Magazine article Musical Times

The Birth of a Dynasty: Remembering Francesco Ticciati

Magazine article Musical Times

The Birth of a Dynasty: Remembering Francesco Ticciati

Article excerpt

I gratefully acknowledge the help of Wendy Tibbitts, Director of Amersham Museum, and of Yvette Pusey, BBC Radio j, in compiling this article.

IN MUSIC A DYNASTY IS A RARE AND VALUABLE THING. It's not enough simply to hand over from father to son like the Mozarts or the Italian cellist-composers Cervetto (who between the two of them spanned the years 1682-1837!). By far the most famous dynasty, the Bachs, commands 75 entries in Grove and was active for three centuries, as anything from the merest Stadtpfeifer up to the supreme 18th-century Thomaskantor and his distinguished sons. Today, we could be witnessing the growth of a new dynasty, the Ticciatis. The name has been associated with art forms since the time of the sculptor and architect Girolamo Ticciati (1671-1744) and in present-day Britain it adorns an interior decorator, a personal counsellor and an advocate of natural childbirth, but particularly three musical generations, beginning with the pianist and composer Francesco (1893-1949), continuing with his son, the cellist and exercise-pioneer Niso (1924-72), and skipping a generation to rest now in the hands of two brothers, violinist Hugo and conductor Robin, who at 30 is already MD at Glyndebourne and Chief Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Francesco was one of the most influential musicians to cross my path as a boy in the late 1930s and 1940s, along with Walter Goehr (both were neighbours of ours in Amersham, Buckinghamshire). Francesco's inspired pianism remains an ideal for me, though but for one piano piece his compositions remain a closed book. Born in Rome to a father who wanted him to become a monk, he grew up in a home where pleasure was thought sinful, with a constant fear of hellfire. He attended the Liceo Santa Cecilia, studying the piano with Francesco Bajardi, conducting with Giacomo Sentaccuoli (whose pupils included Vittorio Gui) and composition with no less a figure than Respighi. An early work from 1915 set the legend Love for three oranges by Carlo Gozzi (1720-1804) four years before Prokofiev's much more successful opera on the same story.

A fellow Bajardi-pupil,1 the ten-years-younger Carlo Zecchi, recorded Francesco's Toccata as the flip side of a disc of Busoni's All' Italia! That 10-inch 78 was re-released a few years ago as part of a several-CD collection of Zecchi and early Michelangeli; having heard the Toccata played by its composer I'd say Zecchi laid too much stress on sheer velocity (the speed-merchant is no exclusively modern phenomenon: music has always been played too fast).

Francesco came to this country about the time the First World War ended, and had a good deal of success. In 1920 he married Maria Stierli, a marriage that produced a daughter, Maeve, and a son, Niso. The couple eventually separated. Francesco began to live here a few years before Mussolini seized power in Italy, but from April 1919 onward Fascists had featured in street clashes with Anarchists and with Antonio Gramsci's Communists, so although it is unlikely that politics played a principal role in Francesco's decision to settle in England, the political background remains obscure. It is clear that like, for example, the film-producer Alexander Korda, he simply liked it here.

Once in this country and married, he never returned more than briefly to Italy, though he was for a time musical director of the famous Marionette company Teatro dei Piccoli founded by Vittorio Podrecca in 1923. He made an altogether powerful impression here, with appearances as both pianist and composer at Robert Newman's Promenade Concerts which Sir Henry Wood conducted at the Queen's Hall. On 21 September 1920 he played Mendelssohn's First Concerto, and on 9 October of the same year the Busoni transcription of Liszt's Rhapsodie espagnole, a week later making his recital debut at the Wigmore Hall; that programme contained favourite pieces he was still playing 20 years later - Bach's Italian Concerto, Beethoven's 'Waldstein' Sonata, Chopin's Cjt minor Scherzo, Berceuse, Fantasy-Impromptu and Al> Polonaise, and the three of Liszt's Paganini Etudes - Capriccio, La chasse and one I still recall with particular vividness after 6o-odd years, La campanella. …

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