PIATTI, ALFREDO CARLO, born at Bergamo, Jan. 8, 1822, died at Crocette di
Mozzo – about four miles from Bergamo – at the residence of his son-in-law,
Count Carlo Lochis, on July 18, 1901.
His father, Antonio Piatti, born at Bergamo in 1801, was a violinist of some
repute, who held the post of leader in the orchestra of his native town. Piatti
began in his extreme youth to study the instrument which was destined to make
him famous. Given the option – at the age of five – of choosing between the
professions of violoncellist and cobbler, he decided in favour of the first, and
was promptly sent to his great-uncle Zanetti to receive instruction. Though an
old man at the time, Zanetti was an accomplished violoncellist, and a patient
teacher. He mode it a rule to seat his diminutive pupil in a chair placed upon a
table, and it was in this elevated position that the precocious child easily
mastered those ordinary difficulties, which severely tax most students. After
two years' study his great-uncle, considering his pupil sufficiently advanced,
applied for, and obtained permission for him to play in the theatre orchestra.
The only return he received for the serious physical effort of the engagement –
which lasted three months – was a present of ten francs from the Impresario,
half of which was retained by his great-uncle.
Before the commencement of the following season, Zanetti died, and the youthful
Alfredo was elected his successor in the orchestra. Mayr, who was at that time
the ‘Maestro di Cappella’, took a particular fancy to the young artist, and
warmly appreciated his genius. On one occasion, during a three days' festival
which was being held by four orchestras in the neighbouring village of
Caravaggio, Mayr singled Piatti out to play an incidental solo, which, by rights
should have fallen to Merighi, an experienced artist and professor at the Milan
Conservatoire. This episode piqued the elder virtuoso, and when in 1832 – at the
age of ten – Piatti sought to become a scholar at that institution, Merighi was
the only professor who opposed his admittance. Eventually his scruples were
overcome by the boy’s finished performance of one of his (Merighi’s) own
compositions, and as a result Piatti was granted a five years’ scholarship. At
the age of fifteen and half, having accomplished his time of study, he returned
to Bergamo, but previous to his departure, made his public début as a soloist.
This took place on Sept. 21, 1837, at a Conservatoire concert. He performed a
concerto of his own composition, and received the instrument upon which he
played as a prize.
At Bergamo Piatti resumed his post in the orchestra, played nightly at the
opera, and accompanied his father to every neighbouring village where a likely
opportunity for playing a solo presented itself. After a time these local
excursions took a wider range. He gave a concert at Turin ; went as far as
Vienna to perform a Romberg concerto at the Kärnthnerthor Theatre, and, his
engagement at the Bergamo Theatre coming to an end owing to a misunderstanding,
gave concerto in various towns in and about Italy.
At Pesth he fell ill, and having no reserve funds, was reduced to selling his
violoncello. Fortunately a friend from Bergamo heard of his difficulties, and
came and assisted him to return to his native town. The journey necessitated a
stoppage at Munich, and it was here that Piatti made the acquaintance of Liszt.
He explained his circumstances to the great pianist, and was at once invited by
him to play at a concert he was giving for the poor of the town. A violoncello
was generously lent by Herr. Menter, and Piatti played with great success, being
recalled three times, and finally embraced by Liszt before the audience.
Encourged by Liszt to go to Paris, he arrived in the French
capital in 1844. Borrowing a violoncello from a friendly amateur he gave a
concert, and played at some private receptions. He also came in contact with
Habeneck, received a present of an Amati violoncello from Liszt, and composed
his 'Chant Religieux,' and 'Sollnambula.' In the same year he played in Germany,
and during a visit to Ems, wrote his 'Souvenir d'Ems.' In 1844 also occurred
Piatti's first visit to England. Upon his arrival in London he at once obtained
an engagement in the opera orchestra; played at a private party given by Dr.
