Leone Sinigaglia had two great passions: mountains and music. In a way, he was a pioneer in both fields. As a mountaineer, he climbed the peaks of the Dolomites, which were little known at the time, and published his experiences and observations in his book Ricordi di arrampicate nelle Dolomiti, which caused a sensation in alpine circles at the time. As a composer, he devoted himself to a genre that was very neglected in Italy, the land of opera: instrumental music.
Sinigaglia, who was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Turin, studied violin, piano and composition at the Liceo musicale in Turin. Early on, he established important contacts with leading Italian composers such as Giacomo Puccini and Alfredo Catalani. However, the decisive factor for his further development as a composer was his time studying in Vienna and Prague, where he became friends with the great composers of his time: Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Antonín Dvořák. Their late-Romantic musical language also influenced Sinigaglia’s style at the time – as can be heard in his Violin Concerto. It was written during that period for the violinist Arrigo Serato, who performed the work with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1901. In the concert review of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the piece did not come off so well, the ideas in it being – it was said – “too meagre”.
Melodies from Piedmont
Sinigaglia found his personal style at the suggestion of Dvořák, who advised the composer to integrate the folk melodies of his Piedmontese homeland into symphonic works. From then on, he collected the folk melodies of Piedmont and wrote a number of compositions, including the Rapsodia piemontese for violin and orchestra and the Danze piemontesi, which are based on traditional tunes.
Biographical data of the composer:
1868 Born in Turin
Music studies at the Liceo musicale in Turin
1894 Studies in Vienna; friendship with Brahms and Mahler
1900 Studies in Prague; friendship with Dvořák
1900 Composition of the Violin Concerto and the Rapsodia piemontese
1901 Return to Turin
1902 Begin of systematic collection of Piedmontese folk melodies
1903 Danze piemontesi
1909 Suite Piemonte
1944 Death on the way to Auschwitz
Although many critics accused Sinigaglia of “introducing tavern songs into the concert hall”, he was well received by audiences – and also by conductors such as Toscanini, Furtwängler and Barbirolli. Gustav Mahler also performed a Sinigaglia work at the last concert he conducted. After the First World War, Sinigaglia composed very little. And little is known about his life.
Persecuted in old age
Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany also boosted anti-Jewish movements in Italy. With the introduction of the Italian racial laws, the situation of the Jews became increasingly difficult from 1938 onwards. The works of Jewish composers were no longer allowed to be published or performed. In 1944, northern Italy was occupied by the German troops – Sinigaglia was to be deported to Auschwitz like many of his fellow Jews. On the way there, the 75-year-old died of a heart attack.