Aurelio Giorni

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Aurelio Giorni
Aurelio Giorni.jpg
Background information
Born (1895-09-15)September 15, 1895
Perugia, Italy
Died September 23, 1938(1938-09-23)
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Genres Classical
Occupation(s) Pianist, Composer, Pedagogue
Instruments Piano
Labels Duo-Art, Brunswick

Aurelio Giorni (15 September 1895 – 23 September 1938) was an accomplished and well known American pianist and composer of Italian birth, who immigrated to the United States in 1914. In addition to composing music and mastering piano, he toured throughout the United States both as a soloist and with the Elshuco Trio. He composed a good deal of chamber music, orchestral music, études, as well as a sonata for piano and violoncello that won a prize from the Society for the Publication of American Music in 1924.[1] Aurelio was also a teacher of many distinguished artists, both in piano and in composition, and was fluent in four languages: Italian, German, French and English.

1895-1914 (Youth, in Europe)[edit]

Aurelio was born on September 15, 1895 in Perugia, Italy. Perugia was the site of that year's annual sojourn away from Rome, where the family lived at 47 Via Ezio. He was the first of two sons born to Carlo Giuseppe Giorni (1850-1928), a Roman landscape painter and landowner of Italian-Danish descent, and Linda Bergner Giorni (1860-1937), an American mezzo-soprano of Germanic (Saxon) origin. Aurelio was also the great-grandson of famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. A midwife attended the birth and he was later baptised, as a Catholic, Aurelio Carlo Pietro Teodoro, his middle names honoring in turn his father, paternal and maternal grandfathers. The second son, Aurelio's brother, was Marcello Alberto Thorvaldsen, born December 17, 1902. The family were typical middle-class Italian intelligentsia: they had two maids and spent long periods away from Rome in the summer, often in Switzerland.

Aurelio's parents, particularly his mother, noted his musical aptitude at age 6 and he was accordingly tutored privately at home until, at age 13, he attended Santa Cecilia Conservatory of Music and studied piano with Maestro Giovanni Sgambati and Ferruccio Busoni from 1909 to 1911, winning 1st prize.

Aurelio Giorni portrait - The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Music Division (Muller Collection)

He gave joint recitals with his mother Linda as early as February 1908 when he was barely 12 years old.[2] One such performance took place at the Hotel Excelsior in Rome on March 23, 1911. The press notice read as follows:[3]

 The Giorni Concert at the Hotel Excelsior, attracted a very large number of ladies and gentlemen who are already aware of the unusual musical gifts possessed by Madame Linda Giorni & her son, Aurelio.
 All the numbers of the program were well received, and while the singing of Madame Giorni has been for several years the admiration of the Roman public, the remarkable interpretation give by Aurelio Giorni, (only 15 years old, and yet a composer of merit) added much to the novelty and interest. He played compositions by Bach, Chopin, Scarlatti and Sgambati in a manner which astonished and delighted the audience. His success was all the more marked because an unfortunate accident had happened to the piano, and the young musician was obliged to play without the use of the pedals. Madame Giorni sang arie & remanse by Haendel, Sgambati, Tschaikovsky, Brahms & Strauss, as well as compositions by Aurelio Giorni, who accompanied his mother on the piano.

(The above incident, referred to as The Broken Pedal, was used as the title of his daughter Elena's biography, for which much of this article is based.)

Aurelio graduated from Santa Cecilia with a perfect score, under age (15) when he did so, enabling him to enter the Meisterschule für Komposition (Master School for Composition) in Berlin from 1911 to 1913. There he studied composition with German composer Engelbert Humperdinck and Russian-born pianist/conductor/composer Ossip Gabrilowitsch.

Aurelio was 16 when he took leave and returned to Rome to perform as soloist in the César Franck Symphonic Variations and the Chopin E Minor Concerto at the Augusteo on February 8, 1912, an event he won in competition at Santa Cecilia. It was also in Rome in 1912 when Aurelio and his future wife, Helen Emerson Miller (1897-1988), first met while she was living in the Hotel Bel Cito in Rome with her mother and sister from 1912-1913.

