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Modern Comp By Mario Castelnuovo-Tedese© •• (Editor's note: In July it Will be a year since Mario Oastelnuovo-Todoseo, one of Italy's most famous composers, left anti-Semitic Italy to Come to America. In that year he has made a deep impression on this country. He appeared with the New York Philharmonic as piano soloist and has been active in concert appearances in various sections of the country.)


.1 was born in Florence, in the Italian province of Tuscany •Where my family had live din peace for 400 years. I know that one of my forefathers was a rabfcl in Siena, a small town of Tuscany, but my family came about a century ago to Florence. There were no artistic traditions in my father's family; those yifive generally lacking in Italian Jews, who are a very cultivated «lass, prominent in professions and sciences, but not particularly lit art, nor especially in the musical field. Italy had not only very f*w Jewish composers; there was not even that Important "legion" of musical interpreters (pianists, violinists, cellists, conductors) Which honored Eastern and Central Europe so much. We did not «ven have many Jewish singers. But in my mother's family, everybody was very musical, and it is certainly from her side that I inherited my musical lnclina. tion. My mother herself was a good pianist, although not pro. fessional, and she WAS my first teacher. She taught me one year, ..tin the instigation of my materi a l grandfather, and unknown to -iiiy father, who was a banker and iirho was not too willing to have • fen artist in his family. , \\; Early Training /,.,;•» I started with the piano when . % was nine years old; one year i inter my dear grandfather, who {had been my "good angel" in •i :jersuading my parents to let me •* itudy music seriously, suddenly • ' ied. His was a marvelous mind >H nd he was a very pious man. • 'Stricken by a heart attack in the << tareet, on a Friday evening, he asked to be brought to the Syna• ft'ogue, where he prayed for the "Jmst-time, and then, brought back ^-{46 his home, he died peacefully : -ft' few hours later; a wonderful

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••i To my grandfather, I owe not > < > $nly my musical Inclination and lJ r Vxy deepest religious feelings, but ,»1BO the first suggestion to write Jewish music. But this happened ;-iiany years after his' death and *j< shall tell you about it later. ;• Until two years ago, the life "jOff Jews in Italy was mostly quiet *nd easy. We know about dlfferoimce> of faith, but we were not • *ware of difference of civil < intending. The assimilation was, I . jrom this point of view, almost , •Complete. Florence bad a prosper; tins Jewish community, a rabbini_' eal college, and a splendid symv

cality" of my native city; it seems that I succeeded so well in my purpose that I was generally throughout Italy called "the musician of Florence." My two piano teachers were Jews; the first my mother's cousin Edgardo del Valle De Pas, who was professor at the Conservatory of Florence and a fine composer; the second, Ernesto Consolo, who lived In America a long time and taught in Chicago before coming to Florence. Curiously enough, my teacher in composition, Ildebrando Pizzetti; who was a perfect "Aryan", had some feeling for Jewish music and a predilection for biblical subjects, his best opera, "Debora and Gael," won for him the prize of the Royal Italian Academy, and another opera is called "Abraham and Isaac." It was through him that I had my first scientific knowledge of Jewish music, but rather through the derivations in the Gregorian Chant than from a direct source. Pizzetti also was a close friend and an admirer of Ernest Bloch; he wrote the first extensive article which appeared in the Italian press on Bloch in 1913; and in the same year Bloch sent Pizzetti his "Schelomo," at that time still in manuscript, which I played soon afterward with Barjansky, the cellist, in several concerts, for the first time in Italy. Music of Bloch The music of Bloch was the real "revelation" to me; it showed me the possibility, of which I had always dreamed, to create a real authentic Jewish music throtgh the feelings, from the heart, rather than on historical documents; it had the wonderful faculty of expressing these feelings, through modern technical means, and at the same time to transpose it far off in the remote, colorful atmosphere of the heroic, biblical times. I met Bloch some years later in Florence (where "Schelomo" f.nd his symphony "Israel" had the warmest success), and we ber gan a personal friendship, which continued in a long (and for me, interesting), correspondence. I consider him a real master, from every standpoint one of the greatest composers of our time; and his works of biblical inspiration (especially the first ones, which are bound to some of my dearest remembrances ..nd deepest emotions) are among my best beloved. In 1925, when all my uncles from a maternal side were dead,

