Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

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Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (April 3, 1895 – March 16, 1968) was an Italian composer. He was known as one of the foremost guitar composers in the twentieth century with almost one hundred compositions for that instrument. In 1939 he migrated to the United States and became a film composer for MGM Studios for some 200 Hollywood movies for the next fifteen years. He also wrote concertos for such soloists as Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky.


Born in Florence, he was descended from a prominent banking family that had lived in the city since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was first introduced to the piano by his mother, and he composed his first pieces when he was just nine years old. After completing a degree in piano in 1914 under Edgardo Del Valle de Paz (1861–1920), well-known composer and pianist pupil of Beniamino Cesi, he began studying composition under renowned Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti, and received a diploma in composition in 1918. He soon came to the attention of composer and pianist Alfredo Casella, who included the young Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work in his repertoire. Casella also ensured that Castelnuovo's works would be included in the repertoires of the Societa Nazionale di Musica (later the Corporazione delle Nuove Musiche), granting him exposure throughout Europe as one of Italy's up-and-coming young composers. Works by him were included in the first festival of the International Society of Contemporary Music, held in Salzburg, Austria, in 1922.[1]

In 1926, Castelnuovo-Tedesco premiered his opera La Mandragola, based on a play by Niccolò Machiavelli. It was the first of his many works inspired by great literature, and which included interpretations of works by Aeschylus, Virgil, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Miguel de Cervantes, Federico García Lorca, and especially William Shakespeare. Another major source of inspiration for him was his Jewish heritage, most notably the Bible and Jewish liturgy. His Violin Concerto No. 2 (1931), written at the request of Jascha Heifetz, was also an expression of his pride in his Jewish origins, or as he described it, the "splendor of past days," in the face of rising anti-Semitism that was sweeping across much of Europe.

At the 1932 festival of the International Society of Contemporary Music, held in Venice, Castelnuovo-Tedesco first met the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia. The meeting inspired Castelnuovo-Tedesco to write his Guitar Concerto No. 1, one of the first of almost one hundred compositions for that instrument, which earned him a reputation as one of the foremost composers for the guitar in the twentieth century. Later on, Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed many other guitar pieces dedicated to Segovia, who was an enthusiast of his style.

The following year the Italian fascist government developed a program toward the arts, which were viewed as a tool for propaganda and promotion of racial ideas.[citation needed] Even before the Italian government promulgated the Italian Racial Laws in 1938, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was banned from the radio and performances of his work were cancelled. The new racial laws, however, convinced him that he should leave Italy.[2] He wrote to Arturo Toscanini, the former musical director of La Scala, who left Italy in 1933, explaining his plight, and Toscanini responded by promising to sponsor him as an immigrant in the United States. Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

In the meantime, he wrote his Cello Concerto in G minor, Op. 72, for Gregor Piatigorsky. It was premiered with the dedicatee under Arturo Toscanini in New York in 1935.[3] For Piatigorsky he also wrote a Toccata (1935), and a piece called Greeting Card, Op. 170/3, based on the spelling of Piatigorsky’s name.[4]

Like many artists who fled fascism, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in Hollywood, where, with the help of Jascha Heifetz, he landed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a film composer. Over the next fifteen years, he worked on scores for some 200 films there and at the other major film studios. Rita Hayworth hired him to write the music for The Loves of Carmen (1948), produced by Hayworth for her Beckworth Productions and released by Columbia Pictures.

He was a significant influence on other major film composers, including Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Herman Stein and André Previn. Jerry Goldsmith, Marty Paich and John Williams were all his pupils,[5] as was Scott Bradley, who studied privately with him while both were on staff at MGM. His relationship to Hollywood was ambiguous: later in life he attempted to deny the influence that it had on his own work, but he also believed that it was an essentially American artform, much as opera was European.

In 1946 Castelnuovo-Tedesco became a U.S. citizen, but he remained very close to Italy, which he frequently visited. In 1958 he won the Concorso Campari with the opera The Merchant of Venice, which was first performed in 1961 at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni.[2]

In 1962 he wrote Les Guitares bien tempérées for two guitars, a set of 24 preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys, for the duo-guitarists Alexandre Lagoya and Ida Presti. This was inspired by The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer Castelnuovo-Tedesco revered.

