Francesco Paolo Tosti received most of his music education in his native Ortona, Italy, as well as the conservatory in Naples. Tosti began his music education at the Royal College of San Pietro a Majella at the age of eleven. He studied violin and composition with Saverio Mercadante, who became so impressed with Tosti that he appointed him student teacher, which afforded the young man a meagre salary of sixty francs a month. Poor health forced Tosti to leave his studies and return home to Ortona. He was confined to his bed for several months. During this time he composed several songs, two of which he submitted to the Florentine Art Society, and two others he submitted for publication to Ricordi. All four were rejected.
Once recovered from his illness, Tosti moved to Ancona, where his poverty was such that for weeks at a time he subsisted on nothing but oranges and stale bread. His travels brought him to Rome, where his fortunes turned. He met the pianist and composer Giovanni Sgambati, who became his patron. Sgambati arranged for Tosti to give a concert at the Sala Dante at which the Princess Margherita of Savoy (who later became Queen of Italy) was present. She was so impressed with his performance that she appointed him her singing professor. She later appointed him curator of the Musical Archives of Italy at the Court.
In 1875 Tosti travelled to London, England. He made several powerful friends who introduced him to the highest levels of English society. Tosti was a staple in fashionable drawing rooms and salons, and in 1880, he was made singing master to the Royal Family. His fame as a composer of songs grew rapidly while he was in England. One of his compositions, For Ever and For Ever was introduced by Violet Cameron at the Globe Theatre. This song became a favourite overnight, and there was an enormous demand for his compositions. By 1885 he was the most popular composer of songs in England. His publishers paid him a staggering retaining fee for twelve songs a year.
In 1894 Tosti joined the Royal Academy of Music as a professor. In 1906, he became a British citizen and was knighted (KCVO) two years later by his friend, King Edward VII. A memorial plaque on his former home at 12 Mandeville Place, Marylebone (now the Mandeville Hotel) was unveiled on 12 June 1996.
In 1913 he returned to Italy to spend his last years there. He died in Rome on 2 December 1916.
Tosti is remembered for his light, expressive songs, which are characterised by natural, singable melodies and sweet sentimentality. He is also known for his editions of Italian folk songs entitled Canti popolari Abruzzesi.
His style became very popular during the Belle Époque and is often known as salon music. There is, however, much evidence (albeit fleeting) of a more serious composer particularly in the Canti popolari Abruzzesi, particularly in the introduction to "No. 8 First Waltz".
His most famous works are "Serenata" (lyrics: Cesareo), "Good-bye!" (lyrics: George Whyte-Melville) which is sometimes performed in Italian as "Addio" (lyrics: Rizzelli), and the popular Neapolitan song, "Marechiare", the lyrics of which are by the prominent Neapolitan dialect poet, Salvatore Di Giacomo. "Malia", "Ancora" and "Non t'amo piu" were and remain popular concert pieces.
Tosti wrote well for the voice, allowing, indeed encouraging, interpretation and embellishment from operatic singers. Most artists, therefore, specialising in the classical Italian repertoire have performed and recorded Tosti songs; yet Tosti never composed opera. Notable examples on record include Alessandro Moreschi (the only castrato who ever recorded) singing "Ideale", Mattia Battistini singing "Ancora", Nellie Melba singing "Mattinata" and Enrico Caruso singing "A vuchella" and "L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra".
- 'A vucchella
- Ave Maria
- Chanson de l'Adieu
- Donna, vorrei morir
- È' morto Pulcinella!
- For ever and for ever!
- Good-Bye! (1880)
- Il pescatore canta
- Il segreto
- L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra
- L'ultima canzone
- L'ultimo bacio
- La Mia Canzone
- La Rinnovazione
- La serenata
- Lontano dagli occhi
- Luna d'estate
- M'amasti mai?
- My love and I
- Non mi guardare!
- Non t'amo più!
- O falce di luna calante
- Oh! quanto io t'amereit!
- Patti chiari!
- Pierrot's Lament
- Plaintes d'Amour (1876)
- Pour un baiser
- Povera mamma!
- Preghiera (Alla mente confusa)
- Quattro canzoni di Amaranta
- Lasciami, lascia ch' io respiri
- L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra
- In van preghi
- Che dici,o parola del saggio
- Ride bene chi ride l'ultimo
- Ridonami la calma
- T'amo Ancora!
- Vorrei morire!
- Ewen, David.Composers of Yesterday. HW Wilson Publishing Company, New York City 1937. pp. 432-433.
- Ewen, David. Great Composers. HW Wilson Publishing Company, New York City 1966. p. 385.
- Grove, George. A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 4, 5th ed. Macmillan Publishers, London 2001.
- "No. 28204". The London Gazette. 11 December 1908. p. 9465.
- Rennison, Nick. (2013). The London Blue Plaque Guide. Stroud: History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-9996-3.
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