Aldo Finzi (February 4, 1897 – February 7, 1945) was born in Milan into an old, well-known family from Mantova in which love for music was strongly embedded: one of Finzi’s aunts, Giuseppina Finzi Magrini, was a well-known soprano.
Within the familiarity of this music-filled home, Aldo Finzi was introduced to the music world: his first teacher was his grandfather, an amateur flautist.
Guided by his grandfather’s instruction and driven by his own passion, Finzi began to play and compose. In 1920, he was admitted into the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. With his self-taught beginning, Finzi became a sophisticated musician whose first compositions gained the attention of noted music publishers, including Sonzogno and Ricordi.
Ricordi published some of his works, including the symphonic poems titled “L’infinito”, based on the celebrated poems of Giacomo Leopardi, as well as “Cyrano di Bergerac”, inspired by Rostand’s play and chosen by a commission that included Franco Alfano, Ildebrando Pizzetti and Arturo Toscanini. “Cyrano di Bergerac”, which successfully premiered in Florence in 1929 by the Fiorentina Orchestra, will be performed at Carnegie Hall.
Finzi’s early works enchanted the public and attracted the interest of orchestras, ensembles and prominent interpreters.
In 1931, Finzi wrote “La serenata al vento”, a delightful opera based on a libretto by Carlo Veneziani. “Serenata” was submitted for a competition of new operas to be produced at La Scala during the 1937-1938 season. It is said that Finzi heard from the director of the Milan Conservatory, Maestro Pick-Mangiagalli, that “La serenata al vento” was one of the finalist operas. His son even recalls being asked to bring the libretto to the theater to begin planning the staging. However, the award was never announced and the competition was eventually cancelled in the spring of 1938.
In July of that year, Il Popolo d’Italia, the official newspaper of the regime, published the “Manifesto della Razza” and in September, the government promulgated the racial laws stripping Jews of many civil rights, including attending school, teaching, occupying public positions, owning or working for any large companies or business of “national security relevance”. Jewish artists, writers and musicians were banned from public spaces.
With the onset of the racial laws, Aldo Finzi’s musical career came to an end. He was only 39 years old.
Like many other artists and scientists of international renown, Finzi tried to emigrate and was able to obtain a teaching position at the University of Chicago. With the outbreak of the war and his family being in Italy, he decided to cancel the plan and remain in Europe.
Alongside his symphonic poems, many of his works remain. He wrote a great deal of chamber music, a demanding quartet considered to be one of the most beautiful of the 1900s, in which it was written that “Finzi’s natural inclination to never lose sight of the lyricism of the melodic phrase is manifested”. There is a delightful, graceful piece for the piano called “Pavana”, as well as other symphonic poems, among which, the “Sinfonia romana”. But above all, his spiritual testament was the “Salmo per coro e orchestra” that he wrote in the destitute refuge he had taken in Turin after escaping the Italian SS in autumn of 1944. He wrote the “Salmo” in silence, with no piano to accompany him.
During the years of imposed silence, Finzi began to put “Shylock” to music, but it was left unfinished after the first act. In 2008, The Radio Orchestra of Moscow premiered this unfinished work in Milan.
The “Salmo” – performed for the first time at the Milan Conservatory in celebration of the three-thousand years of the foundation of Jerusalem – was a song of thanksgiving, written in gratitude for the safety he and his family had during the war.
Overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, and the arrival of the Black Brigades to the dismal refuge where he was hiding with his family was too much for his heart. At 48 years old, on the day of his birthday, he suffered a heart attack and died three days later. His last wish was that his music be performed: “Fate eseguire la mia musica”.
Only his wife, Lina, attended his funeral. He was buried under a false name.
After decades of silence, he is now being recognized as a noteworthy composer, alongside Strauss, Debussy and Respighi, all whom he knew personally. He is praised for his eclectic style, which was both individual and influenced by the musical tendencies of his time. His music is undergoing a strong revival and is now being performed all throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, Panama, Mexico, Israel, Japan and Australia.
As Gian Mario Benzing, music critic for the Corriere della Sera, wrote about the premiere of Shylock, the overture to be performed at Carnegie Hall the next 17th of December at 8pm: “What matters is Finzi’s music, its noble and powerful outline, sculpted recitatives, ardent dramatic gestures and lyrical inspiration. It is reminiscent of a young Strauss in its symphonic density, Pizzetti in the flow of its declamations”.