Niccolo Castiglioni


(17 July 1932 — 07 September 1996)

Those who knew Niccolò Castiglioni often remarked on his purity, simplicity, sensitivity and serenity. He was a grown man with the heart of a young boy - a (possibly slightly naive) interpreter of dreams. His music also reflected his charming disposition which, when combined with a highly developed and refined technique, formed his unmistakable style.

Niccolò Castiglioni studied at the Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” – first with Giorgio Federico Ghedini, then with Franco Margola – and qualified in both piano and composition in 1953. For obtaining the best diploma in composition he was awarded a trip to the Salzburg Festival at the expense of the Ministry. His interests in this period included not only art, nature and the mountains, but also philosophical readings. He had a particular affection for the books of Eugenio Garin and his studies of medieval Platonism.

After cultivating a passion for Stravinsky during his years at the conservatory, his interests shifted first to twelve-tone composition, then to post-Webernian positions. Thus the courses with Gulda, Zecchi and Blacher at the Mozarteum of Salzburg were duly followed by the Ferienkurse für neue Musik of Darmstadt between 1958 and 1965.

After the experiences of expressionism and structuralism, Castiglioni eventually developed his own personal idiom. He returned to a more tonal structure, and utilised his exceptional knowledge of early counterpoint and his deep study of timbre, all of which he crystallized into free, short forms. One of the most representative works of his musical development is Inverno in-ver (1973, revised 1978), a collection of eleven poems for small orchestra. The title of the last movement of the piece - 'Il rumore non fa bene. Il bene non fa rumore' (Noise does no good. Good makes no noise) - perfectly sums up his poetic ideal of purity and luminosity. His most significant works include the Morceaux lyriques for oboe and orchestra (1982), the Geistliches Lied for soprano and orchestra (1983), the Hymne for 12 voices (1988-89) and the Momenti musicali for seven instruments (1991).

Apart from a short period in the Fifties as a concert pianist, Castiglioni devoted himself exclusively to composition and teaching. From 1966 to 1970 he lived in the United States, teaching counterpoint at the Rockefeller Foundation of Buffalo and composition as a visiting professor at the Universities of Washington (Seattle), Michigan (Ann Arbor) and California (San Diego). From his return to Italy until his death he taught at the conservatories of Trento and, from 1977, Milan. He lived in both his home city and Bressanone, a town in the Dolomites. He died in Milan on 7 September 1996.