Carlo Maria Giulini

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One of the 20th century’s great conductors, Carlo Maria Giulini was known for his probing, self-effacing approach to orchestral and operatic scores. In addition to Italy, he was active for long periods of time in Britain and the U.S.
Giulini was born on May 9, 1914, in Barletta in southeastern Italy, but when he was small, the family moved to Bolzano. In the far north of what is now Italy, the city was part of the Austrian Empire at the time. It reverted to Italy at the end of World War I, but the area remained German-speaking for decades, and Giulini grew up hearing German and Austrian music. He began violin lessons at five, and at 16, he was admitted to the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome as a violist and conducting student. Giulini auditioned and won a place in the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, then known as the Orchestra dell'Augusteo. Two years later, he won a conducting competition, but all aspects of his musical career were temporarily sidelined when he was drafted into the Italian army. A pacifist and an opponent of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, Giulini was sent to the front in Croatia but avoided firing his gun at enemy soldiers. Later in the war, he went into hiding in a tunnel under his wife’s uncle’s house; Rome was festooned with wanted posters showing his pictures. After nine months in the tunnel, he emerged after Allied troops liberated Rome in June of 1944. In short order, he conducted the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. Giulini conducted several orchestras, including the RAI Orchestra in Rome (the Italian Radio Orchestra) and the Milan Radio Orchestra, the latter from 1946 until 1954. He led several productions at an opera house in Bergamo, and there, he programmed not only Italian opera standards but works from the Baroque and Classical periods that, at the time, were little known. This caught the attention of famed conductor Arturo Toscanini, who recommended Giulini to the La Scala Opera House. Giulini became assistant conductor there in 1952 and ascended to principal conductor the following year. Over five years at La Scala, he introduced works like Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea to the tradition-bound La Scala stage, and he worked with innovative young stage directors Franco Zeffirelli and Luchino Visconti. Giulini departed La Scala in outrage when a crowd booed the controversial soprano Maria Callas, and in subsequent positions at English opera houses, he came into conflict with management, although his conducting of Visconti’s production of Verdi’s Don Carlos in 1955 earned acclaim. Over the 1950s and ’60s, Giulini’s operatic appearances became rarer. His recording debut came in 1959 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, leading a concert version of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.
Fortunately, he had his growing career as an orchestra conductor to fall back on. In 1955, he made his U.S. debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and that turned out to be the beginning of a longstanding relationship. He became the orchestra’s principal guest conductor in 1969, and beginning in the late ’70s, he also recorded with the orchestra for the Deutsche Grammophon label. In 1978, he succeeded Zubin Mehta as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and he recorded often with that group as well. He stepped down from that post in 1984 but continued to work and record with that orchestra and many others as a guest. As an orchestral conductor, Giulini had a repertory that was narrow but deep; he added new works only after studying them intensively. He was a superb conductor of the German Romantics from Beethoven to Bruckner. Giulini was extremely prolific as a recording artist in his later years; in 2005, the year of his death, 15 recordings appeared under his name. Giulini died in Brescia, Italy, on June 14, 2005. Numerous reissues continued to appear after his death, and by the early 2020s, his recording catalog comprised well over 300 items. ~ James Manheim