In the United States, Castelnuovo-Tedesco also composed new operas and works based on American poetry, Jewish liturgy, and the Bible. He died in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 72. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

The Library of Congress in Washington, DC hosts the Mario Castelnuovo Collection, a collection of manuscripts of the composer, donated by the family in 2000. The catalogue is accessible online.[6]

in 2005 the autobiography of the composer (Una vita di musica: un libro di ricordi), written shortly before his death, was published in Italy.[7]



  • Alghe, Op. 12 (1919)
  • I Naveganti, Op. 13 (1919)
  • Cipressi, Op. 17 (1920)
  • Vitalba e Biancospino, Fiaba Silvana, Op. 21 (1921)
  • Epigrafe, Op. 25 (1922)
  • Crinoline (1929)


  • Figaro. Concert-Rhapsodie on Rossini's Barber of Seville
  • Sea Murmurs
  • Valse-Bluette, Op. 170 #24 written on Erick Friedman's name
  • Alt Wien


  • I Nottambuli (Variazioni Fantastiche) for Cello and Piano, Op. 47 No. 1 (1927)
  • Cello Sonata, Op. 50 (1928) II Arietta con variazioni
  • Canto Ebraico for Cello and Piano, Op. 53 No. 3 (1928)
  • Notturno Sull'Acqua for Cello and Piano, Op. 82a (1935)
  • Scherzino for Cello and Piano, Op. 82b (1935)
  • Toccata for Cello and Piano, Op. 83 (1935)
  • Meditation 'Kol Nidre' for Cello and Piano, R111a (1947)
  • Greeting Cards for Cello and Piano, Op. 170 No. 3 (1954)


  • Prelude on the Name for Frederick Tulan, Op. 170, No. ? (1954)
  • Six Preludes for Organ on a Theme of Bruto Senigaglia (1962)


  • Concerto da camera, Op. 146a


  • Variations à travers les siècles, Op. 71 (1932)
  • Sonata Hommage à Boccherini, Op. 77 (1934)
  • Capriccio Diabolico (Homage to Paganini), Op. 85a (1935)
  • Aranci in fiore, Op. 87a (1935)
  • Tarantella, Op. 87b (1935)
  • Variations plaisantes sur un petit air populaire, Op. 95
  • Rondò, Op. 129
  • Suite, Op. 133
  • Greeting Cards, Op. 170
  • Tre preludi mediterranei, Op. 176
  • Escarramán, Op. 177
  • Passacaglia, Op. 180
  • Platero y Yo, Op. 190
  • Tre preludi al Circeo, Op. 194
  • 24 Caprichos de Goya, Op. 195 (1961)
  • Appunti, Op. 210

Two guitars[edit]

  • Les Guitares bien tempérées, Op. 199 (24 Preludes and Fugues in all 24 major and minor keys)
  • "Fuga Elegiaca" (dedicated to Evangelos & Liza Duo)


  • Sonatina for Flute and Guitar, Op. 205
  • Sonata for Clarinet & Piano, Op. 128 [Rec:]
  • Eclogues, for flute, English horn & guitar, Op. 206
  • Guitar Quintet (String Quartet and Guitar), Op. 143
  • Fantasia for Piano and Guitar, Op. 145
  • Aria for Oboe, Cello and Guitar, Op. 146C, No. 3.
  • "Morning in Iowa", Voice, Accordion, Banjo, Clarinet, Double Bass, Percussion
  • Choral With Variations for 4 Horns in F, Op. 162

Orchestral - Overtures[edit]

  • Overture: La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew), Op. 61 (1930)
  • Overture: La dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), Op. 73 (1933)
  • Overture: Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice), Op. 76 (1933)
  • Overture: Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar), Op. 78 (1934)
  • Overture: Il racconto d'inverno (The Winter's Tale), Op. 80 (1935)
  • Overture: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 108 (1940)
  • Overture: King John, Op. 111 (1941)
  • Overture: Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134 (1947)
  • Overture: The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135 (1947)
  • Overture: Much Ado about Nothing, Op. 164 (1953)
  • Overture: As You Like It, Op. 166 (1953)


  • Violin
    • Violin Concerto No. 1
    • Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 66 I Profeti (The Prophets; for Jascha Heifetz)
  • Piano
    • Concerto for Piano No. 1 in D major, Op. 46 (1927)
    • Concerto for Piano No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 (1936-7)
    • Four Dances from "Love's Labours Lost" for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 162 (1953)
  • Harp
    • Concertino for Harp and Chamber Orchestra, op. 93
  • Guitar
    • Guitar Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 99 (1939)
    • Serenade for guitar and orchestra, Op. 118
    • Guitar Concerto No. 2 in C major, Op. 160 (1953)
    • Concerto for Two Guitars, Op. 201 (1962)


