ignore modern compositional techniques. His compositions also include the symphonic poems La notte di Platon (1923), Gethsemani (1925) and Melodia for violin and piano accompaniment (1918), as well as three pieces for piano and chamber music.

De Sabata died on December 11, 1967, in Santa Margherita Ligure.