ANTONIO BAZZINI (1818 - 1897)
Antonio Bazzini was born in Brescia on 11 March 1818. He came from an ancient Brescian family, mentioned in chronicles as early as the 1400s, but by the early nineteenth century his father was in straitened circumstances that bordered on poverty. Bazzini’s godfather, Antonio Buccelleni, was in a position to provide both financially and culturally for young Bazzini. A literary man, Buccelleni wrote odes, sonnets, and other poems, including a translation of the Psalms. Bazzini’s scores for several of Buccelleni’s poems were among Bazzini’s first compositions, La Sera – Romanza, and All’amica lontana. When Bazzini was seven and a half years old, Buccelleni engaged Kapellmeister Faustino Camisani to teach the boy the violin. Though Camisani died in 1830, Bazzini had certainly learned his lessons well and was said to have had a solid technique in 1829 when he was eleven years old. At seventeen Bazzini was himself a maestro di cappella for the church of San Filippo in Brescia. His early works were often religious in nature, and while at San Filippo he wrote Masses, Vespers, and six oratorios. His life materially changed on 20 March 1836, when he played first violin in a quintet by Luigi Savi. The work was dedicated to Paganini and the dedicatee was in the audience. Paganini advised the young man to tour as a virtuoso, and Bazzini took this advice to heart. Beginning in 1837 he toured Milan, Venice, Trieste, Vienna, and Budapest; from 1841–1845 he toured Germany, Denmark, and Poland. One review by a Milanese critic in 1839 is typical of the high praise Bazzini’s playing received: “His violin, which transforms all your soul, combines enthusiasm with perfect intonation … [his] mastery of the bow … [produces] a song that resembles the human voice, and [he] has the technique for the most difficult whims found in Paganini, executed without hampering true expression.” For several years he lived in Leipzig, where he studied the German masters. While in Germany, Bazzini performed with Mendelssohn’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, reputedly giving one of the first private performances of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto. In 1848 he undertook a tour of Spain and in 1852 he settled in Paris. In 1864, after a final concert tour in the Netherlands, he returned to Brescia and concentrated on composition; he also championed instrumental music in Italy through string quartet performances at the home of Gaetano Franchi and the creation of the Società dei Concerti. Among the soloists Bazzini brought to Italy were Hans von Bülow and Anton Rubinstein, in 1870 and 1874 respectively. Along with Verdi, Bazzini had an important rôle in establishing standard concert pitch (440 Hz), which was first recognised in Italy by the Congresso dei Musicisti Italiani in 1881. In 1873 he was appointed professor of musical theory and composition at the Milan Conservatory and became director of the same institution in 1882. Among his pupils at the Milan Conservatory were Mascagni and Puccini. He died on 10 February 1897.
After his early church music, to which he continued to add throughout his career, Bazzini turned to the itinerant player-composer’s trusted ally, music written for his instrument and especially designed to show off technical prowess. Bazzini thus stands in the long tradition of such violinist-composers, a tradition that lasted at least until Kreisler. Bazzini, both because of his mainly instrumental compositional profile and his founding of the Società dei Concerti, was something of a rarity in the opera-loving world of nineteenth-century Italy. He was fully equipped to play virtuoso concert music, and his short character pieces for violin remain his best known works. Many of these pieces are descriptive (Le Carillon d’Arras, La Ronde des Lutins), others describe the emotion surrounding an event (Le Départ, Le Retour), and all represent the typical salon piece beloved of the nineteenth century at its most engaging. A staple of the genre is the paraphrase or fantasia based on popular opera tunes. Bazzini’s very first opus number (published in 1833) was an adagio, variations, and finale based on a theme of Bellini. He did not neglect larger works, and wrote several violin concertos, the most famous being the last, the ‘Military’ Concerto, Op. 42, published in 1863. Bazzini displayed the innovations typical of the time – the one movement Hymne Triomphale violin concerto, for example. Most of his large works date from the latter part of his career, the opera Turanda [Turandot] (1867), the tone poem Francesca da Rimini (1890), and the symphonic overtures Saul and King Lear (1877 and 1880). Bazzini is best remembered, however, for his salon music. Every virtuoso, at least until the mid-twentieth century, was expected to be a composer for his own instrument, and Bazzini’s legacy is strongest as a composer for the violin. He was entirely in the romantic vein of Bériot and Paganini, and while not advancing violin technique, he mastered its intricacies, and stands as a prime example of the nineteenth-century virtuoso.