Wednesday 07 February 1996
At first he conducted mainly his own works then, finding his true metier, began to concentrate on conducting opera. His connection with La Scala in Milan, of which he was from 1965 to 1968 the artistic director, lasted for nearly 50 years, while he worked in all the other great opera houses of Italy, and a number abroad.
Born in Bergamo, also the birthplace of Donizetti, Gavazzeni entered the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome at the age of 11 to study the piano. Later he studied composition at the Milan Conservatory, where he was taught by Ildebrando Pizzetti, whose influence on the young man was profound.
Among Gavazzeni's earliest compositions was the successful Concerto bergamasco for orchestra (1931). He also wrote a cello concerto, a violin concerto, an oratorio, Canti per Sant' Alessandro (1934), the one-act opera Paolo e Virginia, performed in Bergamo in 1935, and a two-act ballet Il furioso nell' isola di San Domingo, given at San Remo in 1936. In 1949 he abruptly gave up composition, refusing to allow his earlier works to be played.
Meanwhile, Gavazzeni's career, to begin with as pianist and repetiteur, then as conductor, was flourishing. He first conducted at La Scala in April 1944 two performances of Wolf- Ferrari's Il campiello. Next year he conducted a double bill of Stravinsky's Mavra and Ghedini's La pulce d'oro, followed in 1948 by Tosca. Returning in 1954, he led a famous production of Honegger's Joan of Arc at the Stake, with Ingrid Bergman in the (spoken) title-role. From 1955 he conducted regularly at La Scala in a wide repertory that combined the popular Italian composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mascagni and Puccini with the works of other, less well-known figures, including Respighi and Zandonai. A particular supporter of Pizzetti, his former teacher, he conducted the premieres of Murder in the Cathedral (based on T.S. Eliot's play) in 1958, Il calzare d'argento in 1961 and Clitennestra in 1965, as well as revivals of La figlia di Jorio, and Fedra, the latter with Regine Crespin.
He also conducted Giordano's Fedora, with Maria Callas; Donizetti's Anna Bolena, also with Callas; Tosca with Renata Tebaldi; Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, with Joan Sutherland; and Gluck's Alceste with Leyla Gencer, the Turkish soprano to whom he acted for many years as mentor.
At the Rome Opera in 1953 he conducted Lucia di Lammermoor with Callas. For the 1955 Maggio Musicale in Florence he made a new edition of Mascagni's Le maschere, which he also conducted. In 1957 he conducted Rossini's Turco in Italia at Edinburgh and La Boheme at Chicago, and in 1965, Anna Bolena at Glyndebourne, with Gencer in the title-role.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he continued to work as hard as ever - Simon Boccanegra at Trieste, Rossini's Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra in Palermo with Gencer, La Cenerentola in Geneva with Teresa Berganza; La Favorite in Turin with Luciano Pavarotti; Faust and Aida at the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires. In 1992 at Ravenna he conducted Donizetti's Poliuto with the same passion that he had brought to the music of his fellow citizen 20 or 30 years previously.
Gavazzeni made many studio recordings, but he is best represented by his live recordings, such as Un ballo in maschera, with Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano, from La Scala (1957), in which the full scope of his magisterial command of a performance can be appreciated. He wrote studies of Bellini, Donizetti, Mascagni, Mussorgsky, Jancek and Pizzetti, and published several volumes of music criticism.
Gianandrea Gavazzeni, composer and conductor: born Bergamo 25 July 1909; Artistic Director, La Scala 1965-68; married twice (two sons); died Bergamo 5 February 1996.
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