Ennio Bolognini

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Ennio Bolognini (1893–1979) was an Argentine-born American cellist, guitarist, composer, conductor, professional boxer, pilot, and flight instructor. Though seldom remembered today, during his lifetime his musical virtuosity was widely admired by his contemporaries. Pablo Casals praised him as "the greatest cello talent I ever heard in my life", and Emmanuel Feuermann is reputed to have said, “For my money, the world’s greatest cellist is not Casals, Piatigorsky, or myself, but Bolognini.”[1]

Early life and musical training[edit]

Bolognini was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father, the Italian correspondent for Le Figaro of Paris and a close friend of Arturo Toscanini (Ennio's godfather), was an amateur cellist and taught his son the instrument, with the help and encouragement of Toscanini (who began his career as a cellist). Ennio made his debut at the age of 12 and soon enrolled in the St. Cecilia Conservatory in Buenos Aires, where he studied with the Spanish cellist José García, Pablo Casals's teacher. At the age of 15 he won a Spanish/American cello competition and was awarded as first prize a cello made by the Argentine violin and cello maker Luigi Rovatti. While still a teenager he performed "The Swan", with Saint-Saëns himself at the piano; and the Richard Strauss cello sonata, also with the composer.[2]

As he continued his musical education he also became a professional boxer and won the welterweight championship of South America. After his graduation he worked in Chile for two years as a cellist and conductor.[3]


In 1923 Bolognini came to the United States to serve as a sparring partner for Luis Firpo in preparation for his legendary world heavyweight championship fight against Jack Dempsey. After the bout he remained in the US, settling in Philadelphia. Four years later he moved to Chicago, where he became principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A charismatic man with a fiery temper, Bolognini became known for such eccentricities as bringing his dog to all Symphony rehearsals. He became an aviator in the early days of flight, and was one of the founders of the Civil Air Patrol. During World War II he trained cadets to fly B-29 bombers. He spoke several languages, and multiple Italian dialects, fluently.[4] He also played flamenco guitar, and reputedly amused his friends by playing flamenco music on his cello, as if it were a guitar.[5]

After leaving the Chicago Symphony Bolognini became a popular conductor of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, a summertime publicly sponsored orchestra in Chicago. Later, he specialized in founding, building, and conducting orchestras in cities that had never had such ensembles.[6]

In 1951 he moved to Las Vegas, where he lived for the remainder of his life, and founded a short-lived symphony orchestra (unrelated to the current Las Vegas Philharmonic). He disliked musical recordings, and refused to record his performances of major cello works such as the Bach Suites. The few Bolognini recordings in existence are limited to musical vignettes and his own short compositions.[7]

His wife, Dorothy (Barber) Bolognini, works with the Las Vegas Music Teachers Association, which offers an annual scholarship competition in Bolognini's honor.[8]

Bolognini's Rovatti cello was donated by his widow to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it remains in the permanent collection. Though a significant historical instrument in its own right, the cello's particular interest lies in its 51 ballpoint pen signatures of famous musicians and entertainers, including Toscanini, Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, Emmanuel Feuermann, Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern, Joseph Szigeti, Liberace, Jack Dempsey, Bruno Walter, Janos Starker, Eugene Ormandy, Ed Sullivan, and Miklós Rózsa, all obtained by Bolognini during his career.[9]


  • Adagio and Allegro for solo cello
  • Fiesta Baska - Lamada Montanesa for solo cello
  • Seranata de Bolonini for solo cello
  • Seranata del Eco for solo cello
  • Serenata Del Gaucho for solo cello
  • Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Purcell
  • Cello's Prayer


  1. ^ Biography of Ennio Bolognini. allmusic.com archive. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  2. ^ Campbell, M. The Great Cellists. Trafalgar Square Publishers (1989), p. 223. ISBN 0943955092
  3. ^ Campbell (1989), p. 224
  4. ^ Campbell (1989), pp. 226-9
  5. ^ Great Cellists of the Past. cello.org archive. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  6. ^ Campbell (1989), p. 231
  7. ^ Campbell (1989), p. 233
  8. ^ LVMTA.org Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  9. ^ Cello by Luigi Rovatti, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1915. smithsonianchambermusic.org Retrieved November 17, 2014.

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