Showing posts with label 1895. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1895. Show all posts

3 April 2020

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – composer

Versatile musician wrote for stringed instruments and for films

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco began composing music for the piano when he was a boy, growing up in Siena
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco began composing music for the
piano when he was a boy, growing up in Siena
One of the most admired composers of the 20th century, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, was born on this day in 1895 in Florence.

He composed more than 100 pieces of music for the guitar, many of them written for the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia.

Because of anti-semitism in Europe, Mario emigrated to the United States in 1939 where he went to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, composing music for about 200 films.

Mario was descended from a family of bankers that had lived in Siena since the Jews were expelled from Spain in the 16th century.

He was introduced to the piano by his mother and was composing music by the time he was nine years old. His mother recognised his musical talent and encouraged him to study the piano and composition under well-regarded musicians.

Mario came to the attention of the composer and pianist Alfredo Casella, who included some of his work in his repertoire and promoted him throughout Europe as an up-and-coming young composer.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco recognised the potential of the guitar after meeting Segovia in 1932
Castelnuovo-Tedesco recognised the potential
of the guitar after meeting Segovia in 1932
In 1926, Mario’s first opera, La mandragola, was premiered. Based on a play by Niccolò Machiavelli, it was the first of his many works inspired by great literature.

Another source of inspiration for his music was his Jewish heritage. His violin concerto No 2, written in 1931 at the request of violinist Jascha Heifetz, showed his pride in his origins in the face of increasing anti-semitism in Europe.

Mario first met Segovia at the 1932 festival of the International Society of Contemporary Music in Venice, which prompted him to start writing for the guitar.

He went on to write about 100 compositions for the guitar, some dedicated to Segovia. He also composed concertos specifically for the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

By the 1930s, Mario was not only one of Italy’s leading contemporary composers, but also a sought-after pianist and an insightful critic.

But even before the Italian Racial Laws were introduced in 1938, Mario was banned from the radio and had performances of his works cancelled.

Listen to Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Opus 129 for guitar, played by the Tuscan guitarist Martina Barlotta

Conductor Arturo Toscanini and Heifetz both supported him in his bid to emigrate to the US and Mario left Italy with his wife and two sons on a ship from Trieste in July 1939 before the Second World War started.

Arturo Toscanini, who supported Castelnuovo- Tedesco in his bid to reach the United States
Arturo Toscanini, who supported Castelnuovo-
Tedesco in his bid to reach the United States
He made his American debut performing his second piano concerto with the New York Philharmonic.

Mario went to Los Angeles to work as a composer of film music for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He was also asked by Rita Hayworth to write the music for her 1948 film The Loves of Carmen released by Columbia pictures.

He taught many other film composers, including John Williams, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, Nelson Riddle and Andre Previn.

Mario became a US citizen in 1946 but frequently visited Italy after the war.

In 1958 he won the Concorso Campari with his opera The Merchant of Venice, which was first performed in 1961 at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco died in 1968 at the age of 72 in Beverly Hills. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery.

A collection of his manuscripts was donated to the Library of Congress in Washington by his family in 2000. The Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection is now accessible online.

A tree-lined avenue within Florence's Parco delle Cascine. which was once a hunting estate owned by the Medici
A tree-lined avenue within Florence's Parco delle Cascine.
which was once a hunting estate owned by the Medici
Travel tip:

Florence, where Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born, has named a road after the composer. Fittingly it joins up with Via Arturo Toscanini, who was one of his close friends. The road is near Parco delle Cascine, a park on the north bank of the River Arno.  The origins of the park can be traced to 1563, when it was developed as a farming and hunting estate for the Medici family. It became a public park in the early 19th century.

The Piazza Unità d'Italia in the centre of Trieste, which was
Castlenuovo-Tedesco's starting point on his voyage to America
Travel tip:

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in 1939 on board the SS Saturnia, which set sail from Trieste, a seaport that is the capital city of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region. Trieste lies in the northernmost part of the high Adriatic near the border with Slovenia and 30 kilometres north of Croatia. Over the centuries it has been ruled by the Romans, Venetians, French, Austrians, Germans and Yugoslavians. It officially became part of the Italian republic in 1954. Today, Trieste is a lively and cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building. In 2012, Lonely Planet called Trieste ‘the world’s most underrated travel destination’. It is a fascinating place to visit because of the Venetian, Slovenian, Austrian and Hungarian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine.

Also on this day:

1639: The birth of composer Alessandro Stradella

1881: The birth of politician Alcide De Gasperi

1899: The birth of supercentenarian Maria Redaelli

(Picture credits: Parco delle Cascine by Sailko; Piazza Unità by Diego Delso)


3 September 2019

Giuseppe Bottai - Fascist turncoat

Ex-Mussolini minister who fought with Allies

Giuseppe Bottai met Mussolini for the  first time at a Futurist rally in Rome
Giuseppe Bottai met Mussolini for the
first time at a Futurist rally in Rome
Giuseppe Bottai, who served as a minister in the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini but finished the Second World War fighting with the Allies against Germany, was born on this day in 1895 in Rome.

