(b Capua, 6 Jan 1856; d Naples, 1 June 1909)
Italian composer, pianist and conductor. He was the most important non-operatic composer in late 19th-century Italy and played a versatile, highly influential part in the resurgence of Italian concert life after a period when it had been at a low ebb.
He had his first music lessons from his father Gaetano Martucci, a trumpeter and bandmaster in the Neapolitan army who in 1860 turned to teaching, after Garibaldi's conquest of southern Italy. When the boy and his younger sister Teresa showed precocious promise as pianists, Gaetano brought them before the public in a series of local concerts, starting with one in Pozzuoli in December 1864. They played in Naples for the first time in 1866, and in April of the following year the young Giuseppe gave the first known performance of a piece of his own – a polka entitled Il genio which his father immediately had published (along with three other juvenile compositions) by the small Neapolitan firm Del Monaco. By this time the boy's extraordinary gifts had come to the notice of the eminent pianist and teacher Beniamino Cesi, a pupil of Thalberg. Cesi persuaded Gaetano to let his son become an external and, from 1868, an internal student at the Reale Collegio (later Conservatorio) di S Pietro a Majella, Naples, even though college rules prevented him from playing in public again until 1871.
At the Reale Collegio his main teachers were Cesi for piano and Paolo Serrao for composition. Cesi, who was a great champion of Beethoven and Schumann, had a particularly beneficial effect on his increasingly serious tastes and outlook: the seeds of his lifelong – though far from exclusive – devotion to 19th-century Austro-German traditions were sown at this early stage. However, in 1872 his father, whose financial position remained precarious, insisted on prematurely curtailing the boy's formal studies and launching him without delay as a concert virtuoso. Prudent and useful links had been established with the local aristocracy, who were to do much to further Martucci's career during the next few years. Soon his fame began to spread to other Italian cities, and in 1874 he gave at least one public concert in Rome, where he won praise from Liszt and was invited to the Quirinale by the highly musical Princess (later Queen) Margherita, who was to remain one of his fervent admirers. His first Milan concert, in April 1875, won (according to the influential Filippo Filippi, writing in La perseveranza) ‘a success surpassing any we can remember since Rubinstein’; it also induced Tito Ricordi the elder to acquire the right to publish all Martucci's music, though the exclusiveness of that agreement was to last only a few years. In June 1875 Martucci gave at least two concerts in London and one in Dublin.
The years 1877–8 were crucial in a number of respects. They saw the completion (in the summer of 1877) of Martucci's first unquestionably major work, the Piano Quintet op.45, which he entered for competitions in both Milan and St Petersburg. In February 1878 he was awarded the Milan prize, and evidently would also have won in St Petersburg if he had not felt bound to withdraw from that competition after his victory in the other (Perrino, 1992, pp.148–9). Meanwhile the most munificent of his Neapolitan patrons, Francesco Milano, Prince of Ardore, had founded (in 1877) an orchestra for Martucci to conduct and develop, which from small beginnings gradually grew into the widely admired Orchestra Napoletana. In 1878 Martucci also spent four months in Paris, where he was again much praised both as pianist and as composer, widened his musical horizons considerably, and made personal contact with several leading French musicians, including Gounod, Saint-Saëns and Massenet.
After long, painstaking preparations in private, the Orchestra Napoletana – which shared many players with the S Carlo opera house – gave its first fully public concert on 23 January 1881. By that time Martucci had become a piano teacher at the Reale Collegio, despite the interruption of his studies when he had been a student there, and from then his travels as pianist were curtailed (though not wholly discontinued) because of his growing local commitments as conductor and teacher. From the start his orchestral repertory was wide-ranging and idealistic by Italian standards: even his preference for playing Beethoven symphonies in their entireties reached out beyond what was then normal for orchestras south of the Alps, and he was also soon conducting music by Berlioz, Wagner and (from December 1882) the Second Symphony of Brahms, then wholly new to Italy. Meanwhile his repertory, both as conductor and as pianist, also stretched backwards in time to include music by composers such as J.S. Bach, Rameau and Domenico Scarlatti. By the time Martucci's orchestra contributed three to a total of 34 concerts given by various Italian orchestras at the Esposizione Generale Italiana at Turin in 1884, it was possible for several critics, including Ippolito Valetta in the Gazzetta piemontese, to declare it decisively the best in Italy.
A natural consequence of Martucci's conducting activities was a growing urge to write major works for orchestral forces: the first important result was the Second Piano Concerto (the only one he himself saw fit to publish) which had its première, with the composer as pianist, in Naples on 31 January 1886. This powerfully conceived, rather Brahmsian work, which he subsequently played in various other cities, added further to his prestige, although some Italians were puzzled by its size and complexity. Another crucial event in 1886 was his appointment, almost simultaneously, to three major posts in Bologna, following Luigi Mancinelli's sudden desertion of all of them to settle in England. Martucci left Naples reluctantly, and not, as things turned out, finally; but his appointment, as director of the Bologna Liceo Musicale was obviously a big step forward in his public career. He was also put in charge of music for the cappella musicale at S Petronio and of Bologna's so-called Società del Quartetto, which (like its counterparts in other Italian cities) by then also ran orchestral concerts.
Martucci's Bologna period was in many ways the culmination of his public career. On 2 June 1888 he brought his championing of Wagner to a climax with the Italian première of Tristan und Isolde: this was the first time he ever conducted an opera performance. Another notable pioneering venture was his introduction to Italy in 1895 of Schumann's Szenen aus Goethes Faust. In 1898 he conducted in London and Brussels, and his programmes explored an ever-wider foreign repertory. On 24 April 1898 he even introduced the Bologna public to music by Sullivan, Stanford, Parry, Mackenzie and Cowen: Stanford (whose Irish Symphony he performed repeatedly) became a personal friend, and reciprocated by twice conducting the Italian composer's First Symphony in London. By now Martucci's French repertory included music by Franck and d'Indy, and in 1888 his fervent interest in the music of Brahms was rewarded by a meeting with the great German, who was passing through Bologna: it is said that since neither of them knew the other's language, they communicated by singing to each other (Fano, 1950, p.30).
Though Martucci's interest in opera (other than Wagner) remained limited, he was willing to commemorate Verdi in 1901 with a one-composer concert. Meanwhile his teaching activities had a beneficial influence on a new generation of composers: his pupils at Bologna included Respighi, who undoubtedly learnt much from his example. More broadly, the entire range of his activities helped to create a climate in which it became easier for young Italian musicians to win success outside the opera house. The young Alfredo Casella, though never his pupil, benefited considerably from the older composer's well-established friendship with his parents; yet it was Martucci who, knowing too well the continuing limitations of the Italian musical environment, first advised them to send their son to study abroad. In 1902, having never completely lost touch with Neapolitan musical life (although it had languished somewhat during his absence), Martucci was invited to become director of the Conservatorio (formerly Reale Collegio) where he had previously studied and taught: he accepted, and remained in the post for the rest of his life. Though his health was already declining and his period of maximum impact on the Italian musical world had passed, in 1904 he completed his most original large-scale orchestral work, the Second Symphony. As a conductor he continued to explore: at one of his last Naples concerts (May 1908) he performed the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune at a time when Debussy's very name was unfamiliar to most Italians. He also introduced Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung to the Neapolitan public: the strain of conducting the latter in December 1908 may have accelerated his death. Though his senior by two years, his musically gifted widow Maria (whom he had married in 1879) survived him by 36 years and remained a tireless defender of his achievement. Their son Paolo (1883–1980) became a pianist and piano teacher, and emigrated to the USA in 1911 after several years in England.