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Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

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Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (April 3, 1895 – March 16, 1968) was an Italian composer. Born in Florence, he eventually emigrated to the United States in 1939.

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, he began studying composition under renowned Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti, and receiving 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.

In 1926, Castelnuovo-Tedesco premiered his opera, La Mandragora, 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, 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.

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