Film Composer Gets a Worthy Showcase for His Early Work


Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco had a long local connection. It was in Hollywood that the Italian-Jewish composer--born in Florence in 1895--found refuge when the Nazi machinery forced him into exile, and he died here in 1968. He enjoyed a successful career scoring films and taught such noted composers as John Williams and Henry Mancini.

Count Castelnuovo-Tedesco among those film composers deserving greater recognition for their “serious” efforts, which in his case ran a gamut from operas to guitar music. What was heard at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura on Wednesday was a recital of the composer’s pre-World War II, pre-Hollywood writing. Violinist Francesco D’Orazio and pianist Giovanni Torlontano performed unpublished works written by the composer when he was a young man in the 1920s.

This music is romantic and impressionistic by turns, bent nostalgically back toward the 19th century. Flowing, wandering melodic lines take a scenic route around the structural terrain, and the musicians are asked to bask in longing and reverie rather than to take on Modernist challenges. The players here did as asked, with emphatic sensuality.

“Ritmi,” which violinist Jascha Heifetz fell in love with and which led him to befriend the composer, exudes a kind of clinging melodic earnestness. The rarely heard “Tre canti all’aria aperta” has a singing character hinting at the composer’s gift for vocal music.


The “Sonata quasi una fantasia, opus 56,” written in 1929, starts to get a little more adventurous, harmonically and otherwise. Compared with the breezier, earlier works on the program, the music here relies on points of tension, the better to find release.

Is it coincidence or providence that his “Capitan Fracassa, opus 16,” based on a character from French literature and a popular Italian silent-movie star, has a filmic, storybook quality? This 1920s piece, which closed the concert, has a playful bounce in its rhythms and perky harmonic colors familiar to the language of post-Spielberg/Williams Hollywood. What goes around, it seems, came around.