Aurelio returned to his studies in Berlin until he returned to Rome in November 1913 for some concerts there. Aurelio was known in Rome as the "wonder child" of Carlo and Linda and was considered a remarkable pianist and composer at only 17 years old.[4] Between 1913 and 1915 he had tours in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and Scandinavia.[5]

1914-1920 (Pre-marriage years, USA)[edit]

On coming to America in the fall of 1914, Aurelio first stayed with his mother's sister, Emma Bergner Sajous and her husband Charles in Philadelphia. When he moved, it was to two residences, one in New York City and one in Philadelphia, the latter for convenience as he had a number of pupils there. It was in New York City that he maintained his studio at 100 Carnegie Hall, and renewed his acquaintance with the Miller family.

In 1918, after America entered World War I, Aurelio enlisted at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., exiting as a Private in the U.S. Army. This military service lasted just 6 months but would later hasten his eligibility for U.S. citizenship. In 1919 he joined the Elshuco Trio and began concertizing in New York City and would perform with them over the next 15 years. Aurelio was an active member of The Bohemians, a New York Musicians Club that began in 1907 and continues to this day.[6]

Aurelio returned to Italy to visit his parents in the summer of 1919, and it was that autumn that he began making some 24 known piano rolls for the Duo-Art reproducing piano.

In May 1920, Aurelio and Helen became engaged while together on the commuter ferry between New York and New Jersey.

1921-1938 (Post-marriage years)[edit]

The Giorni Family in 1929

Aurelio Giorni and Helen Miller were married on January 1, 1921 in the (Episcopal) Church of the Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, with the rector, Rev. George Hanna, officiating. For the wedding day, Aurelio had composed "for Helen" the processional and recessional wedding march, and it replaced the more familiar strains of Mendelssohn or Wagner. His music would also be used for some family weddings in the years to come. The wedding party contained several family members, among them was Helen's sister Marguerite as matron of honor, and Aurelio's brother Marcello as best man. A reception was held at the Miller home for some 250 guests. The newlyweds decided to forego a honeymoon at this time, when it would interfere with both their schedules. They planned a trip to Italy during the summer to visit his parents, but by spring Helen knew she was pregnant and the trip was postponed. Instead of Europe, they joined the other members of the Elshuco Trio for a summer in Maine.


On December 18, 1921, their first baby girl, Helen Linda, was born at Nursery & Child's Hospital in lower Manhattan. This would be where all of their children would be born. She was named after her mother and paternal grandmother, although she went by Elena all her life, or "Ellie" to family and friends.

Their second daughter, Yolanda Elisa, was born on June 4, 1924. Yolanda was simply a name than Helen liked, and Elisa was the name of Aurelio's grandmother, Elisa (Elisa Thorvaldsen, 1813-1870[7]). Yolanda often went by "Lonny" to family and friends.

Their third daughter, Aurelia Maria, was born on January 2, 1927, and was named after her father Aurelio.


Friday September 23, 1938 was the last day of the Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music, and the last time Aurelio was seen alive. It had been raining heavily due to the record hurricane of 1938. That Friday evening the family called the police to report him missing. The next day the police called to say they'd had a report that a young girl had seen a man answering his description jump off the Pomeroy Avenue bridge into the raging river, and a pocketbook of his was found on the bridge. A thorough search was conducted, including combing the river for several days, without success. It was not until Helen talked to "Aunt Hattie" (Mrs. Charles Harrington), an elderly clairvoyant she would visit who'd been friends with her parents. It was Aunt Hattie who "saw" Aurelio's suicide, by water, and it was she who described to Helen the location of Aurelio's body after several days in the river—a place she had never visited. When Helen relayed the information given her to the Pittsfield police, they are able to find his body on September 30 in the Housatonic River, 1000 feet south of the Pomeroy Avenue bridge.[8]

Aurelio may have been very discouraged and depressed. He was notified just 10 days before his death that his services at Smith College would not be required for the coming term, and was also disappointed when none of his compositions was given place on the South Mountain program, nor was he among the festival performers. Several months prior, on April 25, Aurelio and his family went to Carnegie Hall for the first performance of his Symphony in D Minor, being given that night by the National Orchestral Association under the leadership of conductor Leon Barzin. Aurelio and Helen waited up past midnight for the New York reviews. When Aurelio reads them, he is very dejected. The critic had indicated he never wanted to hear the symphony again. Aurelio had no desire to compose afterwards.

