3April 1895 - 16 March 1968
MarioCastelnuovo-Tedesco is, to most people, merely one of a vast number ofcomposers - from this century or any other - whose name is slightly familiar,probably in this case from hearing something for guitar on the radio orin a concert once. Every day we are told that such-and-such a composeris 'unduly neglected' or a 'forgotten master'. Most of these composersdo indeed have considerable merit; however, few of them can have writtenquite such a wide variety of music as immediately appealing and as rewardingfor both performer and listener as Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Castelnuovowas born and brought up in the Italian province of Tuscany and began composingat the age of only nine. In 1915 he began study with Ildebrando Pizzetti,one of the most influential teachers in Italy at the time. He also cameto the notice of pianist and composer Alfredo Casella, who was an earlyproponent of his music, programming it in his recitals and promoting itin his many writings on new music. Castelnuovo was a successful pianist,performing as soloist, accompanist and chamber musician, and was involvedin the formation of the Societą Nazionale di Musica (later SocietąItaliana di Musica Moderna), along with Pizzetti, Casella, Gian FrancescoMalipiero, Ottorino Respighi, Vittorio Gui and Vincenzo Tommasini (all,apart from Respighi, practically vanished from concert programs; one mightalmost be forgiven for thinking that Italian composition ceased for around30 years after Puccini's death, although in fact the country was very active).
In1938, Castelnuovo was forced by the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Italyto flee to America, where he soon found work as a composer of film musicfor MGM Studios. He contributed to over 200 films and at the same timesomehow found time to write concert music, although he evidently foundthe experience of leaving his homeland shattering. In time, he became oneof Los Angeles' most sought-after composition teachers, with pupils includingJohn Williams, Henry Mancini and André Previn, the latter commentingthat 'pupil of Castelnuovo-Tedesco' was virtually a requirement for youngcomposers to be accepted at the studios. Apart from being admired as acomposer, he was held in the highest esteem as a friend by all who knewhim; his cataloguer Nick Rossi, for instance, commented, 'Mario Castelnuovo-Tedescowas not only the kindest and most generous person I have ever known, hewas also the most brilliant.'
Castelnuovo'scatalogue extends to opus 208 or thereabouts - not to mention works withoutopus number - including operas (one on 'The Merchant of Venice', another,'Sałl', concertos for various instruments (his second violin concerto,subtitled 'I Profeti', commissioned by Heifetz), chamber music for manydifferent combinations of instruments, ballet scores, oratorios and cantatas,nearly 300 solo songs with piano plus many more with guitar....
Itis perhaps not so hard to see why Castelnuovo's music has not been moresuccessful. At a time when to be anything but 'progressive' was a mortalsin in the arts, he must have appeared reactionary (writing tunes in the1940s and '50s!) and therefore, by implication, sterile.
Nowthat we have lost our horror of melody he is due for rediscovery and rehabilitation.Castelnuovo of course understood the pressures of modernism, as he madeclear in this quote from an interview, which is also a beautifully succinctsummary of his artistic creed:
'Ihave never believed in modernism, or in neoclassicism, or any other isms.I believe that music is a form of language capable of progress and renewal(and I myself believe that I have a feeling for the contemporary and, therefore,am sufficiently modern). Yet music should not discard what was contributedby preceding generations. Every means of expression can be useful and just,if it is used at the opportune moment (through inner necessity rather thanthrough caprice or fashion). The simplest means are generally the best.I believe that my personality was formed to a decisive degree quite early,but what I have sought to do, during my artistic evolution, has been toexpress myself with means always simpler and more direct, in a languagealways clearer and more precise.'