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A. P. Mantovani and his Italian Fantasia

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Annunzio Paolo Mantovani (November 15, 1905–March 29, 1980), known simply as Mantovani, was an Anglo-Italian conductor, composer, violinist, pianist, and light orchestra-style entertainer with a cascading strings musical signature. Mantovani was born on November 15, 1905, in Venice, Italy, into a musical family. His father, Bismarck, an accomplished violinist, served as the concertmaster of the legendary La Scala opera house’s orchestra in Milan, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. Mantovani himself began piano and music theory lessons at a young age. The family moved to England in 1912, when Mantovani’s father took over direction of the Covent Garden Orchestra. At age 14, Mantovani switched from piano to violin. Although the latter became his instrument of choice, he would keep up his piano work for the sake of composing. Just two years later, he made his professional debut with a performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

Young Annunzio studied at Trinity College of Music in London. After graduation, he joined a touring orchestra and quickly became a featured soloist. By age 20, he was leading the resident Hotel Metropole Orchestra, and made a few recordings with the group in 1928. He gave high-profile recitals in 1930 and 1931, performing Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto in B Minor, and began to make a name for himself. Around the same time, he formed his own orchestra, originally known as the Tipica Orchestra, which played in and around Birmingham. He also started a series of regular radio broadcasts from London’s high-profile Monseigneur restaurant. He married Winifred Kathleen Moss in 1934, and they had two children: Kenneth Paolo (born 1935) and Paula Irene (born 1939). Mantovani and the Tipica Orchestra made highly successful appearances all over England, and recorded for Sterno, Regal Zonophone, and Columbia from 1932 to 1936. Two of those records, “Red Sails in the Sunset” and “Serenade to the Night,” were hits in the U.S. in 1935 and 1936, respectively.

Columbia changed the billing on his records to Mantovani and His Orchestra in 1937, and in 1940 he moved over to Decca. By the time World War II broke out, his orchestra was one of the most popular British dance bands, both on BBC radio broadcasts and in live performances. In the ’40s, he also branched out into theater, serving as musical director for a large number of musicals and other plays, including several by Noel Coward, such as Coward’s Pacific 1860 (1946), and Vivian Ellis’s musical setting of J. B. Fagan’s And So to Bed (1951). After the war, he concentrated on recording, and eventually gave up live performance altogether. He worked with arranger and composer Ronald Binge, a one-time accordion player in the Tipica Orchestra, who developed the “cascading strings” effect (also known as the “Mantovani sound”) to replicate the echo experienced in venues such as cathedrals, and he achieved this goal through arranging skill alone. The cascading strings technique became Mantovani’s hallmark in such hits arranged by Binge beginning in 1951 with “Charmaine.” His records were regularly used for demonstration purposes in stores selling hi-fi stereo equipment, as they were produced and arranged for stereo reproduction. He became the first person to sell a million stereophonic records.

In 1952, Binge ceased to arrange for Mantovani but the distinctive sound of the orchestra remained. Mantovani’s string arrangements were among the most rich and mellifluous of the emerging light music style during the early 1950s. Mantovani recorded for Decca until the mid-1950s, and then for London Records. He recorded in excess of 50 albums on that label, many of which were Top 40 hits. His single tracks included “The Song from The Moulin Rouge”, which reached Number One in the UK Singles Chart in 1953. In the United States, between 1955 and 1972, he released more than 40 albums with 27 reaching the “Top 40”, and 11 in the “Top Ten”. His biggest success came with the album Film Encores, which attained Number One in 1957. In 1958, Mantovani and his family bought a holiday home at Bournemouth in Durley Chine Road, and then in 1961 acquired a new property in Burton Road (now part of Poole). He moved, finally, to a new home in Martello Road at Poole. Mantovani starred in his own syndicated television series, Mantovani, which was produced in England and which aired in the United States in 1959. Thirty-nine episodes were filmed. The book British Hit Singles & Albums states that he was “Britain’s most successful album act before The Beatles … the first act to sell over one million stereo albums and had six albums simultaneously in the US Top 30 in 1959”

Mantovani Plays Music From ‘Exodus’ and Other Great Themes made it to the Top Ten in 1961, with over one million albums sold. As the ’60s continued, Mantovani’s brand of pleasant, light orchestral music increasingly diverged from mainstream tastes in pop, being seen as old-fashioned, and his chart placings slipped lower and lower, His recording activities were curtailed because the Decca label was dissolved and absorbed into MCA in 1973. Mantovani made his last recordings in the early-1970s, and his last entry was 1972’s Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, though he continued to compose for several years afterward. Also, he served as the music director for the Longines Symphonette following the death of Mishel Piastro. He died at 74 years old in a care home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on March 29, 1980, and his body was cremated on April 8. His ashes are interred at Kent and Sussex Cemetery and Crematorium, Tunbridge Wells.

Following Mantovani’s death, much of his catalogue has reappeared on CD, and the Mantovani Estate continued to authorize numerous concerts worldwide and recordings using original and newly commissioned arrangements. As a conductor, Mantovani was one of the most popular and prolific easy listening artists of all time. Starting his career in the ’20s, he was very much a product of the recording age, being one of the first artists to utilize the LP as a primary medium for his releases as opposed to singles, and one of the first popular artists to use stereo recording technology. In all, he had recorded over 50 albums of his distinct brand of light orchestral music since the early 1950s. His repertoire did feature original compositions, but was built chiefly on lush adaptations of familiar melodies such as TV and movie themes, show tunes, pop hits, classical material, and the like.

My collection contains the following works by A. P. Mantovani:

Italian Fantasia.

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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