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Wanda Luzzato: Jenö Hubay's "most talented pupil after Vecsey"
by Gianluca La Villa
Wanda Luzzato was born in Varese on 6 March 1919, but her family was from Milan. Her first teacher, Maestro Ariodante Coggi, who later taught the young Uto Ughi, was also from Varese. Her mother, born Elsa Curti, was a singer, but didn't perform on the opera stage; married to a career officer, Angelo Vitali, she was left a war widow at only 28. She later remarried and changed her surname, Vitali, to Luzzato Carpi.
Wanda (Luzzato Carpi) began playing the violin when she was about three, and gave her first concert at age five. She was admitted to the Conservatory at a very young age, entering at the fifth level, and graduated at 12. She was Maestro Alberto Poltronieri's youngest graduate and without doubt one of the youngest graduates from any conservatory in Italy.
Her next step was the famous Vienna Competition of June 1932, where she was awarded, by a Jury comprising Clemens Krauss, Jeno Hubay, George Enescu, Jan Kubelik, Franz Drdla, Arnold Rosé, Adolf Busch, Carl Flesch, Gregor Fitelberg, Bronislaw Huberman, Erich Kleiber, Georg Kulenkampff, Pierre Monteux, Erika Morini, Josef Suk, Josef Szigeti, Jani Szanto, Heinrich Schachtebeck, Karol Szymanowski and Cesare Nordio, a special musical performance prize in a field of 300 competitors. She was also awarded the fourth prize ex aequo with Ginette Neveu. By the way all four prizes were ex aequo: the first to Gioconda De Vito and Karol Szenassy, the second to Ricardo Odnoposoff and Roland Charmy, the third to Antonio Abussi, Mario Traversa and Sigfried Borries. It was here that Luzzato met Hubay, who invited her to study with him in Budapest. Hubay was extremely pleased with her, and it is no coincidence that we have a famous photo of her lesson in the White Room of his home in Budapest. Young Wanda can be seen playing the violin with Hubay observing her affectionately. He never requested payment for any of the lessons he gave Wanda.
Her years in Hungary were also tragic: during the war she hid in a cellar for two months. We can only imagine her solitude, cut off from her family. Wanda met Marcello Fejer, her first husband, in Budapest. Years later, her divorce case was one of the last "enforced" divorces; in those times Italian law did not admit divorce. In the early 1950s, after a long residence and citizenship in Hungary, Wanda remarried in Italy. Her husband was a submarine officer, Massimo Frigeri, who survived her by two years.
Starting in 1932 when she was only 13, Wanda Luzzato began an active concert career all over Europe, playing the beloved violin G.B. Guadagnini of 1769 she had possessed since her youth. She played under the direction of the most important conductors in Vienna and Budapest. Perhaps one of the main events in her career - considering place and year - was her famous Teatro alla Scala concert on Saturday 30 October 1948, Luzzato giving the Italian premiere of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, conducted by Herbert Albert. In his review in 'Corriere della Sera', a critic spoke of the violinist that Milan had known "when she was just a little girl, a so-called prodigy", and who now played "perfectly, immersed in the pure melody and sound produced by her instrument, dexterous and mature."
For Luzzato, this was an enormously prestigious event, giving a boost to an international solo career. This, during the 1950s and 1960s, took her across the continents: to Europe, Turkey, North and South America, South Africa, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, and Korea.
On the basis of her personal archives we can cast a glance over her successful world-spanning concert career. Let's, for now, leave to one side her childhood concert at five years old, under Maestro Coggi or Maestro Poltronieri. However, on 11 July 1930, at eleven years old, Italian State Radio entrusted her with playing the Spohr Violin Concerto No. 8 under the direction of Arrigo Pedrollo. Her career had obviously a boost after the special prize awarded to her in the Vienna competition of 1932. The Brahms Concerto in Budapest in March 1934 under the direction of Hubay must be mentioned. As must concerts in Vienna and Milan in 1935 performing the Brahms Concerto, or in Rumania performing the Mendelssohn, in Sweden in 1937, in Denmark in 1941.
She played many concerts during wartime in her adopted country, Hungary. For example, in 1942 she tackled the Bach Concertos under Ferenc Fricsay and was heard with Tibor Varga in the Bach Double Concerto; not to mention the Mendelssohn and Hubay No. 3 violin concertos under Failoni and Josef Krips. She played the Glazunov Violin Concerto in Stockholm, and in 1943 in Budapest the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Failoni. In 1945 in Budapest she could be heard in the Bach Double Concerto with her friend and classmate from the Hubay's school, Gabriella Lengyel. She also presented the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Constantin Silvestri during these years.
In 1948 at La Scala she gave the first Italian performance of the Khachaturian Violin Concerto with Herbert Albert. A major venue for her was Trieste on 8 October 1949 just after having married Massimo Frigeri. There she played under the direction of Désiré Defauw the Khachaturian Violin Concerto. Defauw wrote this dedication on the concert programme: "À Wanda, la violoniste du coeur et du feu de l'oeuvre qu'elle interprète. En souvenir d'une interprétation inoubliable du Concert de Khatchaturian". Other performances of this piece were in St. Gallen in 1950, in Turin with Carlo Maria Giulini; in Freiburg in 1952 with Ferdinand Leitner.
