Italian Composer and pianist
Gambini was born in Genoa on 22 October 1819. Although we know little about his education as a musician, he certainly showed talent at an early age, and by the time he was fifteen or so was already composing and publishing pieces for the piano, the instrument around which his career largely revolved. Indeed, he became one of the foremost Italian pianists of his time, along with Stefano Golinelli and Teodoro Döhler. He was also a prolific composer, however, his oeuvre focusing on piano works for 2 and hands, and extending to include important pieces for chamber ensembles. Moreover, as a composer he was also interested in the organ, largely thanks to his friendship with the Lingiardi organ builders. Gambini’s overall output was considerable, comprising almost 150 Opus numbers and many other unnumbered pieces. The piano repertoire mostly consists of fantasies and transcriptions or arrangements of opera arias, in keeping with the tastes of the period. Yet there are also many independent pieces that reflect the main piano forms of the 1800s. As early as 1841 Gambini published a
collection of 12 Studies (Op.36) that met with considerable acclaim in the pages of the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano, which described the work as able to stand up to comparison with compositions of the same genre from beyond the Alps, meaning the main European composers. Indeed, the paper invited Italian pianists to get to know and study the works of the young composer from Genoa.Gambini was the subject of another article in the Gazzetta in 1842, announcing a new composition in the shape of a mass with a
grand orchestra and the publication of a number of works for the piano (4 Pensieri melodici per pf, Op.39, 1842). Apart from the pieces on opera themes, Gambini’s oeuvre for the piano also included compositions such as the Capricci Op.43 (1843) and Op.55 (1846), the 6 Grandi Studi Op.70 (1850), the Sonata Op.83 (1853), the Scintille elettriche Op.90 (c. 1854) and the teaching method La meccanica del pianista (c. 1861). Many of the piano works belong to the genre known as a pezzo caratteristico, in other words a short, descriptive piece, often related to natural subjects. Cases in point are not only the Op.55 and Op.90, but also Le campane della Liguria Op.115 (1856), the Impressioni campestri Op.126 (c. 1865) and above all Le quattro stagioni Op.128, dedicated to the famous Genoese violinist Camillo Sivori.
Although Gambini’s chamber works are less numerous, they are equally significant. Suffice it to mention the Quartet in E minor, which won first prize at the Basevi Competition in Florence in 1861, the 3 Trios for violin, cello and piano and a number of interesting piano duets.
He also wrote some operas, of which the most noteworthy were Eufemio da Messina (Milan, Teatro Carcano, 1853) and Il nuovo Tartufo (Genoa, Teatro Apollo, 1854). Other remarkable works were the symphonic ode Cristoforo Colombo (1851), performed for the first time at the Società Filarmonica Fiorentina, of which Gambini was an honorary member, and Alessandro Manzoni’s La Passione, which he set to music in a score for 4 voices, choir and orchestra.
Gambini’s musical interests also included the sacred repertoire for voice and organ. Apart from the mass mentioned above, composed at the beginning of the 1840s, he also wrote one in 1850 for the inauguration of the Lingiardi organ at the church of S. Siro in Genoa. In fact it was he who, nearly a decade earlier, had tested the Lingiardi organ in the Genoese church of S. Francesco di Sales; moreover, in coming years he was to test the organs at the Santuario di N. S. della Guardia at Ceranesi (Genoa, 1850), at Nostra Signora del Belvedere at Sampieradarena (Genoa district, 1850), Cogoleto (Genoa district, 1852), Taggia S. Sebastiano (Imperia, 1853), S. Sabina in Genoa (1858), Viarigi (Asti, 1858), all of them built by the Lingiardi company of Pavia, one of the most famous and innovative organ builders of the period.
Lingiardi also built the grand organ with its double manual and 70 stops in Cannes, and this was inaugurated by Gambini on 23 April 1856. As the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano declared, the organist “treated us to some adagios and andantes in sublime style”. These may well have been pieces from L’organo moderno, the major collection published by Ricordi in 6 parts between 1855 and 1857, comprising 24 Versets or Sonatas, an Elevation, a March and a Concertone.