Rediscovering the life of Fernando Liuzzi

Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco / News /
Musicologist Fernando Liuzzi was Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's brother in law and close friend

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s brother-in-law Fernando Liuzzi (1884-1940) was also a close friend and colleague. A composer, musicologist, music critic, and professor of aesthetics, Liuzzi had a successful career in Italy that abruptly ended when Mussolini’s racial laws came into effect. Like Mario, Liuzzi found his way to New York just before World War II. However, he soon returned to Italy after suffering a serious heart attack at age 55; he died a few months later, in October 1940. In the intervening years, Liuzzi’s life and work have remained in the shadows. Professor Patrizia Guarnieri, historian at the University of Florence and director of the digital history project Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy, has just published an in-depth and meticulously researched exploration of Liuzzi’s life and career. It is available on the English version of the site here.

“The Musical Quarterly of 1942 recounts a tragic irony of the times: Fernando Liuzzi’s premature death passed without due notice in Italy. His dismissal from the University of Rome was also met with silence, and his life itself has been forgotten. Yet he was the musicologist who had done the most to raise awareness internationally about the history of Italian medieval and renaissance music, recalled Ernst Ferand, his Hungarian colleague, a professor at the New School. Like Liuzzi, Ferand had also emigrated to New York in 1939. However, Liuzzi remained there for only a very short time. He had gone to New York in search of work that Fascism had taken away from him, but he didn’t even have the chance to start the position he had secured at Columbia University.” 

– Patrizia Guarnieri,  Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy

Fernando, or “Nando” as he was called by his family, was the husband of Paola Forti, the sister of Mario’s wife, Clara.  It was Nando who first invited Mario to Usigliano, the Forti family home near Pisa, in 1919. After Mario’s marriage to Clara in 1924, Usigliano would become his home as well; its gentle Tuscan landscapes inspired many of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s compositions, including Cipressi (1920) and his Second Piano Quintet (1951). Mario and Nando and their respective families spent extensive periods at Usigliano for many years, until both men left Italy due to the racial laws.

In his autobiography, Mario describes Liuzzi as “more than a musical talent; he was a multifaceted creative mind,  a man of great culture and rare amiability….and, for me, he was more than a friend and brother-in-law, he was more like a brother. His example as a scholar, and  his teaching, which influenced his many excellent students, has left an important mark.”

Guarnieri’s new essay covers Liuzzi’s early years and education; his professional activity, musical compositions and theoretical writings; the political clashes that began to impact his career even in the 1920s; his years of teaching, first aesthetics and then music history; how he went from the academic limelight to dismissal from his position at the University of Rome; and his attempt to restart his career in America, which was cut short by poor health.

Many thanks to Professor Guarnieri for helping us learn more about this accomplished and creative man who was such an important part of Mario’s life in Italy.

Photos: at left, Fernando Liuzzi, undated portrait (courtesy of the Tedeschi Family Archive, Ferryville WI);  in the center, family photo at Usigliano c.1928 Fernando Liuzzi is standing, second from left, his wife Paola Forti Liuzzi is in the center, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is second from right, with his wife Clara to his left. (Courtesy of the Tedeschi Family Archive, Ferryville, WI); on the right, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, portrait c. 1925 (Courtesy of the Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC).