Remembering Gianfelice Fugazza (1922-2007) A sublime musician

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A sublime musician, performer, teacher, arranger, correspondent and essayist, Gianfelice Fugazza – whom I had pleasure of knowing and with whom I had the honour to collaborate in the last years of his long eventful life – was certainly a multifaceted figure; a man able to live, with intensity, the changes and contradictions of his time: the 20th century. The intelligent energy spent on his work, has made him a reference point for musicians, composers, instrumentalists, journalists and all the people who knew him during the 60 years of his professional life. A multi-instrumentalist performer, founder and editor of the magazine “Strumenti musicali” (from 1979 to 1995), expert and consultant for musical instrument manufacturers, an ingenious mind capable of designing several innovative instruments (from reed organs to electronic organs and keyboards), Fugazza must also be remembered as a composer – for his varied stylistic tendencies – and above all for accordion and electronic instruments.

The 1940s

At the beginning of the 40s – when he was obtaining his diplomas (piano, pipe organ, vocals) – Fugazza taught himself to play the accordion. At that time, during the second world war, a “portable instrument was necessary to bring a bit of happiness to friends, on journeys to the countryside” (in Fugazza’s own words). In this same period the accordion manufacturer ”Dallapè” of Stradella, asked him to collaborate in the development and realization of a special accordion – a liturgical model whose aim was to substitute the small organs, in the churches damaged by war, to play at religious ceremonies. In 1943 the instrument¹ was introduced and given to Pope Pius XII; during the meeting Fugazza played a short concert, made up of transcriptions by Frescobaldi, Bach² and others. In the period after the war people wanted to forget the terrible recent past and enjoy themselves again: hence the growing demands for “light music”. The young Fugazza, always open to different music genres and styles, created a small band of 4 instruments, in which he worked as arranger, piano player and player of the “fashionable” instruments of the time: Hammond organ, vibraphone and obviously the accordion. In this period the accordion was very popular, but its repertoire was rather limited: dance music, songs and transcriptions of “light classical” pieces or operas. At that time Fugazza – after the experience gained with the “liturgical accordion” – decided to arrange some pieces elaborately, in order to arouse the accordionists’ interest for original music. We must add, on this subject, that he was motivated and assisted by another important manufacturing entity, the Farfisa company of Ancona, the same company whose policy in 40s was dedicated to technical specialization, as well as improvements in both the artistic field and image of the instrument3. So, in 1948, the new Farfisa publishing company released the first (official) piece for accordion by Fugazza: Preludio e fuga, an academic composition in an organistic style. (We should remember that the composer was practically an organist). An example of this instrument (with 43 keys in the right-hand 140 basses is today preserved in the “Museo della fisarmonica” in Stradella. 2 J.S. Bach’s famous Toccata and fugue in d minor was also played. the adaptation of which was probably a first …….at least in Italy. 3 With the collaboration of musicians such as Bio Boccosi and virtuoso accordionist Gervasio Marcosignori.

