The Italian cellist, composer and conductor, Enrico Mainardi, was given a small cello from his father, himself an amateur cellist, at the age of 3, had his initial lessons a year later, and made his recital debut at the age of 8, playing a L.v. Beethoven sonata. His father put him into the bruising life of a touring child prodigy at that point, touring Europe, rather in the manner of W.A. Mozart. When he appeared in Bologna, his accompanist on the piano was the esteemed Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. He studied with Giuseppe Magrini at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan from 1902, graduating in 1910, at the age of 13. the same year he visited Hugo Becker (1863-1941) at his summer house at Lake Como.
In 1910, Enrico Mainardi gave his first orchestral performance playing the Haydn Cello Concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Ernst Kunwald. He debuted in London at the age of 13 at a Promenade Concert conducted by Sir Henry J. Wood that began his career as a cello virtuoso who toured the concert halls of Europe. One of the most important of his early appearances at age 16 at the Bach-Reger Festival in Heidelberg, where he astonished the audience with his playing of the Cello Suite in C major (BWV 1009) by J.S. Bach. He also played there Max Reger's Fourth Cello Sonata Op.116 with the composer himself as accompanist. His teacher Becker refused to learn and perform this sonata and recommended Mainardi for the performance. He made his Vienna début on February 7, 1914 playing the Dvořák Cello Concerto with the Tonkünstler-Orchester under Rudolf Nilius. In the same year he gave chamber music recitals with Ernst von Dohnányi in Germany and Moriz Rosenthal in Vienna. In 1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, entering World War I and it made impossible for Mainardi to continue touring outside of Italy. His recital on December 3, 1916 in Milan at the Sala Piccola del Conservatorio G. Verdi with Aldo Solito De Solis at the piano, received great public acclaim.
World War I halted Enrico Mainardi's touring for four years, precipitating a re-evaluation of his musicianship. He set the instrument aside and took ordinary school studies. In 1917 he graduated from the Milan Conservatory with a diploma in composition (his main teacher was Giacomo Orefice). After the war, four years later, when he took his cello up again, he found that he had lost the ability to play well. His training had begun at such an early age that it was all a matter of instinct and muscle memory. He found that he had essentially forgotten how to play at a decent level and could no longer create a beautiful tone. He entered the Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome to study composition and piano, and in 1924 finally decided to seriously study the cello again. He then studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin with with one of the leading teachers of the day, Hugo Becker, relearning all he had previously known and relaunching his solo career. He had to re-learn, on an understanding, conscious level, what he had absorbed by instinct as a child. Mainardi would often say later that this experience of forgetting how to play, and then relearning everything, enable him to be a good teacher.
In 1921, Enrico Mainardi gave several performances with Wilhelm Backhaus including R. Strauss' Cello Sonata. Mainardi was first cello of the Dresdner Philharmonie together with Stefan Auber under Eduard Mörike between 1924 and 1929. He formed the string quartet of the Dresdner Philharmonie with Szymon Goldberg (1st violin), Joseph Lasek (2nd violin) and Herbert Ronnefeld (viola). Erich Kleiber, who conducted frequently in Dresden, convinced Mainardi to join the Berlin State Opera as solo cellist in 1929. In 1931, he once accompanied Piatigorsky at the piano in the Debussy Cello Sonata in Berlin. On another occasion they had fun playing Popper’s Elfentanz - with Piatigorsky standing behind Mainardi fingering the piece while Mainardi bowed. In 1932, he decided to resume his solo career and left the Berlin State Opera and performed a tour in Soviet Union. In 1933, Richard Strauss invited Mainardi to record Don Quixote in Berlin, with the composer conducting. He performed the world premiere of Pizzetti’s Cello Concerto in Venice, written for Mainardi, and conducted by the composer in 1934 and the world premiere of Gian-Francesco Malipiero's Cello Concerto in 1938.
Enrico Mainardi recorded Pizzetti’s Cello Concerto with the Frankfurter Funkorchester under Hans Rosbaud for the German Reichssender Frankfurt and Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 9 in B flat Major with the Breslauer Funkorchester under Ernst Prade for the German Reichssender Breslau in 1934. Subsequently, his professional career in the 1930's flourished in direct proportion to the enforced emigration of leading cellists in Germany. He was very much in demand in Italy and Germany and very busy during the Nazi period to perform in countries occupied by the Nazis. In 1939, he formed a duo with pianist Carlo Zecchi, who became a favourite partner. In 1941, he founded a famous piano trio together with the pianist Edwin Fischer and the violinist Georg Kulenkampff, who died in 1948 and was later replaced by Wolfgang Schneiderhan. Mainardi and Kulenkampff often played Johannes Brahms’ Double Concerto together.