La mandragola (prol., 2, after N. Machiavelli), op.20, 1920–23, Venice, Fenice, May 1926, rev., 2 acts in Ger., Wiesbaden, Staatsoper, 1928 All’s Well that Ends Well (3, after W. Shakespeare), op.182, It. trans., as Giglietta di Narbona, unperf. The Merchant of Venice (3, after Shakespeare), op.181, 1956, as Il mercante di Venezia, Florence, Comunale, 25 May 1961, in orig. Eng. version, Los Angeles, Shrine Auditorium, 13 April 1966 Saul (3, after V. Alfieri), op.191, 1958–60, unperf. The Importance of Being Ernest (comic op, 3, after O. Wilde), op.198, 1961–2, RAI, 1972, staged, New York, La Guardia, 22 Feb 1975


Bacco in Toscana (after F. Redi), op. 39, 2 solo vv, chorus, orch, 1925-6, Milan, 1931; Pesce turchino, Florence, 1937 (after pf piece La sirenetta e il pesce turchino]; Bas-relief: la reine Nefertiti, 1937, Paris, 1938; The Birthday of the Infanta (Wilde), op. 115, 1942, New Orleans, 1947; The Octoroon Ball (K. Dunham), op. 136, 1947-9.


  • Stelle Cadenti (Shooting Star) cycle of 12 songs in Italian for voice and piano (1919)
  • Sei odi di Orazio (Six odes of Horatius) for voice and piano (1930)
  • Naomi and Ruth, Op. 27 (1947) Cantata for Soprano, Women's Chorus and Orchestra
  • Sacred Service for the Sabbath Eve, Op. 122 (1943) for Tenor, Baritone, Speaker, Organ and Orchestra
  • Memorial Service for the Departed, Op. 192 (1960)
  • The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra, for soprano and guitar (1966)


  • Romancero gitano, for mixed choir & guitar, Op. 152
  • Lecho Dodi, for mixed choir and cantor, Op. 90

Film music[8][edit]

Credited contributions (full list of the 11 scores that were credited to the composer)
Uncredited contributions as "composer of original music" (selected)
Uncredited contributions as "composer of stock music" (selected)


Castelnuovo-Tedesco's autobiography, A life in music: a book of memories, was published posthumously in 2005:

  • Una vita di musica: un libro di ricordi (in Italian), James Westby (ed.), with an introduction by Mila De Sanctis, Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005. ISBN 978-88-7923-195-4

Other writings the composer have been catalogued.[9]


  1. ^ A. Compagno: "Gli anni fiorentini di Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco", Carrara, 2000.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Cello Chat
  4. ^ Terry King, Gregor Piatigorsky: The Life and Career of the Virtuoso Cellist
  5. ^ "Jerry Goldsmith - Archive Interview (entire)" on YouTube by Jon Burlingame. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  6. ^ Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection
  7. ^ Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, ''Una vita di musica: un libro di ricordi, ed. James Westby with an Introduction by Mila De Santis, Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005.
  8. ^ Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ See Westby (Grove); Westby 2005.

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Bardi, Aloma (2012). "Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco amico dei musicisti napoletani". In Pier Paolo De Martino and Daniela Margoni Tortora (ed.). Musica e musicisti a Napoli nel primo Novecento (in Italian). Napoli: Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici.
  • Compagno, Alberto (2000). Gli anni fiorentini di Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (in Italian). Carrara.
  • Gatti, Guido M. "Ricordo di Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco". In Annuario Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia (in Italian), 1969.
  • Gilardino, Angelo. "Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco". Supplement of Guitar (in Italian) 2005, no. 10.
  • Malorgio, Cosimo (2001). Censure di un musicista: la vicenda artistica e umana di Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Torino: Paravia (vol. 6), 2001. ISBN 978-88-395-6253-1
  • Orselli, Cesare (1978). "Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Mario". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Treccani. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  • Otero, Corazon (1987) Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: su vida y su obra para guitarra(in Spanish). Lomas de Bezares: Ediciones musicales Yolotl. ISBN 978-968-6226-00-3
  • Rossi, Nick (1977). Catalogue of Works by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. New York: International Castelnuovo-Tedesco Society.
  • Westby, James (2005). Catalogo delle opere: composizioni, bibliografia, filmografia (in Italian). Fiesole: Cadmo.
  • Westby, James. "Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Mario". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 18 September 2013 (subscription required).

External links[edit]