Aurelio Giorni was laid to rest in the family plot at Rosedale Cemetery, Orange, New Jersey on October 3, 1938. The service at All Angels' Church was conducted by the rector George Trowbridge and the emeritus rector Reverend Townsend, who knew Aurelio as a boy in Italy. Aurelio's quartet was played by the Smith College quartet and several of his works were played on the organ by another friend, Seth Bingham. There was no singing but Laurens Seelye (childhood friend of Helen) read several poems which Aurelio set to music.

A Memorial Concert organized by Musicraft Records was later held at New York Town Hall on December 26, 1938. The musicians were Max Hollaender (violin), Sterling Hunkins (cello), and Eugene Kusmiak (piano), performing the Trio in C Major, a mastery of harmonic and contrapuntal technique characteristic of the composer's mature work.

Elshuco Trio[edit]

The Elshuco Trio in 1929

The Elshuco Trio was formed in 1918 with founding members Samuel Gardner (violin), Willem Willeke (violincello), and Richard Epstein (piano). Willem Willeke was the leader and remained the only cellist throughout the groups existence. The unusual first name was derived from the first syllables of the name of their patroness, Elizabeth Shurtleff Coolidge (1864-1953), who established the Berkshire String Quartet in 1916 and started the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival at South Mountain, Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1918. The group had its first public performance at Aeolian Hall in midtown Manhattan in New York City on October 31, 1918.[9]

Aurelio joined the group in the summer of 1919 after Richard Epstein's death.[10] Late in 1919, Reber Johnson also played with the group briefly.[11] By 1920, Elias Breeskin had replaced Samual Gardner on violin.[12] Elias Breeskin left in 1921 and was replaced by William Kroll the following year, who stayed with the group until 1929, when he was replaced by Karl Kraeuter.

The Trio sometimes played for the annual Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music in South Mountain, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[13]

The last performance of the Elshuco Trio was their final concert of their 15th season on March 7, 1933 in the United Engineering Societies auditorium (New York), and was augmented for the occasion by Conrad Held, violinist. The works played were the two Brahms piano quartets, in A Major, Op. 26, and G Minor, Op. 25.[14]

Piano Recordings (Duo-Art)[edit]

The following list shows the known recordings Aurelio Giorni made for Duo-Art beginning around 1919.[15] Some of these piano rolls are in the archives of the University of Maryland Music Library.

Title Composer Catalog No.
Meditation, Op 72, No 5: Tchaikovsky 5873
Etude, Op 1, No 1 Schlozer 5886
*Frühlingsglaube (Faith in Spring) Schubert-Liszt 5900
*Toccata, Op 18, No 4 Sgambati 5911
Murmuring Zephyrs, Op 21, No 4 Jensen 5933
Nocturne, Op 32, No 2 Chopin 5938
Songs without Words, Op 53, No 1, Ab (On the Seashore) Mendelssohn 5951/D369
*Pastorale Giorni** 6026
Hark! Hark! The Lark Schubert-Liszt 6052
*Moment Musical, Op 94, No 2 Schubert 6066
*Petite Valse, Op 28, No 1 Henselt 6090
Prelude in G Minor, Op 23, No 5 Rachmaninoff 6125
*Nutcracker, Op 71: Dance of the Reed Flutes Tchaikovsky-Esipoff 6132
*The Trout, Op 32 Schubert-Heller 6176
Impromptu, Op 90, No 3, Gb Schubert 6189
*L'Arlesienne - Suite No 1, No 2: Minuetto Bizet 6237
Etude, Op 10, No 8, F Chopin 6323
Etude, Op 5, No 2 (Pensez un peu à moi) Henselt 6353
*Staccato-Etude, Op 23, No 2, C A. Rubinstein 6626
Impromptu, Op 31, No 4, g# Sinding 7021
*Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op 26, No 4: Intermezzo Schumann 7022
*Prelude, Op 35, No 1, e Mendelssohn 7028
Fantasy Pieces, Op 3, No 5, b-b: Sérénade Rachmaninoff 7031
Songs without Words, Op 53, No 19 Sinding 7033

° Selections listed in the University of Maryland catalog.

