Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Florence: The Formative Years
Edgardo Del Valle de Paz
Edgardo Del Valle de Paz (1861-1920), born in Alexandria, Egypt, a distant relative of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s mother Noemi Senigaglia, belonged to a Spanish-Sephardic family, like that of Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Del Valle de Paz was a pianist and student of Beniamino Cesi, as well as a composer and founder of the magazine “La nuova musica” (1896-1920). He wrote and published various didactic compositions and taught piano at the Istituto Musicale “Luigi Cherubini” in Florence. He taught Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco first as a private student, giving him lessons in his studio on Via dei Conti starting in 1905, and subsequently at the Istituto Musicale “Luigi Cherubini”, once a place in his class opened up, in 1908.
Of Del Valle de Paz Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote: “He was truly an excellent teacher, not so much technically as much as musically: with him I played and explored a great deal of the pianistic literature, and every year he gave us a particular subject to study and to perform at school recitals. Thus I became used to playing in public, learning the pieces by heart and performing without any fear. One year we were focused on the harpsichordists; I was assigned Scarlatti and the English harpsichordists, whom I had to “imitate” later on. One year we focused on the Fantasias, and I played the Fantasia of Schumann, who was one of my favorite composers; later, I performed the Fantasia of Beethoven with orchestra and chorus. One year we focused on Variations, and I played Bach’s Goldberg Variations and, with orchestra, the Symphonic Variations of Franck. One year we did all the Beethoven Sonatas; I chose the last two: Op. 109 and Op.111. […] I also loved the modern composers; but, in this area del Valle de Paz didn’t go much beyond Grieg and early Debussy. I must say, however, that he was the first to show me Iberia of Albeniz.” (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Una vita di musica (un libro di ricordi), edited by J. Westby, Fiesole, Cadmo 2005, pp. 73-74).
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s library at the Florence Lyceum Club includes a leather-bound volume with the initials M. C. T. stamped in gold on the lower right hand corner of the cover. This book relates to a very important moment in the composer’s life: his thirteenth birthday, the time when a boy undergoes the rite of passage to be accepted into the Jewish community. Bearing the stamp of the bindery of Filippo Fogli (Borgo La Croce, 16), this didactic book is part of all pianists’ education: Gradus ad Parnassum: 100 studies for keyboard by Muzio Clementi (edited by Bruno Mugellini), which was given to the composer by his teacher, Edgardo Del Valle de Paz, who inscribed it in this way:
“To my very dear and promising student Mario Castelnuovo I offer this sign of affection on his thirteenth birthday. E Del Valle de Paz, Florence, 2 May 1908.”
To have an idea of the importance of this occasion -- and of the gifts that he received -- in the growing up experience of the musician, we return to his autobiography, where he remembered the occasion: “The age of 13 was important for me, also for other reasons: it was the year in which I became a bar mitzvah and reached my ‘religious majority’. My mother prepared me in Bible studies and taught me what little Hebrew I know (what did my mother not teach me?). On this occasion I received some magnificent gifts: first of all, the complete works of the composers who were most dear to me; and then my father, grouchy but benevolent, was persuaded by Del Valle (who wanted me to become a concert pianist) to give me a magnificent Steinway Baby Grand piano, which I still have”. (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Una vita di musica (un libro di ricordi), edited by J. Westby, Fiesole, Cadmo 2005, p. 74).