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Castiglioni, Niccolo

(July 17, 1932 - September 7, 1996)

When reading about Niccolò Castiglioni one often encounters the impressions of those who knew him personally and described his purity, simplicity, sensitivity and serenity: an adult with the heart of a young boy; a (slightly naive) interpreter of dreams. In his music this disposition was further enriched with a highly developed and refined technique, to form a mode of expression with an unmistakable style.

Born in Milan on 17 July 1932, he studied at the Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi”, first with Giorgio Federico Ghedini, then with Franco Margola, and he qualified in both piano and composition in 1953. In this period he interests included not only art, nature and the mountains, but also philosophical readings. He had a particular affection for the books of Eugenio Garin and his studies of medieval Platonism.

After cultivating a passion for Stravinsky during his years at the conservatory, his interests shifted first to twelve-tone composition, then to post-Webernian positions. Thus the courses with Gulda, Zecchi and Blacher at the Mozarteum of Salzburg were duly followed by the Ferienkurse für neue Musik of Darmstadt between 1958 and 1965. After the experiences of expressionism and structuralism, he eventually developed a more personal idiom. This involved a return to the tonal system, accompanied by his exceptional knowledge of early counterpoint and refined study of timbre, all crystallized in short free forms. In this respect one of the most representative works of his musical development is Inverno in-ver (1973, revised 1978), a collection of eleven poems for small orchestra, in which the title of the last movement “Il rumore non fa bene. Il bene non fa rumore” (Noise does no good. Good makes no noise) perfectly sums up his poetic ideal of purity and luminosity. His most significant works include the Morceaux lyriques for oboe and orchestra (1982), the Geistliches Lied for soprano and orchestra (1983), the Hymne for 12 voices (1988-89) and the Momenti musicali for seven instruments (1991). 

Apart from a short period in the Fifties as a concert pianist, Castiglioni devoted himself exclusively to composition and teaching.
From 1966 to 1970 he lived in the United States, teaching counterpoint at the Rockefeller Foundation of Buffalo and composition as a visiting professor at the Universities of Washington (Seattle), Michigan (Ann Arbor) and California (San Diego).
From his return to Italy until his death he taught at the Conservatory of Milan, while living in both his home city and Bressanone in the Dolomites.
He died in Milan on 7 September 1996.

Roberta Milanaccio


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