Bottai helped Mussolini establish the National Fascist Party and served as Minister of National Education under Mussolini between 1936 and 1943. He supported Mussolini’s anti-semitic race laws and founded a magazine that promoted the idea of a superior Aryan race.

However, in 1943, following Italy’s disastrous fortunes in the Second World War, he was among the Fascist Grand Council members who voted for Mussolini to be arrested and removed from office.

Later, after Mussolini was freed from house arrest by German paratroopers and established as head of the Italian Social Republic, Bottai was handed a death sentence and hid in a convent before escaping to join the French Foreign Legion, eventually assisting the Allies in both the invasion of France and the invasion of Germany.

The son of a Roman wine dealer, Bottai studied at the Sapienza University of Rome until Italy declared war against Germany and the Central Powers in 1915.  Bottai enlisted in the Royal Italian Army. Wounded in battle, he obtained a Medal of Military Valour.

He met Mussolini at a Futurist meeting in Rome in 1919 and became an enthusiastic supporter of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, the forerunner of the National Fascist Party.  He became a journalist on the party’s newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, and took part in the March on Rome in 1922,

Bottai had fought for Mussolini's cause in Ethiopia yet was eventually an opponent
Bottai had fought for Mussolini's cause in
Ethiopia yet was eventually an opponent
A member of the Chamber of Deputies from 1924, he was appointed Governor of Rome in 1935 and then Governor of Addis Ababa after resigning his position in Rome to fight in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, entering Addis Ababa alongside General Pietro Badoglio in 1936.

Once the war in Ethiopia was over, Bottai returned to Rome to take up the position as Education Minister. He implemented laws to safeguard Italian heritage and culture and to preserve places of natural beauty.

He also became a Germanophile, regularly voicing his admiration for that country and establishing a magazine that not only supported Hitler’s vision of an Aryan master race but also advocated military intervention in other countries.  He endorsed Italy’s entry into the Second World War on the side of Germany.

Yet in 1943, following the disastrous campaign on the Eastern Front, in which Italian casualties numbered more 116,000, and with Italy facing inevitable defeat, Bottai sided with Dino Grandi’s proposal to the Fascist Grand Council that Mussolini be overthrown.

The humiliated Mussolini was determined to exact revenge and when he was re-established in power as the head of Germany’s puppet state in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic, death sentences were passed on all those who conspired against him on the Grand Council, including Bottai.

Bottai’s response was to flee Italy and join the French Foreign Legion, giving himself the name Andrea Battaglia.  He took part in Operation Dragoon, the code name for the Allied invasion of southern France, and later the invasion of Germany itself.

talian soldiers on the battlefield in Ethiopia after Mussolini sought to expand his empire in northern Africa
Italian soldiers on the battlefield in Ethiopia after Mussolini
sought to expand his empire in northern Africa
He continued to serve in the French Foreign Legion until 1948.  On being discharged, he was allowed to return to Italy under amnesty because of his part in the overthrowing of Mussolini and his active participation in the fight against Hitler.

He returned in Italy in 1953, Bottai founded the periodical ABC and Il Popolo di Roma, financed by another ex-Fascist, Vittorio Cini, who supported centrist and conservative views.

He died in Rome in 1959.  Among those who attended his funeral was Aldo Moro, the progressive Christian Democrat minister who became Bottai's friend and assistant.

The resort town of Salò sits on the shore of Lake Garda
The resort town of Salò sits on the shore of Lake Garda
Travel tip:

The Italian Social Republic was also known as the Republic of Salò after Mussolini established his headquarters in a villa in the town of Salò, on the shores of Lake Garda. For all its regrettable association with such a despised figure as Mussolini, it has recovered to become a pleasant resort visited by many tourists each year. Its promenade is the longest of any of the lakeside towns and it has a Duomo rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century as well as a museum commemorating, among other things, the resistance against Fascism.

The Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, where Mussolini  addressed a historic rally in 1919
The Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, where Mussolini
addressed a historic rally in 1919
Travel tip:

The Fascist party is said to have its roots in a rally of the Fasci Italiani di combattimento held in 1919 in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, not far from the Piazza del Duomo.  The square was adjacent to Palazzo Castani, which would be the national headquarters of the Partito Nazional Fascista from 1921 to 1924, and of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano from 1943 to 1945.   During the Roman period the piazza was a forum.  In 1030 the Participants of this rally were known as sansepolcristi, and were granted special privileges under the regime.

More reading:

Why General Pietro Badoglio turned against Mussolini

The Republic of Salò: Mussolini's last stand

The daring raid that freed captive Mussolini

Also on this day:

301: The founding of the Republic of San Marino

1695: The birth of violinist Pietro Locatelli

1950: Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina wins the first Formula One world championship


6 May 2016

Rudolph Valentino - star of silent films

Heart-throb actor who died tragically young

Photo of Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino in a publicity shot for his
hit movie The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The man who would become Rudolph Valentino was born on this day in 1895 in Castellaneta, a small town in a rocky region of Puglia notable for steep ravines.

