WHILE AMERICAN GUITARISTS are accustomed to associate with the classic guitar only such names as Segovia, Llobet, Gomez, Sainz de la Maza, Alfonso and others coming to us from Spain, little is known of Luigi Mozzani, the most celebrated living guitarist, of Bologna, Italy, who, according to competent critics, ranks with the best. One of the most unique personalities in guitar history, Mozzani is not only a virtuoso, composer, and teacher, but also a guitar maker, whose instruments are said to compare favorably with those of the old masters and even to surpass them in tone quality and carrying power
Born some sixty-five years ago in Cento, Italy, young Luigi lived and attended school in his native town until he was ready to enter the Bologna Conservatory, where he studied music for a number of years, electing the oboe as his principal instrument, and also devoting some of his spare time to the guitar. Upon graduation he accepted a position as first oboist with a prominent orchestra, and for ten years he was thus professionally engaged, playing at different times under Hans Richter and Arturo Toscanini. A concert tour to America was arranged for an orchestra with which he was connected at that time, but this venture proved a failure and a few months after its arrival the orchestra was disbanded. Finding himself stranded far away from home, Mozzani, as a guitarist, joined a group of mandolin and banjo players and managed to eke out a meager existence until he found a number of guitar pupils eager to study with him, which helped to put him back on his feet financially.
During this time he composed a set of "Studies for Guitar" which were published in three books. The writer still recalls a visit paid by Mozzani to William Foden, the American guitarist, in his St. Louis studio. After Foden entertained him with a number of guitar solos, Mozzani expressed his surprise and astonishment at the wonderful technic displayed by this artist; especially was he entranced by the right hand tremolo. Fritz Buek in his book, "Die Gitarre und ihre Meister," discussing the technic of Mozzani makes the statement that "the tremolo of Mozzani is unrivalled''; and it is our firm conviction that Mozzani being a keen observer, took with him the impression made upon him by Foden; for from that time on he devoted all his time to the improvement and development of his technic.
A few years later we find him in Paris, where he spent two years in the congenial companionship of the well known guitarists Cottin, Zurfluh, Castillio, Gelas and Llobet; and from there he departed as a full fledged virtuoso of the guitar.
A recital in Nuremberg, in the fall of 1906, sponsored by the "International Guitar Society," established his reputation in Central Europe; and in the following season we find him giving guitar recitals in the principal cities of Germany and Austria and later in Italy.
The Artist Turns Craftsman
WHILE PURSUING his concert activities Mozzani was continually thinking of the shortcomings and limitations of the instrument and decided to devote himself to the improvement of the guitar. Having returned to his native city he now carried out his plans by experimenting with the making of different types of guitars.
Impressed with the wonderful tone of an old guitar in the form of a Iyra made in 1839, by Schenk of Vienna, he worked for many years until to-day he has produced one that is considered a masterpiece of his art. In addition to guitars, he is making violins, mandolins, mandolas and violoncellos; and he has taken on young men as apprentices in the making of these instruments. So successful has he been as a teacher in this department, that about ten years ago he was induced to transfer his "school" to Bologna where later on it was incorporated as the "State School for the Making of Stringed Instruments," with Mozzani as its head. While all these activities absorb a great deal of his time Mozzani, the virtuoso guitarist, has not neglected his technic. Most of the guitarists from Central Europe come from time to time to him for a post graduate course, in order to polish up their technic; for he is recognized as a master teacher. A born musician, with many years of orchestral training, Mozzani extracts from his instrument the most beautiful tone imaginable, and his phrasing and rapid scale passages are a delight to the ear. His sense of humor may be gauged by the following incident related to the writer by a young guitarist of Munich, who lived and studied with Mozzani for several months. "One evening we were sitting on the balcony of his home, when along came an organ grinder who stopped just below us and began playing an Italian tune. Quickly Mozzani grasped his guitar and improvised the most delightful variations. With a grin the street musician looked up and then began another tune. For fully a half hour this 'duet' continued until, with a handful of small coins, the 'brother musician' made his exit."
As a composer Mozzani has given us a limited number of works in the smaller forms. Several are published in Paris, a set of six "Capriccios" is published in Leipzig, and a set of five solo pieces, in Berlin. "Twenty-five Preludes" and some other works are still in manuscript; as is also the "Modern Method," which we sincerely hope will before long be available to guitar students.
Mozzani once stated to a mutual friend, "During my early years I had all the short-comings and limitations of most guitar students, and I had to depend on my own ingenuity and inventiveness to overcome them gradually. My own experience along those lines has taught me what to do and what not to do. To progress in any artistic endeavor we not only must study what others have created, but also must build and expand upon this, and contribute our own ideas, in order to have our instrument and its music conform to modern standards. That should be the underlying principle of a new method."
Many times in recent years this master has been urged to return to the concert platform, but, in spite of the promises of financial rewards and additional fame, he has refused all such temptations. He is happiest when playing for small gatherings of friends and admirers and when he is engaged in carrying out his long cherished plans to use his knowledge and skill for the improvement of his favorite instrument, the guitar.