Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914)
Complete Piano Works Vol. V
Rome’s musical life has got off to a most happy start this winter. I hope we shall not have the usual endless concerts given by the usual wild young harpsichordists. With the Roman Quintet Society Giovanni Sgambati will give those magnificent festivals of the great Art which Roman masters and connoisseurs remember and strongly desire. These are the opening lines of a review, entitled “Il Duca Minimo”, written by Gabriele D'Annunzio, and published on January 8th, 1888 in “La Tribuna”, the newspaper for which he wrote music reviews. He also mentions a concert by Sgambati in his work, Il Piacere. Giovanni Sgambati (Rome 1841 -1914), promoted the diffusion of instrumental music throughout Italy, and especially in Rome, with his "Quintet", appointed “Her Majesty the Queen’s Court Quintet”, by decree in 1893. Their numerous symphonic concerts ranged from a belated first performance of Beethoven's Eroica, to the world première of the Dante-Symphonie and of the Christus entrusted to him by his teacher Liszt. He also attended to the foundation of the Santa Cecilia School of Music. His apartment in Piazza di Spagna became a unique musical centre, a must for all the musicians who visited Rome, inter alia, for Liszt, who chose Sgambati as his pupil and held him in high regard. The Hungarian maestro commented, “Sgambati has something of Bronsart and something of Tausig, as well. What a strange combination for a trueborn Italian, and, indeed, his eyes are as beautiful as the King of Bavaria’s”. And to those who expressed misgivings about his entrusting a young musician with the first performances of such complex works, Liszt replied: “Sgambati starts off from where many others do not even finish!”. Also Wagner would stay at Sgambati’s: in 1876 - the year in which his theatre in Bayreuth was completed - when his fame as a composer was at the top - he wrote a letter to the publisher Schott inviting him to publish two of Sgambati’s Quintets (“a composer and a fine pianist in the noblest, truest sense, a great and true talent, that I should like to present to the great world of music [...] from Vienna throughout Germany where he could perform his compositions that I expect to be a great success, after the boring new German chamber music, including Brahms’s”). And even the young Debussy, winner of the Grand Prix de Rome, met Sgambati in 1884 and learnt of Liszt’s late works through him. Countless expressions of esteem came to him from such composers as Chajkovsky, Rubinstein, Brahms and Busoni, and the latter regarded him as “a most venerated Maestro”. His fame was so great that in Russia he was offered the position left vacant by Anton Rubinstein; but he refused.