In 1933 Enrico Mainardi became Professor of cello at the Academy of St. Cecilia, and in 1941 he replaced Becker (who had passed away) at the Berlin Hochschule, becoming known primarily as a teacher with a talent for spotting and, crucially, remedying bad habits and mental blocks in young players. He also held summer classes in Salzburg and Lucerne. He had particular insight, not surprisingly, in the problems faced by talented youngsters who had to consciously learn what they had been taught as children. He was especially adept at recognizing and curing technical problems brought on by bad habits that his pupils had picked up in their younger years. He did not normally prescribe bowings or fingerings for any particular pieces to his students. Instead, he preferred to teach them principals of fingering and how they related to particular issues in interpretation. He insisted that his pupils learn the entire score for whatever pieces they were playing, not just their own part. This included knowing what all the instruments of the orchestra were doing at any given moment in a concerto. His pupil Joan Dickson (who credits Mainardi with having saved her musical career when it was stalling at age 27) said he taught his students to recognize that proper phrasing is ruled by the harmonic progressions of a composition. Other pupils of Mainardi who later became distinguished included Amadeo Baldovino, Aldo D'Amico, Heidi Litschauer, Siegfried Palm, Miklós Perényi, Erkki Rautio, and Michael Steinkühler.
In an interview Enrico Mainardi admitted: “I regret not having performed with Toscanini, Walter and Klemperer.” It took him a while to re-establish his career in maturity internationally after World War II. He made notable solo appearances in recital awith the leading orchestras and conductors, and this time he added performance in chamber music to his activities. He extended his fame in Germany through much of the rest of Europe (Italy, Switzerland and Scandanavia), though he did not become popular in France or England. However, even in those countries he was recognized as one of the great teachers of the instrument. In 1967, he also founded a trio with the pianist Guido Agosti and the flutist Severino Gazzelloni.
Enrico Mainardi's interpretative philosophy was conservative and steeped in 19th-century ideals: he taught that the whole score of a piece should be fully appraised before performance was attempted and that the melodic outlines should be dictated by the underlying harmonic movement. He was a charismatic performer with very handsome looks and a flair for dressing well. He said he chose his clothing for a concert with a view to what was appropriate for the particular music. Despite this, he did not indulge in platform histrionics to showcase the music or its particular difficulties. He wrote: "My principle and aim is to be at the service of music and not to use it for the sake of showing myself." This conservatism extended to his calm on-stage persona (in an age of increasingly conspicuous expressivity). Thus, he became known as a reserved performer lacking showmanship, which was, by all accounts, at odds with his off-stage personality. Consequently, he went into history as a musician's musician, rather than a crowd-pleasing one.His repertoire was especially known for its high quality and intellectual content. He was one of the first concert cellists to make much of the J.S. Bach's Cello Suites (BWV 1007-1012), and to give over an entire concert evening to their performance.
Allowance must be made for the age of some of these recordings, and indeed the subsequent change in performance priorities. At first hearing his famous live 1949 Johannes Brahms' Double Concerto with Schneiderhan under Wilhelm Furtwängler may seem rather clumsy, but both soloists deliver intent and committed performances here. Enrico Mainardi’s tone is stylistically quite restrained: his portamento is generally fast and light, whilst vibrato, although frequent, is relatively discreet. Unfortunately this can result in some rather strained tone in his Haydn Concerto in D (1950), which suffers from over-legato phrasing and somewhat ‘dug-out’ tone which is not always stable in intonation, but this recording is in many ways typical of its time: the concerto was not particularly fashionable and it was long before the revival of historical performing practices brought it to the fore once again. The same might be said of Boccherini’s Sonata No. 6 (1952), which again suffers from from insufficiently varied phrasing and tone: an approach now outmoded. In Romantic repertoire, however, such as his restrained and generally Olympian readings of J. Brahms' Op. 38 Sonata (1952) and the Dvořák Concerto (1950), Mainardi becomes an important figure of his time, perpetuating nineteenth-century aesthetic values by then unfashionable for many musicians.
Enrico Mainardi was the author of numerous cello works, both concert and pedagogic. As a composer he wrote orchestral works (including four concertos for cello and orchestra), a cello concerto per due violoncelli, and chamber music, and many other works, including cadenzas for some of the major cello concertos. He wrote solo sonatas also the Sonata breve (published by Schott) in 1942.
Enrico Mainardi was married to Ada Colleoni (1897-1979), a pianist from the Milan Conservatory. They had frequent concert tours all over Europe, but by the mid-1930's their marriage seemed to have been troubled, and they both had numerous extramarital affairs. They never officially divorced. Sela Sommer had been Mainardi’s companion in his last years from 1964 until his death. He was a long-time resident of Germany, spending his last years teaching and composing for the cello at his lakeside home of Breitbrunn on Lake Ammer. He died in a Munich clinic after a brief illness in 1976.