In 1950 she played in Rome the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Rudolf Moralt conducting, the Mendelssohn Concerto in Holland, the Mozart Violin Concerto in D in Lugano with Otmar Nussio. Again she played the Mendelssohn in 1952 in Norway and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in St. Gallen later that same year. The Tchaikovsky was again heard from her in Turin in 1954 with Franco Caracciolo. In 1955 she returned to the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in Muenster and the Mozart Violin Concerto in D in Madrid with Pierre Dervaux. Back to the Tchaikovsky once more in 1956 in Denmark and in Lugano (with Nussio), in Norway and in Bonn with Peter Maag. The Glazunov put in a further appearance in Lugano in 1956 with Nussio. Breaking new ground she played the Barber Violin Concerto with Erich Schmid and Beromunster Orchestra in 1957 - a nice opening for her concert, moving away from her not so wide-ranging repertoire. The Khachaturian was presented again in Germany in 1959.
On 23 March 1960 there was the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Efrem Kurtz in the hall of the Milan Conservatory with the RAI Milan Orchestra. On 28 October 1960 she gave the world premiere of the Ghedini "Divertimento" in Turin with the RAI Orchestra of Turin conducted by Hilmar Schatz and the same work in Florence the year after, with Giulini conducting. In 1966 there was the Tchaikovsky once more, this time with Jean Martinon in Strasbourg and the Mendelssohn with Franco Caracciolo and RAI Orchestra in Pavia. In 1967 an Irish audience heard her in the Khachaturian in Eire with Tibor Paul. There was a London recital in 1968 with pianist Ernest Lush and the Glazunov Violin Concerto in Worthing in the UK. In 1970 the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in Bellinzona (CH) with Niklaus Wyss and Mozart Concerto in D at the Swiss Radio with Otmar Nussio conducting. 1973 saw her playing the Glazunov Concerto with the Radio Basel Orchestra.
At this point, apart from some chamber concerts at the end of the seventies, Wanda Luzzato stepped out of concert life, still young, having just passed into her fifties. In this she seemingly embraced the same fate as Gioconda De Vito who had won the acclaimed first prize of the Vienna Competition of 1932. As De Vito said, so many great artists of the violin do not have the taste to retire in time, before their immaculate playing begins to slip or becomes sadly withered by age.
Luzzato's concert programmes seem organised in a traditional chronological order, starting with a baroque Sonata (Haendel, Veracini), moving to the classical-romantic repertoire (a Beethoven Sonata, Schumann Grosse Sonate in D minor being one of her most loved Sonatas, Franck's Sonata in A, another of her warhorses), and including a generous sampling of virtuoso works or cameos (especially Rachmaninoff-Hubay's "Elegy", Ries "Perpetuum mobile", Pugnani-Kreisler "Preludio e Allegro", Rimsky-Korsakov's captivating "Flight of the Bumblebee" and Castelnuovo-Tedesco's "Sea Murmurs"). She did not go in for "all the Paganini Caprices", or "all the Bach Sonatas" as is sometimes the tradition used and abused today.
There are three major sources of surviving recordings: the German Radio, the Swiss Radio Lugano and Fonoteca Lugano for the Italian Radio and Television recordings, spanning the fifties to the late seventies. We look forward to these recordings being released.
Starting in 1965, Wanda Luzzato taught at various conservatories, first in Turin, for a year, and then in Milan. In a letter dedicated to Maestro Hubay, dated 23 March 1958, she speaks of the legacy she inherited from his school. The letter - published in the original Italian in Gianluca La Villa's "The White Music Room" - is deeply moving and personal. It deserves to be read in full. Here it is in English translation:-
"Many years have passed since the sad day of his death, and I commemorate him with undiminished admiration. Jenö Hubay dedicated his entire life to music, from composition to performance, from teaching to conducting. A distinguished musician and brilliant violinist, he dedicated his exceptional performance skills and experience to his pupils. He considered teaching a mission and pursued it with incomparable devotion. Music has always needed performers, and the Maestro considered problems of interpretation to be extremely important. Above all, he demonstrated and taught us to respect each composer's style, and never gave free rein to a performer's "originality". This is not to say that he eliminated the performer's personality, but rather that he never allowed the performer to take precedence over the music. He believed that absolute technical perfection was essential for a faithful performance, but abhorred all manner of excess and arbitrary virtuosity that tended to distort the melody. Pure, transparent sound, ample and spirited but never rough, solid rhythm and perfect memory: these were requisites that the Maestro considered valid only if they were merged. They were the basis of every performance.
The exceptional character of this man and artist, plus his untiring dedication, set an example and prepared me for the arduous responsibilities I had assumed. Jenö Hubay carried on the great traditions of the past, giving new light and glory to the Art of music."
The book by Gianluca La Villa, The White Music Room, Gabrielli ed. 2008, casts a glance over the history of the Hubay School.
Wanda Luzzato died in Milan on 25 September 2002 totally forgotten by the musical establishment, as often happens to great musicians. In this she shared the fate of Aldo Ferraresi and Mario Rossi some years before.
Hubay said of Wanda: "After Vecsey, none of my other pupils was as talented."