Dedicated composer and intelligent conductor
Riccardo Zandonai was one of the last Italian operatic master craftsmen. Although many Italian composers after him continued to write operas, none will show the same consistent dedication or would produce such an impressive body of works.
Composer of symphonic and chamber music as well as sacred music, Zandonai was also a sensitive and intelligent conductor.
Growing up in a working class family
Zandonai was born in 1883 in Sacco, a small village along the river Adige, close to the city of Rovereto. He was one the few composers of his generation, just as his main teacher Pietro Mascagni, who came from a working class family.
His father was a cobbler while his mother worked in the tobacco factory that employed most of the residents of the town. Riccardo, their only child, become accustomed to strict discipline and hard work from an early age, in some way foreshadowing the driven, work-obsessed adult he’d become.
The early passion for music
Zandonai’s passion for music was evident since his early childhood. At the age of 4 he impressed his uncle who was playing a guitar, by his response to the music. At the age of six he already mastered completely that instrument.
Despite the circumstances of his childhood his path into the musical world was a smooth one. His talent became soon known and he found the encouragement and financial support of Rovereto’s wealthy class. In 1898, at 15, he was admitted at the Liceo Musicale in Pesaro where he continued his musical studies under Pietro Mascagni.
The teacher, Pietro Mascagni; the patron, Arrigo Boito
In 1905, when he arrived in Milan, he was taken under Arrigo Boito‘s wing and introduced to Tito Ricordi, who was just then taking over the family business.
The first successes Il Grillo del Focolare and Conchita
Ricordi offered him a libretto for an opera: an adaptation from Dicken’s tale The Cricket on the Hearth (Il Grillo del Focolare) which was premiered successfully in Turin in 1908. Zandonai was already a promising composer at 24 years of age.
The outcome of his following opera Conchita confirmed Tito Ricordi’s idea that he had found an heir to Puccini, so he decided to offer him the opportunity for a more ambitious work.
Francesca da Rimini
The choice at that time could only fall on Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose Francesca da Rimini, was still available, mainly because no composer or publisher was able to meet D’Annunzio’s financial demand.
In that way was born Zandonai’s better known opera.Over a career of some forty years Zandonai composed a total of 13 operas, the last of which Il Bacio, The Kiss, remained unfinished and premiered posthumously.
The friendship with Renata Tebadi
Here’s a performance of one of Zandonai’s song L’Assiuolo. The great soprano Renata Tebaldi, born in Pesaro, knew the composer well and performed regularly many of his compositions.
Since 1940 Riccardo Zandonai, as Pietro Mascagni and Amilcare Zanella before him, covered the position of director of the Conservatory in Pesaro.
Riccardo Zandonai died in Pesaro in 1944.
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