Born in Parma, Ildebrando Pizzetti studied at the local conservatoire with Giovanni Tebaldini, who encouraged his love of early Italian music. He later became a professor and director of the conservatoires of Florence, Milan and, from 1948 to 1951, St. Cecilia in Rome. He obtained various honours: in 1931 he was awarded the Mussolini prize for music, in 1939 he was named Academic of Italy, and in 1958 he received the international Feltrinelli prize. Among his many students the most notable include Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Nino Rota and Gianandrea Gavezzeni. Together with Ottorino Respighi, Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero and Franco Alfano, the ‘generation 80’ group was formed: a group of musicians all born around 1880, who in various ways tried to break away from realist melodrama and incorporate new European trends into their music in an original way.
Pizzeti is best remembered for his attempt to revive musical theatre by recreating Italian tradition, in particular the ‘recitar cantando’ Baroque and Gregorian chant. His Operas, for which he often also wrote the librettos, are the predominant elements of his creative work, in which musical and poetic work are incorporated in such a way that it all seems to become one. Some highlights include (in chronological order): Fedra (text by G. D’Annunzio, 1915); Debora e Jaele (1922); Fra Gherardo (1928); Lo straniero (1930); Orseolo (1935); L’oro (1938-42); Vanna Lupa (1949); Ifigenia (1950); Cagliostro (1952); La figlia di Jorio (sempre su testo di G. D’Annunzio, 1954); Assassinio nella cattedrale (testo di Th. Eliot, 1958); Il calzare d’argento (testo di R. Bacchelli, 1961); and Clitennestra (1965). He also wrote numberous concertos (Concerto dell’estate, 1928; Rondò veneziano, 1929; Canti della stagione alta, 1930; Sinfonia in la maggiore, 1940; and various concertos for solo instruments with orchestra). Some of these peices, although rarely, are still preformed to the present day. He also wrote choral works, including a Requiem Mass. In terms of chamber music, memorable works include two quartets (1906 and 1933), two trios for piano and strings, a Sonata for violin and piano (1918-19) and a Sonata for cello and piano (1921). Interestingly, he also produced film scores (Scipione l’Africano, I promessi spose, Il mulino del Po). Aside from being a composer he was also a theorist and critic (Musicisti contemporanei (1914), Intermezzi critici (1921), Musica e dramma (1945), La musica italiana dell’800 (1946)). His commitment to fascism and difficulty of his language certainly did not make him popular after the war, despite the calibre of his performers such as Toscanini, De Sabata and Gavazzeni.