The 1950s

The 50s represent the time of maximum output for Fugazza with regard to the accordion. Actually the 50s were great for the Italian accordion world (and elsewhere): the instrument enjoyed great popularity everywhere; export sales in particular had soared 4, schools and didactic organizations were created, the first original didactic Italian literature was developed and the first recordings of these were recorded. Against this background Fugazza was at the forefront in many areas. In publishing sector he created a series of considerable works, from a quantative and qualitative point of view. The pieces were published by several publishers Ricordi, Carish, Sonzogno, Accordo, R.R.R. (Radio Record Ricordi) and above all Farfisa (which later would become Berben). In didactic literature his collaboration with two other remarkable musicians (working in the Milan area): Cambieri and Melocchi is very important. The “Trio”- of which Fugazza was the coordinator and “inspirer”- in a few short years produced pieces that today are still played in many schools in Italy and abroad. We remember the famous “Metodo per Fisarmonica” in 2 volumes and the Tecnica Moderna del Fisarmonicista, the collection of transcriptions Composizioni scelte di J.S. Bach e 35 studi di C. Czerny (from op. 599, 636, 849), the volumes Appunti di Teoria e Solfeggi parfait. Fugazza also paid much attention to children – being conscious of the importance of musical teaching in the earliest years of childhood, he published significant works: “Il piccolo fisarmonicista”, maybe the first method for children published in Europe and some famous collections of pieces for the first courses – Farfisino si diverte, I successi di Farfisino, Sette note al vento – real jewels of “descriptive music” inspired by this particular age group. As a composer, Fugazza’s works revealed the composer’s eclectic background (thanks to his many interests and experiences), eclecticism connected to a versatility peculiar to an instrument, that was slowly growing and finding its own “identity”. Briefly his compositions could be divided in 2 principle trends: the classical and /or free forms, and on the other hand dance or rhythmic music. 4 In 1956, 187.836 instrumenti were exported from Italy (v. La fisarmonica italiana, Boccosi – Pancioni, ediz. Farfisa, Ancona, 1964). In any case his pieces were characterized by their carefully monitored formal balance, interesting melodic content that never sunk into the banal, as well as harmonic processes that often had a modern and refined taste. The most famous works (pieces) published in this period (in chronological order) were: Danza di fantasmi (a descriptive piece) a rather innovative kind of writing for accordion at the time; Mosaico Espanol the famous novelty piece; Sonatina, in 3 movements, perhaps his most representative composition that has been inserted in the syllabus of many a conservatoire (in Italy and many other countries); Cartoni Animati e Danza dei gnomi, two unique and humorous pieces; Atlante musicale, collection of “six dance rhythms”, of varying ethnic origins, which constitute examples of very fine and stylized accordion writing, used also in traditional dance music (or so called “music in everyday use”); Introduzione e fuga (1959) can be considered the first piece for accordion that was written (in Italy) dodecaphonically, or rather, serially with the innovative employment of the free bass in the left-hand keyboard. Another area, in which Fugazza was masterfully engaged, were the transcriptions and adaptation from other instruments; aside from the “simplified arrangements” of a didactic aim, he also worked on very complex pieces, which could exploit the characteristics of instrument; among the most representative titles, one should include Corale in strofe variate by G. Farina, Rhapsody in blu G. Gershwin, Danza Esotica and Le maschere by P. Mascagni, Sabre Dance di A. Kachaturian. Up to this point we have only discussed his pieces for solo accordion, but Fugazza – conscious of the importance of “ensemble music”- worked in this area too, publishing many transcriptions and arrangements for accordion bands (generally scores with 4 parts) and writing two pieces: Aurora, a march for three Accordions and the efficacious Scherzo for four accordions. In the 50s Fugazza was also very busy as teacher: he was the first teacher of accordion in the Civico Istituto Musicale (Civic Music Institute) of Pavia of Pavia, where in 1954 he wrote the so-called first Italian syllabus for classical accordion that –read again today, with much attention – shows many interesting points, revealing the technical competence, intuition and the didactic far- sightedness of this musician. In 1956 his partnership with Farfisa – one of the leading international manufacturers, as a consultant began officially; they, together with Fugazza developed the magazine C.D.F. Centro Didattico Farfisa (Didactic Centre Farfisa). Fugazza was also an authoritative member of the first Board of Directors5. In the same year he published the collection Sei pezzi facilissimi for piano, printed by Ricordi Publisher. In the meantime the fame of Fugazza, especially in the (international) accordion world grew year by year. In 1958 was nominated “Honorary teacher” of the Sao Paolo Conservatoire of Music, in Brazil. Later, in 1959, a great opportunity arose (which was subsequently wasted): the Rome Conservatoire, after “pressure” from the accordion movement, organized a competition for the appointment of a teacher for the chair of ”Experimental Course of Accordion”; Fugazza took part in the examination and won… but – because of “shady bureaucratic deals”, “jealousy” and quarrels amongst candidates and many other reasons never revealed – the course was dropped. It was certainly a considerable blow to all Italian accordionists because several countries, in this period, had taken on the instrument in their conservatoires, colleges and universities: a situation that alas, slowed down the didactic – artistic development of the instrument in Italy. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time6 … in the same year, as a crowning achievement of his great activities towards the accordion, he received (in Pavia) the prestigious Oscar Mondiale della Fisarmonica for his obvious merits as both a didactic and composer man.