Born the second youngest of four children by the French wife of an Italian veterinary surgeon, he was christened Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla.

When he arrived in America as an immigrant in 1913, he was registered as Rodolfo Guglielmi. His first movie credit listed him as Rudolpho di Valentina and he appeared under nine different variations of that name before achieving fame as Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1920.

During the silent movie boom, he enjoyed more success in The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik and his smouldering good looks made him a 1920s sex symbol, nicknamed "The Latin Lover" and adored by countless female fans.

Yet his route to fame was difficult. Unable to find work at home, he joined the exodus of southern Italians to the United States and aged just 18 boarded a boat to New York, disembarking at Ellis Island on 13 December, 1913.

He soon ran out of money and, even in the harsh New York winter, he had to sleep rough in Central Park.  Eventually, after working as a dishwasher and a gardener, he found employment at Maxim's Restaurant-Cabaret as a "taxi dancer", a paid-for partner for female clients.

Maxim's attracted a wealthy clientele and it is there that Valentino began to capitalise on his good looks and natural charm to become a sought-after partner. But he had to leave after the relationship he developed with a Chilean heiress landed him in jail.

Valentino movie poster
When the lady in question sought a divorce from her husband, Valentino agreed to take the stand to support her claims of infidelity on her husband's part, testifying that he was seeing a female dancer at Maxim's.  Out of revenge, the husband, a well-connected businessman, had Valentino arrested, along with a known madam, on trumped-up vice charges.

He was released after only a few days but the scandal cost him his job and when the heiress then shot her ex-husband during a custody dispute, he decided it would be in his interests to move on and he joined a travelling musical troupe that would eventually lead him to the West Coast, and Hollywood.

There he inveigled himself with more wealthy women by offering private dance tuition. At the same time, he was pursuing his ambition to work in the cinema and landed a series of bit-part roles.

It was while travelling to Florida for one of these that he read the novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by the Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and decided to seek out June Mathis, a screenwriter for Metro Pictures, who had bought the rights to the novel, in the hope of securing a part. As it happens, Mathis had seen him perform and already had him in mind.

The movie was a massive success, one of the first to make more than $1 million at the box office, and Valentino became a star.  He was paid accordingly. At his peak he earned $10,000 a week at a time when the average wage in the United States was $2,000 a year.

Yet contentment eluded him.  At times difficult to work with, he clashed with a number of directors and a bitter dispute with one of his studios led to him being unable to work at all after they refused to release him from his contract.  Despite his earnings power, he also ran up huge debts.

Although he was married twice, albeit divorced both times, he found himself the target for gossip and innuendo about his sexuality. His taste for jewellery and exotic clothes led some male writers to imply that he was gay. One columnist enraged him so much he took boxing lessons from Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion, and challenged the writer to a fight.

Photo of crowds waiting for Valentino funeral cortege
Crowds gather outside the Campbell Funeral Home in
New York ahead of Rudolph Valentino's funeral 
Valentino's death in 1926 at the age of only 31 shocked the world.  He collapsed at a New York hotel and was taken to hospital. At first he was thought to have appendicitis but it transpired he had perforated gastric ulcers. This in turn led him to develop peritonitis and pleuritis, conditions affecting the membranes lining his abdomen and lungs, which proved fatal.

The outpouring of grief among his fans was such that 100,000 people, mainly female, lined the streets of New York as his funeral cortege made its way to St Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in the Broadway theatre district.  A similar number were said to have filed past his coffin at the Frank Campbell Funeral Home, where his body was displayed for a number of days before the private ceremony.

Although his debts meant there was little in his estate to pay the costs, a second funeral then took place in Beverley Hills in California and Valentino's body was laid to rest in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, in a crypt provided by June Mathis, his scriptwriter friend, who had bought it for a husband she subsequently divorced.

Travel tip:

Valentino is honoured in several ways in his home town of Castellaneta.  A Rudolph Valentino Museum was opened in his childhood home and a statue unveiled in 1961. A Foundation was created to promote his life and his work and in 2009 a film school - the Centro Studi Cine Club Rodolfo Valentino Castellaneta - was opened in the town.

Photo of Casa Valentino in Castellaneta
Rudolph Valentino's family home in Castellaneta
Travel tip:

The Valentino Museum, where the exhibits include the bed in which he slept as a boy, can be found on Via Vittorio Emanuele, in the old part of Castellaneta, which has a medieval layout of narrow alleys and streets and sits on a ridge above the sheer-sided Gravina di Castellaneta.

(Photo of Valentino family home by Pietro d'Ambrosio CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading

Pina Menichelli: silent movie diva who achieved worldwide fame

How Shakespeare made Zeffirelli a household name

Spaghetti westerns opened doors for top producer

Also on this day:

1527: The Sack of Rome

1963: The birth of Alessandra Ferri, prima ballerina assoluta