Introducing Alfredo Piatti

November 4, 2016
Ray Heigemeir
Canzonetta (detail)

Canzonetta for cello and piano [1882]
by Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901)

[download images of this work]

Carlo Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901) was one of the most famous cellists of the 19th century.  Born in Bergamo, Italy, he began his cello studies at age 5 with his uncle. At age 7 he played in the local opera orchestra. In his teens, he studied at the Milan Conservatory and then began touring Europe. After meeting Liszt in Munich, the pianist invited Piatti to share a concert billing in Paris. There, Liszt presented Piatti with a fine Amati cello, having learned that he was playing on borrowed instruments after having to sell his cello during hard times on the road. Piatti later owned a fine Stradivarius cello, now nicknamed the “Piatti.” The book, The Adventures of a Cello, chronicles this instrument's story from its creation in Cremona in 1720 to the present day.

Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901)Piatti played in the “old” style—without endpin—and was known for his exacting and even technique across the fingerboard, precise intonation, and lack of musical affectations then prevalent among many performers. As a person he was said to be cheerful, kind, and a good storyteller, often relaying funny anecdotes from his past. In one story, he told of performing during the intermission of a stage drama.  When he attempted a hasty exit at the start of the second act, the audience was much entertained watching him try to get through a door that was merely a painted backdrop.

Piatti settled in England for many years, where he was a popular performer. He counted among his friends and admirers Joachim, Rubinstein, Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, Vieuxtemps, and Verdi. He married (unhappily, and later separated), retired to Lake Como, Italy, in the care of his daughter the Countess Rosa Piatti Lochis, and passed away in July of 1901. He was remembered as a gifted musician, as well as a collector and dealer of fine musical instruments, a bibliophile, and an ardent lawn tennis player.

Piatti is best known today for his technically challenging 12 Caprices, op. 25. His output included sonatas, songs, and many small pieces, of which this Canzonetta is but one. He also produced significant editions of 18th century cello works by composers such as Locatelli, Boccherini, and Bach.

Stanford’s manuscript of the Canzonetta is inscribed by his daughter, “Autografo di Alfredo Piatti. Al caro Signor Zonca. Rosa Piatti Lochis, Agosto 1911.” What appears to be a dedication in the upper right corner has not yet been deciphered, though it may reference his granddaughter, Marguerite (b. 1881).

With thanks to Astrid Smith, Rare Book and Special Collections Digitization Specialist, and the Digital Production Group for providing downloadable images of this manuscript.