Sgambatti, Giovanni



Eminent composer, conductor and pianist. One of the first of his countrymen to write in the larger orchestral forms. He is essentially a product of the new Italian School and his influence upon the music of his country has been strong and wholesome. Sgambatti was born in Rome of an English mother, and an Italian father. The elder Sgambatti was an advocate and intended his son for the same profession, but the boy early showed a taste for music and studied to make a name for himself in his chosen field. After the death of his father, in 1849, his mother moved to Trevi and married again. The boy then took up his studies with Aldega and Barbieri and studied piano and harmony with Natalucci, who had been a pupil of Zingarelli. At this time he also sang in a church choir, played the piano in public, conducted small orchestras and composed more or less. Sgambatti at first devoted himself to the piano, but gave it up later to devote himself to teaching and composition. In 1860, when he was seventeen, Sgambatti removed to Rome, where he continued his studies. Liszt now became his teacher, and under his guidance Sgambatti became a masterly player on the piano. In 1864 Sgambatti gave four orchestral concerts and encouraged by his teacher began to compose. In that year he wrote a string quartet, the next year a quintet, and then an octet  and overture, all of which attracted attention from musicians. In January, 1868, Sgambatti, with Pinelli, gave six matinees of chamber music, which were well attended by the prominent people of Rome. With Wilhelmj, the violinist, he also gave concerts in Florence, and in both cities gave orchestral concerts, at which the great symphonies were heard for the first time. From that time on Sgambatti continued to do much to introduce the works of the great composers to Italy. The following year he accompanied Liszt to Germany, where they heard Wagner's operas in Munich. They then returned to Rome, working together as before. In 1877 Wagner heard some of Sgambatti's works played and his recommendation of them, helped the younger musician to find a publisher for two of his quintets in Mayence. In 1878 he was appointed piano professor at the Academy of St. Cecilia at Rome, where a few years before, 1869, he had founded a free piano class. In 1881 his symphony in D was performed for the first time at a concert in the Quirinal before the King and Queen of Italy, and later was heard at a concert at the Crystal Palace, London, under Sgambatti's direction. In 1886 Sgambatti was made one of the five corresponding members of the French Institute to fill the place made vacant by the death of Liszt. He again visited England in 1891, when he gave concerts entirely of his own works. Since then he has visited London several times, conducting concerts of his own works at St. James' Hall and at Crystal Palace. His work was introduced to the United States by Richard Hoffmann, who was the first to perform Sgambatti's gavotte for American audiences. His earlier works include a string quartet, and overture to Casa's drama, Cola di Rienzi. Later he wrote a festival overture, a piano concerto and a symphony. Among his more important works are a symphony for full orchestra; a requiem mass; nocturnes; preludes and fugues; a suite; quintet for piano and strings; Vecchio Menuetto; a companion piece to the gavotte before mentioned; Gluck's melody, taken from Orfeo, which Sgambatti transcribed with taste and skill; Fogli volante; pieces lyrique; an effective etude melodique, and many other important piano works. Today Sgambatti stands at the head of Italy's instrumental musicians. He is a follower of Liszt and Berlioz rather than Wagner, and, as a teacher at the Academy of St. Cecilia at Rome, has trained many American musicians.