The Pianist from the Past in the spotlight today is Italian-American pianist Vera Franceschi, and as I have enjoyed her playing over the past few years, I have written this post myself.
During her short life, Vera Franceschi made her mark on the concert stage working with some of the world’s greatest conductors and orchestras. She enjoyed a prolific career during the 1950s, and has left a legacy of much-loved recordings, too.
The daughter of Italian parents (both of Tuscan origin), she was born in San Francisco, California on 5th May, 1926. Franceschi began her studies in the United States, but in 1936 moved with her family to Rome, Italy. In 1939, at a very young age, she graduated from the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Santa Cecilia Conservatory) in Rome, where she studied with Carlo Zecchi, Alfredo Casella and Germano Arnaldi.
After World War II, Franceschi attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York studying with Harold Bauer and Carl Friedberg. She made her Paris début in 1939, and a Milan début quickly followed in 1940. After her first appearance with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1948, conductor Pierre Monteux was so impressed with her pianistic abilities that she became his protégée and he conducted her performances in Chicago and New York. At around the same time, she began recording for Parlophon, later moving to CETRA/Soria Records.
I was introduced to Franceschi’s playing a few years ago, and have, rather sadly, only heard it on recordings, but to my ears, her clarity and crisp, yet delicate, articulation allows for wonderfully elegant interpretations. Command such as this should really be savoured in the concert hall, or, perhaps, in a chic salon in Paris.
During her lifetime, Franceschi was considered one of the most acclaimed interpreters of Chopin. In the early 1950s, she signed with RCA and then Victrola, and recorded many albums featuring the Polish composer:
It was around this time that she met the tenor Daniele Barioni, whom she married on October 28, 1957 in New York and they had one son in 1958, Giulio.
Franceschi’s recordings are remarkable for their shear transparency, particularly the readings of Mozart and Chopin, for which she had a clear affinity. You can hear a live recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor No. 20 K. 466, which was recorded in 1956 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Golschmann, on YouTube, which certainly illustrates this point.
The delightful La Ronda d’Aprile by Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli was recorded shortly after her 21st birthday, and Franceschi’s wonderfully feathery light touch with such speed and definition is clearly evident here:
And this recording of Clementi’s lyrical Sonata in B minor Op. 40 No. 2, contains playing of real intensity and commitment:
Tragically, after a long hospitalization for leukemia at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, she died in July 1966, at the age of just 38.
Franceschi’s discography includes The Complete Waltzes by Frédéric Chopin (1966: RCA), Four Sonatas for Piano by Muzio Clementi (1955: Westminster), Six Sonatas for Piano by Luigi Cherubini (1956: Westminster), and 32 Sonatas for Piano Vol 1 by Domenico Cimarosa (1959: Victrola).
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
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