the name extinguished, and the house deserted, it happened that I discovered in a bookcase, hidden under many books, a tiny little book of musical manuscripts. It was in the handwriting of my Grandfather; there were some Hebrew prayers set to music by himself. No one, even in the family, knew that he had been able to compose (it was "the ojd gen tlemen's secret") and the music was perhaps not of great value; still it was of greatest importance to me. Source of Whole Life I found there the source of my whole life, both in music and in faith; it was the revelation, the symbol perhaps of my destiny . . . And so I decided to compose my first Jewish work, which I dedicated to his memory and composed for the piano—the instrument which he wished me to play. I asked my mother to sing for me again the old, beloved melodies which I had heard him sing in my youth, and on these themes, through "the oral tradition" (as in the old times) I constructed my Hebrew rhapsody, "LeDanse del Ro David" ( K i n g David's Dances), a series of seven unrelated episodes. Today it is strange to say that this work had the most official first performance; it was chosen to represent modern Italian music in the International Festival of Contemporary Music held in Frankfort on the Main in 1927, and it was played (and how splendidly!) by the most "Aryan" among German pianists — Walter Gieseking. Ten years later, In 1937, although I knew he could no longer play music by a Jewish composer, I sent him my latest piano pieces, telling him J only wanted him to know . . . . He answered with a charming letter which began: "When the postman brought me your music, I was just playing, for my own pleasure, your 'Three Chorales on Hebrew Melodies,' which I find still admirable." I tried with the "Chorales" to construct a stricter and purelj contrapuntistic work on Hebrew melodies, not as an initiation, but somehow inspired by the chorales which Johann . Sebastian Bach ( and so many after him) composed on Lutheran chorales. In a word, a sort of "Jewish Bach-Busonl." But the most important at least in proportion, and I believe the most significant among my works of Jewish by far my second violin Concerto, "The

Prophets," written in 1931, at request of Jascha Heifetz. •'Concerto Italiano" Heifetz had already played very often, also in this country, my first violin concerto, which I called "Concerto Italiano." When he asked me to lay great pleasure, to write a new concerto for him, I felt I wanted to express another aspect of my origin, of my personality—the Jewish jone. It was also the time when the anti-Semitic movements started and became harder in Middle Europe, and my reaction was that I felt proud of belonging to a race so unjustly persecuted; I wanted to express this pride in some large work, glorifying "the splendor of the past days" (as Whitman would have said) and the burning inspiration which enflamed the "envoys of God," the Prophets. The violin seemed to me particularly adapted to personify, as a protagonist, the free and vivid eloquence of the Prophets, while the orchestra, in the multiform aspects of the symphonic texture, could evoke all the voices of the surrounding world: voices of people, voices fo Nature, voices of God. An ambitious plan, I acknowledge, and, preparing myself for such a task, I wished to base my attempt on some foundation, more reliable, scientifically speaking, than the "oral tradition" which helped me for the former work. But I could find very little; the songs of the Italian Jews, belonging to the Sephardic group, are greatly corrupted from the original Palestinian. The only work I was able to

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- B u t alas, the music I heard jthere, since my youth, was ex• !|tremely poor and gate me ;very •-j |ew Buggestlons . . . you may r : Jtaagine the worst music of Ital- ton opera of the 19th. century, i ittnf. you will have an: idea of • njrhat I heard In the synagogue. •''••%' had often, in my earlier age, •I it'he desire, the ambition, to write • something of biblical inspiration, ;•' {(and the stories of Esther and %.*>t Ruth were at that time my ''{> favorite reading,) but I did not §')really know where-I might find ' a u t h e n t i c Jewish music. Still, I remembered having d heard from my maternal grand'ather (in the family meetings on ^;:the evenings of Pessach and of •''^urim, which remain the happiest ^ ; and "most moving memories of ; r : iay. youth) some,: melodies, some ; ig;r iragments,•: some cantillatlons, ^ jWhIch really haunted me; and ^ 0 ^ liqpjep.aBkeA my mother to ^/$!^:'tQ::>ia<e)}[4galn.^I was to use >%v0Mj&i&.i-:p'%':y

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^^'ijii^ii'ff'-^Sffi^^^lnflnences '• : ".. ^|a*^;Jiif ;;flMt";saaid^deepest inspira^ ; ^^lw^^J»wejror?:*e^-rather.; Ital,;itj;^|Bfe;thto:;^e^sh;:V-iuWt;';not'V only ^yfJtt^lattfijM^jpvtJcolarly: Tuscan, 1

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find of the historic scientific kind on the Jewish Italian melodies was a collection, printed in Florence about 1870, by Federico Consolo, an I t a l i a n violinist, which I also discovered in the bookcase of my grandfather; and I remembered that I had known CODSOIO himself, (a evry old man when I was a little child) who sang these melodies in the synagogue, with vivid, almost fanatic eyes, and with a shrill voice. I know scholars despise this" collection, not only for the bar. monization of the melodies, in a dull 19tfa century style, but for the themes themselves, often doubtfully transcribed. In fact, the few I picked out I tried to change end to bring back to a more authentic, or at least more plausible form; and for the rest, I had to supply themes of my own invention. "The Prophets" I remember when Toscanini examined the score (and was so very much interested in the historical side of the work, about which he asked me many explanations) he found my own themes much more Jewish than the traditional ones, and perhaps he was right. Toscanini granted the great honor of a first performance of "The Prophets" under his direction, and with Jascha Heifets as soloist, in Carnegie Hall, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, in April, 1933. I heard the work one year later, played by Heifetz in Italy, several times and with the most extraordinary success . But "The Prophets" was also (Continued on page 5.)




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Profile for Jewish Press

June 28, 1940  

Jewish Press

June 28, 1940  

Jewish Press