Billing (the operatic medical adviser), and at length made his début before an
English audience at the Annual Grand Morning Concert given by Mrs. Anderson at
Her Majesty's Theatre on May 31,1844. The critics ranked him at once as an
artist of extraordinary excellence, and Piatti himself was well pleased with the
impression he had made. It was at this some concert that (as Piatti was wont to
tell the story in after years) a 'little fat boy with ruddy cheeks and a short
jacket all over buttons, stepped on the platform and played the violin.' This
was Joseph Joachim, whose name in after years was so closely associated with
that of Piatti. His next appearance was at Herr Dohler's matinée at the Hanover
Square Rooms. Then he played for Signor Brizzi at his concert on June 21, and on
June 24, performed a Fantasia by Kummer at the Philharmonic.
Notwithstanding that Mendelssohn played Beethoven's Piano Concerto in G at the
same concert, and was placed on the programme immediately before Piatti, the
young violoncellist obtained an unqualified success. The Times spoke of him as
'a masterly player. In tone, which foreign artists generally lack, he is equal
to Lindley in his best days; his execution is rapid, diversified, and certain,
and a false note never by any chance is to be heard.' During his six weeks' stay in London, Piatti
played at eight concerts, but though his appearances were limited, his faultless
qualities speedily gained him renown.
After touring in the provinces, Scotland, and Ireland, in the autumn, with
Sivori, Dohler, Lablache, and Belletti, he returned to Milan. The journey was
accomplished under great difficulties, owing to the low condition of his
finances, for notwithstanding the artistic success of his first visit to England,
the personal gains were nil. Fortunately Madame Castellan made him a present of
£10, and this sum just enabled him to return to his native country. From the end
or 1844 to the latter part of the year 1845, he toured in Russia with Herr
Dohler. One outcome or his visit was the composition of his 'Mazurka
Sentimentale' (op. 6), the 'Air Baskyrs,' – suggested to him by a man who
occasionally played upon a bagpipe under his window at St. Petersburg, and the 'Fantaisie
Russe.' The last named was not heard in public until 1860, when it was performed
at a concert of the Musical Union.
Piatti's second visit to England took place in 1846. A number of concerts
engagements were offered him immediately, as also his vacated post in the opera
orchestra. He was heard again at Mrs. Anderson's Annual Concert; made his début
as a quartet player at the benefit concert of the director of the Musical Union
at Willis's Rooms; performed in Jullien's Concerts d'Eté at Covent Garden, in an
orchestra which numbered Sainton, Ernst, Sivori, and Vieuxtemps among the first
violins; and on May 4, 1847, played at the private matinée given by the
Beethoven Quartet Society on the occasion of Mendelssohn's last visit to England.
The great composer was a staunch admirer of Piatti's noble genius, and one of
his last remarks on leaving England was: 'I must write a concerto for Piatti.'
The first movement of this composition is said to have been completed, but it
has not been discovered.
During the autumn of 1850 Piatti frequently played solos at the National
Concerts, which were held at Her Majesty's under the direction of Balfe, and at
the Sacred Harmonic Society's opening concert of the season, Dec. 5, 1851, he
replaced Lindley, on his retirement. On ApriI 28, 1852, Piatti introduced
Sterndale Bennett's Sonata Duo in A minor, at a concert given by the Quartet
Association at Willis's Rooms, and on May 2, 1853, gave the first performance of
Molique’s Concerto, composed for and dedicated to him, at a Philharmonic
concert. Sullivan also wrote a concerto for the gifted violoncellist, who
performed it in public for the first time, at the Crystal Palace in 1866.
On the establishment of the Popular Concerts Piatti was engaged, his long
association with them beginning on Jan. 3, 1859, and ending with his retirement
Besides Piatti's active work as a soloist, he developed his powers of
composition under Molique, and wrote several works of high merit for his
instrument. In his own estimation the most important of these were his six
sonatas for violoncello and piano, which were composed for the Popular Concerts.
The first or these was written at Cadenabbia and played by Madame Haas and
himself on Jan. 5, 1885, at a Monday 'Pop'. The second, which was composed in
1886 during the convalescence which followed the injuries he received in a
carriage accident, was – played by the composer and Miss Agnes Zimmermann on
Monday, April 4, 1886; the third appeared in 1889; the fourth in 1893, and the
fifth and sixth, were written in 1896.