°° The only other known commercial recording of a Giorni composition (Musicraft Album No. 33, published June 1939). This charmingly naive little Pastorale was written in 1908, when Aurelio (then 13 years old) had studied harmony, counterpoint and composition for 4 years.

Elshuco Trio Recordings (Brunswick label)[edit]

The following list, provided by the Library of Congress Music Division in 1985, represents all the recordings made by the Elshuco Trio which are known to be extant at the time, in 5 large American libraries. There are three known early recordings which are not on this list - "Narcissus" and "Rosary" by Nevin and one of the Hungarian Dances by Brahms. Stanford University (CST) also has annotated copies of pages from the Brunswick catalogs of 1923 and 1925, where it is noted that these selections were chosen for popular appeal rather than a representative sampling of their repertoire.

Title Composer Issue # Library*
Extase Ganne 10141-A NSY
Spanish Dance Moszkowski 10141-B NSY
Salut d'amour Elgar 10142-A DLC, NN, NSY
Serenade Widor 10142-B DLC, NN, NSY
Autumn and Winter Glazunov 10144-A CST, DLC
Swedish Folk Song Svendsen 10144-B CST, DLC
Far-niente C. Cui 10146-A DLC
Serenade, Op 3 Victor Herbert 10146-B DLC
Melody in D Fauré 10148-A NN, NSY
Scherzo Reissiger 10148-B NN, NSY
Andante, Op 9 Saint-Saëns 10149-A DLC, NSY
Scherzo Schubert 10149-B DLC, NSY
Elegia Arensa 10159-A CST
Scherzo Brahms 10159-B CST
Songs My Mother Taught Me Dvořák 10175-A DLC, NN
A Perfect Day Jacobs-Bond 10175-B DLC, NN
Salut d'amour Elgar 13008-A** CST, CTY
Serenade Widor 13008-B** CST, CTY
Autumn and Winter Glazunov 13032-A** DLC
Swedish Folk Song Svendsen 13032-B** DLC
Extase Ganne 13056-A** NSY
Spanish Dance Moszkowski 13056-B** CST, NN
Far-niente C. Cui 13092-A** CST, DLC
Serenade, Op 3 Victor Herbert 13092-B** CST, DLC

° CST - Stanford University; CTY - Yale University; DLC - Library of Congress; NN - New York Public Library; NSY - Syracuse University

°° Re-issued


NOTE: Early in 1969, Helen Giorni donated to (1) Exchange & Gift (Music) Division, Library of Congress, and (2) New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Music Division, all of Aurelio's music in her files, whether published or not. This was all cataloged and two lists were prepared, one for each library.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (NYPLPA) has numerous scores from the Giorni estate cataloged under call number JPB 83-61.[16]

Composition Year Publisher / Source / Comments
Pastorale 1908 Duo-Art catalog, piano roll #60278
Sonata for violin & piano 1911 "Some Press Notices", The Roman World, March 4, 1911
Three songs: Du bist wie eine Blume, Gretel, Die Loreley 1911 Hotel Excelsior program, March 23, 1911
Opus 1, Theme and Variation in the Old Style 1913 Review in The Times of London, May 6, 1913
Canons (4 or 5) 1920 Personal letters #2 and #3, June 1920; NYPLPA
Wedding March (dedicated "To Helen") 1920 Family knowledge, manuscript retained. Reported in wedding article, So. Orange, NJ newspaper, Jan 2, 1921.
Sonata in D Minor for violoncello and piano
(with alternate part for viola)
1925 G. Schirmer Inc., New York ©1925;
Theodore Presser Company (PR.114403190)
Symphonic poem Orlando Furioso, for piano - 4 hands 1926 NYPLPA
Awakening, two songs for [high or medium] voice and piano 1927 G. Schirmer Inc., New York ©1927; (words by Edmund W. Putnam)
24 Concert Études in all the major and minor keys, for piano 1927 G. Schirmer Inc., New York ©1927[17]
Minuet and allegro in early romantic style, for orchestra 1928 Composed for the Schubert Centenary in 1928 and arranged for the New York Chamber Music Society
2-Piano Phantasy 1929 Personal letter #39
Sonata in Eb Major, for piano and flute 1932 George Barrère, flute; Prem. Dec. 17, 1933, NYFC, Steinway Hall, New York
Sonata in A Major, for clarinet and piano 1933 J. Green Music, Hollywood, CA; NYPLPA; UMD Library - Score Collection Inventory: G
Trio in C Major, for violin, cello and piano 1934 Musicraft Records, Inc., New York (audio recording, 4 78rpm disks)
"Margaritae Sorori", based on poem by William Ernest Henley 1936 Family knowledge
Trio, for flute, cello and piano 1936 News release, NY College of Music, March 12, 1936
Quintet, for flute, violin, viola, cello and piano 1936 News release, NY College of Music, March 12, 1936
Symphony in D Minor 1936 Performance by the National Orchestral Association - Leon Barzin, Conductor - April 25, 1938
Cradle Song, for medium voice and piano   G. Schirmer Inc., New York ©1941; (words by Florence K. Mixter)

