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Giuseppe Martucci

born: 6 January 1856
died: 1 June 1909
country: Italy

Giuseppe Martucci (born in Capua in 1856, died in Naples in 1909) lived a short but intense life. He was a pianist of international fame, much admired by Liszt and Rubinstein, as well as a great conductor, a composer, and the Dean of the Liceo Musicale di Bologna where he also taught composition.

Oddly enough, Martucci’s name is mostly associated with a dramatic episode that occurred in Bologna in 1932. To commemorate the twentieth (actually the twenty-third) anniversary of his friend’s death, Toscanini elected to conduct an all-Martucci programme divided between two evenings. Rehearsals went well and dignitaries from Rome were expected to attend this event. But word spread that the maestro would not perform the Fascist Anthem at the opening ceremony, a fact that provoked the ire of the officials and members of the party. A terrible riot ensued during which Toscanini was hurt—an event that hastened his exile from Italy.

Two of the composers that Martucci most promoted as a conductor were his giant contemporaries Brahms and Wagner (it was he who introduced Tristan und Isolde in Italy). No wonder then that his music should be influenced by theirs; Brahms for strictness of form mostly, and Wagner for colourful orchestration and the particular use of chromaticism and appoggiaturas. Nonetheless, such influences on Martucci’s music certainly do not impair its originality, its personality, or its definite Italian flavour. What does make Martucci’s output an oddity is the fact that this Italian composer wrote no operas (a well-established Italian tradition) but completed two superb large-scale symphonies and several Lieder—both very un-Italian means of expression. He also wrote a piano concerto, several short pieces for orchestra, many transcriptions and a great amount of chamber and instrumental music, mostly for the piano.

from notes by Alfredo Bonavera © 1988

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