Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is mostly closely associated with his native city of Florence – where he studied and lived until his emigration to the United States in 1939 – and the Tuscan countryside that so profoundly inspired him. However, the composer also has a little known connection with Bologna and its conservatory; Bologna is where Castelnuovo-Tedesco took the exams for his diploma in composition in 1918. Maestro Piero Bonaguri and Professor Annarosa Vannoni of the Conservatorio di Musica Giovan Battista Martini of Bologna recently uncovered Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s exams and related documents in the conservatory’s archives, and they kindly shared their findings with the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Archives.
Why did Castelnuovo-Tedesco go to Bologna for his exams? Since Ildebrando Pizzetti, his teacher, had recently become the director of the Florence Conservatory, he could not both prepare his private student for his exams in composition and, at the same time, oversee the Conservatory’s exam commission. (Castelnuovo-Tedesco had chosen to study privately with Pizzetti after conflicts with another professor at the Conservatory.) For this reason, he sent Castelnuovo-Tedesco to Bologna to sit for exams under the supervision of Pizzetti’s friend and fellow composer, Franco Alfano, who was the director of the Bologna Conservatory at the time.
Recounting the episode in his autobiography, Una Vita di Musica, Castelnuovo-Tedesco claimed that the tests were mostly easy ones. There was one bump, however:
The exam consisted of a series of tests, to be completed over consecutive days in a prescribed amount of time – a fugue, the first movement of a sonata (on a provided theme), something operatic, and something instrumental. In addition, there were a series of lesser assignments involving sight-reading, music history, pedagogy, etc. The fugue gave me no concern, except that the theme provided by old Professor Mattioli, the counterpoint teacher, was so stupid and conventional that, to make it interesting, I had to pull a trick! The subject was in a duple meter, and I decided to create my counter-subject in a triple meter. Undaunted, I developed them both throughout the entire fugue. Of course, this led to some consternation and discussion. Mattioli claimed that this was not allowed, and although the fugue was beyond reproach, he would only give me a grade of 9 [out of 10].
In addition to confirming Mario’s account of this episode, the recently uncovered documents also provide a sad reminder of the Fascist policies that were to cause Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his family to leave Italy in exile. One of the documents includes administrative notes from 1938, when the composer had requested an official transcript: “Future certificates must indicate his Jewish race”. In addition, the document is stamped in red letters: Razza Ebraica (“Jewish Race”).
Copies of these documents will be added to the Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Many thanks to Maestro Bonaguri, Professor Vannoni and the Bologna Conservatory for their dedication to locating and sharing these precious documents.