His 'Thème varié' was introduced by himself at the Jubilee concert of the
Philharmonic Society on July 14, 1862, and his 'Bergamasca,' founded upon the
rhythm of a dance appertaining to his native town, was produced in a like manner
at the last Popular Concert of the season on March 30, 1885. His two Concertos,
and Concertino for violoncello and orchestra were composed for, and played at
the Crystal Palace Concerts, and his 'Fantasia Romantica' for the Hallé concert
at Birmingham. His last composition, completed at the end of the year 1900, is
the 'Danza Moresca,' for violoncello and piano. This he played to a party of
friends at his daughter's house, on New Year's Day, 1901, with all his
Besides his original compositions Piatti employed his genius in collecting and
editing classical solos of past centuries, which, but for his preservation,
would have remained in oblivion.
As an artist Signor Piatti gained an unsurpassable reputation. His absolute
command of technical difficulties, combined with his purity of tone, faultless
intonation, exquisite delicacy, and perfect phrasing of cantabile passages,
brought him the homage not only or the public, but also or his fellow-artists.
Just as Joachim has directly or indirectly taught the great host of contemporary
violinists, so did Piatti's genius influence all living violoncellists, –
Hausmann, Becker, Whitehouse, Ludwig – each and all paid him a pupil's homage at
one time and another.
The reverential esteem which was felt towards him in England was never more
apparent than on the occasion of the 'Joachim – Piatti Jubilee,' when a
reception was organised by Sir George Grove and Dr. A. C. Mackenzie to celebrate
the 50th anniversary of the English début of the great virtuosi in 1844. The
committee included most of the prominent musicians of the day; and a host of
friends and admirers assembled at the Grafton Galleries on March 22, 1894, to
witness the presentation of an illuminated address, signed by the President and
In his own country Signor Piatti's appearances were perforce rare owing to his
popularity in England, but the admiration or his fellow-countrymen was none the
less ardent. When – after an absence of eighteen years – he played at a concert
given to raise funds to defray the expenses of a monument to Donizetti at
Bergamo (Oct. 18, 1893) he was received with wild enthusiasm. The warmth or the
reception was enhanced by the presentation of the grade of Commendatore in the
order of the Crown of Italy, which was conferred upon him by King Umberto.
Apart from the admiration which his colossal gifts attracted, the illustrious
artist's lovable disposition made him a boon companion and cherished friend.
Genial, kindly, and simple-minded, Piatti could invest the least interesting of
his many anecdotes with an inimitable humour peculiarly his own.
He was a keen bibliophile, a remarkable connoisseur or fiddles and violoncellos.
For the last twenty years or his life he resided at No. 15 Northwick Terrace,
but after the purchase or his property – called Villa Piatti – near Cadenabbia
on the Lake of Como, he retired to his Italian home after the strenuous labours
of the London musical season, returning to Northwick Tenace in the autumn.
The last months or his life were passed at the residence of his daughter,
Countess Lochis, in the peaceful companionship or his nearest relatives.
Although his splendid mental capacity remained unclouded, yet from the summer of
1900 his friends observed how his small frame grew more frail, and how every
exertion became more difficult. Finally, the disease or the heart from which he
was suffering caused him to pass gently away just before midnight on Thursday,
Ju1y 18, 1901.
After his death the professors and students of the Bergamo school of music kept
solemn watch by the body until it was laid in its last resting-place in the
private chapel of the Lochis family. The funeral, which took place on July 22,
was a public one. The Prefect, the Mayor, members, of Parliament,
representatives of the leading Musical Societies attended and notwithstanding
the tempestuous weather hundreds of townsfolk and people from the neighbouring
provinces carne to do homage to their great countryman. Four professors played
the Andante from Schubert's Quartet in D minor, according to Piatti's express
wish, and a week later visited the Lochis chapel again, and made a compact to
perform the Quartet annually on the anniversary of the master's death. Signor
Piatti’s wife, Mary Ann Lucy Welsh, only daughter of Mr. Thomas Welsh, the
eminent professor of singing, only survived her husband for a few months. The
marriage took place at Wolchester, near Stroud, in 1856, but the union was not a
happy one and ended in a mutual separation. The only surviving daughter of the
marriage became the wife of Count Lochis, who died in 1899, leaving the widowed
Countess with two children Marchesita and Alfredo, who was named after his