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Vittorio Gui (Conductor, Composer, Arranger)

Born: September 14, 1885 - Rome, Italy
Died: October 16, 1975 - Florence, Italy

The eminent Italian conductor and composer, Vittorio Gui, was taught to play the piano as a child by his mother, who had been a pupil of Sgambati. He studied composition with Falchi at the Uceo Musicale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and also graduated in humanities from the University of Rome.

Vittorio Gui made his professional conducting debut on December 7, 1907, when he was asked at short notice to conduct Ponchielliís La Gioconda at the Teatro Adriano in Rome, which he did with success. As a result he was invited to conduct in Naples and Turin, where he came into contact with Debussy in 1911. After World War I, Guiís career developed significantly. Having been invited by Arturo Toscanini to open the 1923-1924 season of La Scala, Milan, with Richard Straussís Salome, he conducted there during the 1923-1924 and 1924-1925 seasons. In 1925 he was a founder and conductor of the Tealro Regio in Turin, and between 1925 and 1927 was chief conductor there. In 1928, he founded a permanent orchestra in Florence, which he directed until 1943; initially this was known as the Orchestra Stabile, until in 1933 it became the Orchestra of the Florence Maggio Musicale (May Music Festival), which he instituted. He also was a conductor at the Teatro Comunale there. Always a keen advocate of forgotten operas, during the 1930's Gui conducted at the Maggio Musicale productions of Cherubiniís Medea, Gluckís Armide, Spontiniís La Vestale, and Verdiís Luisa Miller.

In addition Vittorio Gui was invited by Bruno Walter to conduct at the Salzburg Festival from 1933 onwards, and, in 1936, he was invited by Sir Thomas Beecham, then in charge of the International Opera Seasons at Covent Garden, to conduct the Italian repertoire, which he did between 1936 and 1939, and returned there in 1952. Complete recordings of Gui conducting Il trovatore and La traviata from the 1939 Covent Garden season have survived, as well as excerpts from Aida at the Vienna State Opera during June 1941.

In addition to being an excellent conductor of Italian opera, for which he was most well-known outside Italy, Vittorio Gui was also the chief proponent within Italy of the music of Johannes Brahms, and during the 50th anniversary year of the composerís death, 1947, he conducted in Italy virtually all of J. Brahmsís symphonic and choral works. The following year, Gui made his debut with the Glyndebourne Festival Company, conducting Carl Ebertís production of Mozartís Così fan tutte at the Edinburgh Festival; and in 1949, he led, in addition to Così, a legendary series of performances of Verdiís Un ballo in maschera, again in Edinburgh, a recording of which has survived.

Following the death of Fritz Busch in 1951, Vittorio Gui appeared for the first time at the Glyndebourne Festival in Sussex, conducting Rossiniís La Cenerentola as well as Così and Verdiís Macbeth. La Cenerentola was to be the first of several very popular Rossini productions that he led at the festival, and henceforth he was to appear at Glyndebourne regularly. He was chief conductor of the Glyndebourne Festivals from 1952 to 1960, and then was its artistic counsellor for music from 1960 to 1963 (or 1965 - according to Baker's). His last appearances at Glyndebourne were during the 1965 season, when he conducted Cimarosaís Il matrimonio segreto and Mozartís Le nozze di Figaro.

Vittorio Gui is best remembered as a conductor of the operas of Rossini: his accounts with the Glyndebourne company of Il barbiere di Siviglia, Le Comte Ory (a brilliantly conducted, well cast production from 1952), and La Cenerentola, all recorded for EMI, have an effortless good humour and buoyancy that few other conductors have achieved. Similarly his recording of Le nozze di Figaro, one of the very first of EMIís stereophonic opera recordings, has been consistently held in the highest regard. He was one of the leading Italian conductors of his day, excelling not only in opera but also in symphonic music.

Apart from the above mentioned recording, and several made with the Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra (in fact the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) of symphonies by Haydn and Mozart and a solitary (and heavily cut) recording made for EMI in Rome of Arrigo Boitoís Mefistofele with Boris Christoff, Guiís commercial discography does him less than full justice, consisting as it does predominantly of short works that appeared on American budget labels such as Remington and Omega, and in the UK on early issues of the World Record Club. More characteristic are the numerous recordings of live operatic performances directed by Gui which have gradually appeared. Especially notable are several from the early years of the career of Maria Callas, including Verdiís Nabucco with Callas on the verge of her domination of the Italian stage (Naples, 1949); one of the most extraordinary of Callasís recordings, a radio production of Wagnerís Parsifal, (Rome, 1950); Belliniís Norma with the young Callas at Covent Garden (1952); and another major Callas interpretation, of Cherubiniís Medea at Florence (1953). Also of note are three recordings with Leyla Gencer: Belliniís Beatrice di Tenda (Venice 1964), Gluckís Alceste (Rome, 1967), and Verdiís Macbeth with Giuseppe Taddei (Palermo, 1960). A fine pre-war recording of Belliniís Norma, with Gina Cigna and Ebe Stignani, should also be mentioned. His 1949 recording of Verdi's opera Un ballo in maschera has been reissued on CD. His superb 1962 Abbey Road Studio-1 stereo recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia from 1962 (Bruscantini and Victoria de Los Angeles) has been released on the Great Recordings of the Century by EMI. There is also a brilliantly lively recording of Le Nozze di Figaro from Glyndebourne on EMI Classics (Gemini), with the superb Sena Jurinac as Contessa, Bruscantini, and Stevens.

Vittorio Gui also gained favourable comments for his composing, written in a neo-impressionistic style. He composed the operas David (Rome, 1907) and Fata Malerba (Turin, May 1, 1927); the orchestral works Giulietta e Romeo (902), Il tempo che fu (1910), Scherzo fantastico (1913), Fantasia bianca (1919), and Giornata di festa (1921); chamber music; several cantatas; songs. Gui published the study Nerone di Arrigo Boito (Milan, 1924). Gui made substantial contributions to musicology as well, with numerous articles and editions of important scores. He published a volume of critical essays Battute d'aspetto (Florence, 1944).

Source: Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website; Naxos Website; All Music Guide (Author: Erik Eriksson)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2009)

Vittorio Gui: Short Biography | Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano della RAI | Recordings of Vocal Works | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Works | Recordings of Works for Orchestra

Links to other Sites

Vittorio Gui Biography (Naxos)
Vittorio Gui (Wikipedia)
Vittorio Gui (

Vittorio Gui - Conductor (Classical Archives)
Concorso Internazionale di Musica da Camera "Vittorio Gui" [Italian/English]

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