The Early Years - Musical Career
By Tony D'Amato
Annunzio Paolo Mantovani was born in 1905 in Venice, the city in Italy that would delight and fascinate him all his adult life. In 1909 the family moved to London where Mantovani studied piano, harmony and counterpoint with his father to begin with, and then with professors Chiti and Pecskai. Finally, at the age of fourteen, he started the violin, and so began this unique relationship between an artist and the sound of strings.
Mantovani applied himself to the study of the violin with total concentration and thoroughness, qualities that would serve well the demands of the disciplined artistic life he would be leading later as a successful maestro. Of these early teenage years, he recalled, "I had friends, of course, but my involvement in their interests was only casual. As they talked about soccer and cricket, I kept wondering how I was going to solve the fingering problem of a particular violin exercise I was having problem with".
This desire to pursue ever-higher standards of performance was, no doubt, two-fold: there was the basic artistic drive to master his instrument, and, also, the level of achievement required to produce in him the professional musician. At seventeen he ventured forth and began earning a living as a player, pleased to be contributing to the family's income, and satisfied at having avoided courses of study in draftsmanship! He joined an orchestra and played all over England in major hotel restaurants which, in those days, was where music could be enjoyed casually and less formally than in the concert halls. He was soon featured as a soloist and there was no mistaking his talent. Two authorities of the day, Thibaud and Ysaye, who heard Mantovani play at the Metropole Hotel in London, encouraged him to pursue a concert career.
Thibaud, having commented on the youngster's "splendid tone and technical facility", was specially supportive. The quiet and gentle young man with the will of steel began a rigorous course of study and, for several years, worked assiduously, developing his technique and his repertoire. In 1930 he gave a recital at Aeolian Hall, and approximately one year following this appearance, he performed the demanding Saint-Saëns "Violin Concerto in B Minor" in a memorable performance at the Hotel Metropole to a cheering audience and, the following day, to glowing press notices. Sir Thomas Beecham, who was in the audience, sent back a note which read, "Bravo! Well played".
Times were hard as these were years of great depression and Mantovani had to plan his future. He took a painful but irreversible decision not to pursue a concert career ‘‘the most difficult thing I ever had to decide’’ he later reflected. He formed instead, the Tipica Orchestra which began to draw attention almost immediately to the London circuit, first at the grand Metropole Hotel and later in cabaret, at the elite Monseigneur's. Soon the Tipica Orchestra was the one for fashionable Londoners to hear and Mantovani began making a name for himself. He led the Orchestra in a Pathé film which was later used by the BBC in its great television documentary, "All Our Yesterdays". There followed, slightly later, the Mantovani Quintet, and, in its ranks, was a new fresh face that would one day also enhance the British musical scene, George Melachrino.
During this time, Mantovani met and soon courted Miss Winifred Moss, the daughter of W.J.Moss, a company director in the City of London. She was a remarkably beautiful woman with delicate features, a warm and winning smile and a sparkling personality. She was as English as the proverbial Rose - adding to Mantovani's shy Mediterranean personality. Years later, Mantovani would talk about the great debt he owed to Winifred, who instinctively seemed to understand what her husband required and needed as he continued to extend himself searching for a place in the world of music.
She gave him two children, a son, Kenneth, and a daughter, Paula, enriching the home life he also needed. She created a place for his family and their friends, giving Monty a broad and solid base of love and affection from which to assuage the inescapable uncertainties of an artist's life. She accepted his decision to relinquish his concert career, encouraged him to make his way in the orchestral world, however late the hours and distant the journeys; and, finally, throughout the years, she strongly supported him in the pursuit of an ultimate wish, an insistent part of his boyhood dream: to conduct his own orchestra.
With the formation of his own large orchestra, Mantovani made peace with the Muse whose caprices he struggled with for over twenty years. He had played in touring orchestras, in promenade concerts; he had led hotel orchestras and dance bands; he had been heard in recital and had performed concertos on the stages of great halls. But an orchestra with twenty-eight strings as its centerpiece, this, more than any other career move he could have made, banked his fires: he could compose for such an ensemble, arrange and transcribe for it, and, most importantly, conduct it, molding the sounds he heard into interpretations of music he wanted to present to people. This formula of expression produced the Mantovani stamp: a combination of musical taste and style, the indelible ink of which would be the so-called "cascading" sound.
The "sound" is a story in itself, the most humorous chapter of which, years later, was written by an impresario in Denmark who was presenting the orchestra in concert. A telegram was received which read, "Please don't forget to bring your sound-effect machine. We will pay the freight charges". Sound-effects, indeed! The "tumbling" effect is purely musical, and is achieved in the strings by delaying the resolution of notes in a chord. It was born as follows: having formed his orchestra, Mantovani was looking for an identifiable sound he could use as a signature for his new orchestra. He turned to the accordionist of his old Tipica Orchestra, Ronald Binge, who had become a creative arranger over the years. Mantovani decided to commission from and develop with him a suitable style of sound. It was a terrible gamble, to be sure, which, if imperfectly handled, could have hurt the orchestra's chances at the outset; but Mantovani took the risk, confident that he would know instantly when played, whether the experiment had any merit.
The result was "Charmaine". Mantovani immediately made it his signature melody and, later, when he recorded it, the disc sold over one million copies...in days when such a figure was unheard of. He had given his recording company, Decca/London, the handle required to address the vast listening public Mantovani hoped was there for his music. Mantovani became an international star.