Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) was one of Italy's most respected and prolific composers. Aside from his own symphonic, operatic, vocal and chamber music compositions, he was a musicologist and music educator who edited Monteverdi and Vivaldi—for which he was well-known. He was said to write brilliantly for the orchestra, but on the whole his works found little popular acceptance. Stylistically, he fell between Puccini and Respighi.
Gian Francesco Malipiero was born Aug. 3, 1882, in Venice, and spent much of his life there. The grandson and son of musicians, he studied the violin as a boy in Venice and in Vienna. Upon returning to his native city, he entered the Liceo Musicale Benedetto Marcello as a composition student and transferred to the conservatory in Bologna.
Stravinsky Was an Early Influence
In 1913 Malipiero went to Paris, where he met Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky and heard the first performance of the latter's Rite of Spring. This was a turning point in Malipiero's life. He repudiated all of his earlier compositions and set about achieving an individual style of music that would be freed from the clichés of the overwhelmingly popular 19th-century opera—a problem faced by several Italian composers of his generation.
He Edited Monteverdi, Vivaldi
Malipiero found elements of his mature style in the works of 17th-and 18th-century Italian composers, such as Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli, Giuseppe Tartini, and Antonio Vivaldi. Almost none of the music of these masters was available; when Malipiero found the manuscripts and original editions in the library of the Liceo Musicale in Venice, he started the lifelong project of transcribing and publishing them.
One of the results of these efforts was Vivaldiana, for which Malipiero was well-known. With his original Inventions (two sets, the latter titled The Feast of the Indolents), he combined a wide range of orchestral and operatic compositions. A portion of the work was used in the Walter Ruttmann film Steel.
Taught and Popularized Italian Music
Malipiero was a composer but he was also an academic. In 1921 he became a professor at the Parma Conservatory, and in 1924 he cofounded (with Alfredo Casella) an association for the popularization of modern Italian music. Malipiero's Antonio e Cleopatra was first performed on May 4, 1938, in Florence. For this opera, he wrote his own libretto. From 1939 to 1952 Malipiero would direct music institutes at Padua and Venice.
Music Didn't Survive Initial Performances
Malipiero wrote more than 25 operas, 4 ballets, 15 symphonic poems, 9 symphonies, 4 piano concertos, a violin concerto, large works for choir and orchestra, chamber music, and piano music. Most of this music was performed at the Festival of Contemporary Music held biannually in Venice, but little of it survived the premieres. This was probably because Malipiero's style was unpopular with the general public, the critics, and his fellow professional musicians.
Malipiero's style was highly intellectual and based upon his desire to return to the foundations of Italian music. He carefully avoided spectacular or exciting effects. For his librettos he frequently chose fantastic or metaphysical tales whose elusive meaning left the general audience more bewildered than satisfied.
Gian Francesco Malipiero died Jan. 8, 1973, in Venice.
Further Reading on Gian Francesco Malipiero
Malipiero's Antonio e Cleopatra is discussed in Opera News (June 1988). His work is also discussed in an article titled "La musica di Gian Francesco Malipiero" Music and Letters (Feb. 1992); and in Cynthia Barr, "The Musicological Legacy of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge" Journal of Musicology (Spring 1993).
For biographical information on Malipiero see G. Francesco Malipiero (Chester, 1922); Nicolas Slonimsky, Music since 1900 (W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1937, 3d rev. ed. 1949); Gerald Abraham, A Hundred Years of Music (Duckworth, 1938, 2d ed. 1949); David Ewen, ed., The Book of Modern Composers (Knopf, 1942, 3d ed. 1961); and Malipiero, Scrittura e Critica (Firenze, 1984).
Correspondence between Malipiero and composer/author Everett Burton Helm, and between Malipiero and stage director Max Heinrich Fisher, may be found in the Manuscripts Department at Indiana University's Lilly Library. Within the 234 items are articles Helm wrote about Malipiero, including an interview Helm conducted with him. The file also contains the manuscripts of Malipiero's "Il commitato per orchestra e una voce," dated July 23, 1934, as well as newspaper clippings and photographs of Malipiero.