Perfection is the only word to describe this playing, perfection of a kind and degree that no quartet lover living, and no quartet player, has heard before. Virgil Thomson, New York Herald Tribune
Quartetto Italiano was one of the greatest string quartets of the 20th Century. Founded by Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, Lionello Forzanti – replaced in 1947 by Piero Farulli – and Franco Rossi, they performed from 1945 to 1980. The quartet made its debut in Carpi in the summer of 1945, when the four players were still in their early 20s. They were originally named Nuovo Quartetto Italiano to distinguish themselves from another “Quartetto Italiano”, founded at the beginning of the 20th century by the violinist Remigio (Remy) Prìncipe; the adjective Nuovo was dropped in 1951. Until the breakup in 1980, it was the most famous Italian chamber music group, appreciated all over the world for its interpretative rigour, sound balance and technical perfection, features documented by a large discography.
The first recording of the group was made in Switzerland by the German record company Telefunken, on four 78 rpm records, in 1946. It was a performance by the String Quartet op. 10 by Claude Debussy, piece of the debut of the four players, who met while attending the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, encouraged by their chamber music teacher Arturo Bonucci (1894-1964). In 1947 Lionello Forzanti, the viola of the quartet, left the group to undertake a career as conductor in Latin America and the United States. He was replaced by Piero Farulli who remained in his place for thirty years until the end of the seventies, when, due to health problems, he was replaced by Dino Asciolla, who worked with the quartet until the final breakup.
The quartet has also cooperated, for some performances, with great soloists such as Pierre Antoine de Bavier, Maurizio Pollini, Pierre Fournier. They had an intense concert activity in Europe and the United States (here, in 1951, the composer and music critic Virgil Thomson called them “undoubtedly the best quartet of our century”). The recording of the complete cycle of Beethoven’s quartets, completed between 1967 and 1975, is memorable. The quartet was also the first in Italy to make a complete recording of all the works for string quartet by the Austrian composer Anton Webern. In 1970 the Florentine composer Sylvano Bussotti composed a symphonic poem for the quartet with the involvement of the orchestra, entitled I semi di Gramsci, dedicated to the great skill of the four musicians who were the first to perform it.
The secretary and historian of the Quartet was Guido Alberto Borciani (1920-2008), Paolo’s brother, an engineer by profession, a music lover and founder of Premio Paolo Borciani. In 1977, one of their recordings was included by NASA in the Golden Record, containing images and sounds to portray the Earth and Mankind, destined to be sent to the cosmos, in two copies, aboard the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched as part of the Voyager exploration program.
“That four young people, that four very young people have overcome the gleaming selfishness of their bold age is very admirable per se. But that, then, this decision and this commitment come along with so much simplicity, that they renounce to flaunt and refresh themselves in a smiling frankness is almost a prodigy, to this day” Giulio Confalonieri, 1 January 1946, Oggi
The Quartetto Italiano
Paolo Borciani was born on 21 December 1922 in Reggio nell’Emilia to Mario, violinist and teacher, son of Alberto (criminal lawyer and socialist deputy who had presented the first bill on divorce in 1902), and Nair Gorisi, landowner. He began studying violin with his father when he was five years old, graduating in 1942 at the Conservatory of Parma after a decade of private lessons with Giannino Carpi. He attended a grammar school focused on humanities and, in Bologna, the Faculty of Law that he left after two exams. He completed his studies at Accademia Chigiana in Siena with Arrigo Serato, a pupil of Joseph Joachim.
Elisa Pegreffi was born in Genoa on 10 June 1922 to Roberto, violinist, pianist and composer, and Irene Varriale. Her father, who was among the second violinists at Teatro Carlo Felice, started her on music, afterwards she studied at the Conservatory of her city with Antonio Abussi from 1930 to 1940, when she graduated. In April 1939 she won the violin competition at Littoriali della Cultura in Trieste: the prize was the performance of the Brahms Concert at the Foro Italico in Rome in front of Mussolini. She too had completed her studies with Serato, from 1940 to 1943 at Accademia di Santa Cecilia. (Dizionario Biografico degli italiani – Treccani)
Piero Farulli, viola, joined the Italian Quartet in 1946, replacing Lionello Forzanti, who moved to Latin America and the United States to cultivate his dream of becoming conductor. Actually, Farulli should have had that music stand from the beginning; at the time of the foundation his friends were not able to track him down since he had not returned home from the war yet. Farulli was born in Florence on 13 January 1920 to Lioniero, cobbler, and Marietta Innocenti, janitor, who had had six other children, including the painter Fernando (Florence, 5 July 1923 – 7 February 1997). He had the opportunity to study music thanks to the generosity of Ida Beni, owner of an emporium in Viale Don Minzoni, where he was a shop boy. At the age of fifteen he was admitted, as a violinist, to the Cherubini Conservatory in the class of Gioacchino Maglioni, of the Belgian school, whose setting of the bow Farulli handed down to his pupils. His fellow students were Piero Bellugi, Roberto Michelucci and Sylvano Bussotti. As complementary piano teacher he had Luigi Dallapiccola, as teacher of chamber music Dante Serra. In 1940 he graduated in violin, the following year in viola, and was immediately hired by the Municipal Theatre as viola tutti. Called to the army in February 1942, he was sent to Sicily, finding a place in the orchestra of Teatro Massimo. On the night between 9 and 10 July 1943 he had witnessed the Allies landing, tied by his superiors to a pole in open country as punishment. Going back up Italy with his company, he was then employed at Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, where the British occupiers had set up an orchestra: there he met the violinist Antonia Parisi, who became his wife on 5 September 1945. Back in Florence, at the beginning of 1946 he was back in service at Teatro Comunale, and he resigned the following year. (Dizionario Biografico degli italiani – Treccani)
Franco Rossi, cello, was born in Venice on 31 March 1921 to Marino and Elvira Danella, Marino’s second wife. At the Music High School of his city he had been a pupil of Prospero Montecchi and Luigi Silva, who he then followed to the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, where he graduated in 1941, finishing his studies with Dante Serra; he also studied at Accademia di Santa Cecilia with Arturo Bonucci. Before and after graduation he had gained experience in orchestras: in Turin, at the RAI in Rome, at Santa Cecilia, at the Fenice and in the orchestra of Chigiana conducted by Antonio Guarnieri, whom Rossi always venerated as his ideal maestro. (Dizionario Biografico degli italiani – Treccani)