Who Was Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco? | Classical Guitar Masters

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Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a renowned pianist and composer from Florence, Italy. He was born on April 3, 1895 into a wealthy Jewish family of bankers. His mother introduced him to the piano, and he later went on to study at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. He studied piano under Edgardo Del Valle de Paz, a pupil of Beniamino Cesi, and composition with Ildebrando Pizzetti. He received his diploma in piano in 1914 and in composition in 1918.

From the beginning of his career, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was highly praised and recognized. In 1919, he won a competition for his composition, “Cantico per una statuetta di s. Bernardino” by Niccolò dell’Arca. In 1922, some of his operas were performed at the first festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Salzburg. His works were regularly performed at the Venice Biennale and included in the programs of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. In 1925, he won a composition competition for his opera “La Mandragola,” which was performed at La Fenice Theatre in Venice in 1926 and in a new version in two acts in Wiesbaden in 1928. He also made an important European tour as a pianist in 1929.

In the 1930s, Castelnuovo-Tedesco increasingly established himself as a composer. In 1931, the opera “Bacco in Toscana” was performed at La Scala in Milan and in 1935, he composed the music for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino for “Savonarola” and “I giganti della montagna.” The New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini gave first performances of works by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, such as “I profeti” in 1933 and the Cello Concerto in 1935. In 1932, he met Andrés Segovia for the first time in Venice, which led to a partnership that resulted in some of the most popular classical guitar compositions of the 20th century.

Due to the racial laws promulgated by the fascist regime, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was forced to leave Italy with his family in 1939. With the help of Toscanini, he moved to America. He first stayed in New York, where he took part in the first performance of his Piano Concerto No. 2 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli. Later, in 1940, he received a contract in Hollywood with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, thanks to which he soon established himself as a film score composer. He composed and arranged the music for more than 200 films, although in most cases he was not credited. He continued his activity as a composer of classical music and from 1946 worked as a professor of composition at the Los Angeles Conservatory. He became an American citizen in 1946, and he won the Campari Competition in 1958 with his opera “Il mercante di Venezia,” which was first performed in 1961 at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He died in Beverly Hills on March 17, 1968.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s musical production is vast and consists of 6 operas, 5 oratorios, 4 ballets, 11 overtures, more than 100 compositions for piano and as many for guitar, a large number of chamber compositions for different ensembles, more than 100 choral pieces, and over 300 vocal compositions. In 2000, the composer’s valuable collection of music manuscripts and correspondence was donated by his heirs to the Library of Congress in Washington

, forming the “Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection.”

Castelnuovo-Tedesco was known for his vast and diverse musical production, spanning across various genres and forms of music. He composed six operas, five oratorios, four ballets, eleven overtures, over 100 compositions for piano, and an equal number for guitar. Additionally, he composed a large number of chamber compositions for different ensembles, more than 100 choral pieces, and over 300 vocal compositions. His works were renowned for their refinement and culture, as he often set texts by notable authors such as Cavalcanti, Petrarch, and Shakespeare.

In addition to his classical compositions, Castelnuovo-Tedesco also made a significant impact in the film industry. He worked as a film score composer from 1940 until 1971, composing and arranging music for over 200 films. Despite his prolific contributions, he was not credited for most of his work in the film industry.

Despite the challenges he faced due to the racial laws during the fascist regime, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was able to continue his career and make significant contributions to the world of music. His work continues to be celebrated and remembered through the Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, which serves as a testament to his legacy.


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