Other works[edit]

The following compositions are known to exist as part of the NYPLPA collection or others, but for which the year they were written is uncertain. Most of these were likely unpublished.

  • Aria for piano, in F Major
  • Concerto in D Major, for pianoforte and orchestra
  • Double fugue for piano, 4 hands
  • Fantasie-sonata in A Minor
  • Intermezzo in C Minor, for flute, violoncello and harp (or piano)
  • Merry fugue in Eb, for piano
  • Six modal quatrains, for female 4-part chorus
  • The Music Makers, for chorus (SATB), unaccompanied
  • The Phantom Leaves, song for mixed 4-part chorus a cappella or with string quartet accompaniment
  • Rhapsody Diveretissement, for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon
  • Sonata in E Minor, for piano and violin
  • Sonata in D Minor, for piano and violoncello (or viola)
  • The Dreamer, song for 4 part male chorus (or quartet) with 2 piano accompaniment
  • Trio in Bb, for piano, violin and violoncello
  • Variations Concertantes on The British Grenadiers, for flute, violin, viola, violoncello and harp (or piano)
  • Zodiac Town - 12 children's carols, for 4 mixed voices (a cappella, or with piano accompaniment); words by Nancy Byrd Turner

Additionally, the NYPLPA collection lists over two dozen "songs with piano accompaniment" not listed here, many that contains words credited to several individuals.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Howard, John Tasker. Our American Music: Three Hundred Years of It. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1939
  2. ^ Reported in Le Carnet Mondain of February 8, 1908 and The Roman World of February 15, 1908
  3. ^ The Roman World, April 1st, 1911
  4. ^ "Aurelio Giorni's Concerts", The New York Times, Dec 22, 1912
  5. ^ Alfred Remy, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Third Edition, Harvard College Library, G. Schirmer, 1919 (p. 1085)
  6. ^ "Who was Who in The Bohemians in 1921", March, 2011
  7. ^ Elisa Paulsen - Bertel Thorvaldsens Brevarkiv (The Thorvaldsen Letter Archives)
  8. ^ Body of Aurelio Giorni, Pianist, Found in River, The Berkshire Eagle, Sep 30, 1938
  9. ^ "Elshuco Trio Appears", The New York Times, November 1, 1918
  10. ^ "Richard Epstein's Funeral", The New York Times, Aug 5, 1919
  11. ^ "The World of Music and Musicians", New York Tribune, Oct 12, 1919, page 11
  12. ^ "Elshuco Trio Heard Again", The New York Times, Feb 20, 1920
  13. ^ "Concert Programmes - Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music"
  14. ^ "Elshuco Trio Ends Season". The New York Times. March 8, 1933, page 18
  15. ^ "Duo-Art Piano Roll Catalog", The Reproducing Piano Roll Foundation, Albert M. Petrak (Editor), 1998
  16. ^ "Aurelio Giorni scores", Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Call number JPB 83-61
  17. ^ "24 Concert Études in all major and minor keys", G. Schirmer, Inc., New York ©1927"
  • This article is largely based on the book The Broken Pedal: A Biographical Sketch of Pianist/Composer Aurelio Giorni, 1895-1938 and His Family, a privately published work by Elena G. Burns (daughter, 1921-1998) during 1985/86 in Whittier, California. Although distribution was limited mainly to family members, copies were also provided to the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.