The 1960’s

In the first years of the 60s Fugazza published some pieces for the English Publisher M.A.P. (Modern Accordion Publications; they are mainly traditional dances or novelty pieces, but always very pleasing – such as, Moine (Continental Waltz) o Mascherata, which he composed under the with the pseudonym Bontalenti (previously utilized)- or pieces with rhythmic – modern style, with harmonies influenced by Jazz, such as the scintillating and gripping Tapestry (1961) or Notturno Blu (reminiscent of “blues”). At the beginning of 60s the ever – growing presence of electronics, in the music field, forced Farfisa to plan and experiment with new instruments- keyboards and electronic organs – with Fugazza out in front; the first transistors were installed in the accordions: so, the “electronic accordion” was born (with fabulous models: from the Cordovox to the notable Syntaccordion). The technical collaboration, and increasing role at the top with Farfisa – where he became “Marketing Manager” and, later, “General manager” (until 1970) – forced him to leave for his composing and creative activities for a while. Anyway in 1968 the publishers Bérben printed a collection of 12 easy pieces or piano –Pierino si diverte – which are an adaptation of some previously published pieces for accordion; this was a sign of the value and appreciation of the earlier collection for beginner studies. This was one of the few cases in which the transcription wasn’t from an instrument to accordion, but on the contrary, it is arranged for piano from accordion music; nevertheless maintaining the same freshness and character of the original writing (as quoted in the “presentation” of Publisher). 5 The C.D.F. (later C.D.M.I., embracing other instruments) was conceived with the aim of uniting (e standardizing) the many accordion schools – across a single and accredited syllabus – and to the promotion of the instrument. 6 The fact is that it was not until 1983, when (finally) the first special chair was established “as didactic auxiliary”, at the Conservatorio of Pesaro (first docent: Sergio Scappini).

The 1970’s and 80’s

These are years that Fugazza dedicated above all to electronic music, which had interested this musician7 before (scientific material and sounds fascinated him ); in fact in the 50s he had already composed music for electronic instruments, when this genre took its first steps in Italy. In 1970 the experience gained in this field gave him the possibility to accept the chair of the Conservatoire of Bologna, for the first course of “Electronic Music”. Always in the same year he wrote for Bérben, Il Sintetizzatore, a text in which he explained methodically, the technical- musical characteristics of the new and innovative instrument. Besides being active as planner for new electronic instruments, in the 70s and 80s, he wrote a lot of music for electronic instrumentation: mainly incidental music to images (often for TV) and several soundtracks. In further confirmation of the success had by past pieces dedicated to childhood, in 1974 the teacher Eliana Zajec published a collection of Sei pezzi facili di Fugazza –elaborated for Complessino di fisarmonica (Small accordion ensemble)(Berben). In 1983 he wrote the article Musica Elettronica for the famous Dizionario Enciclopedico universale della Musica e dei Musicisti (Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary of Music and Musicians) (UTET- Torino). In 1986, after a pause of about 25 years, Fugazza again published works for accordion: the “Raccolta di studi, tratti dal metodo Cambieri- Fugazza – Melocchi, per fisarmonica a bassi sciolti” (Berben). This is the period in which the instrument, in Italy too, was heading towards the systematic acceptance of free bass for the left hand; Fugazza, probably stimulated by the publisher as well as several teachers, made his contribution, using didactic material that was characteristically good and already widely utilized by many schools. Also around this time in Taormina, he had been employed to sound-proof – with electronic equipment – an important exhibition about machines made by the “Atlas Comp.”

The 1990’s

In the last decade of the century Fugazza was busy on many projects: electronic music, music technology, political writing (journalism), didactic advice and refresher courses. In 1992, in Bologna, within the events commemorating the 200th anniversary of Rossini’s birth, he realized (with the collaboration of his students of the conservatory) a huge “electronic interactive videogame” based on the music of greatest musicians. Towards the end of the century – when, by then, the accordion was officially established in Italian Conservatoires – the musician again published a series of pieces for the instrument (also revising materials from the past), and to satisfy requests from several colleagues and in particular the accordionist Francesco Visentin, owner of the Publisher Physa. They were mainly easy or average pieces, of a didactic or humorous nature (for example: Ondina, Ciuffetto, Svaghi, Divertimenti in jazz; Slalom) for standard bass or free bass. Some easy pieces were also published in a version for piano (or electronic keyboard) – Also filling a gap in his general accordion music output, that of chamber music using accordion with other instruments – he composed an interesting piece for accordion and piano: Dialoghi senza tempo (Physa 1999), performed in concert and recorded on a CD, by several accordionists; this was the last composition completed by the musician. Later the publisher Visentin tried to commission a new composition from him: Concerto per fisarmonica ed archi… but by now the musician was old and tired, and began to be quite ill therefore the request declined. In short, Fugazza was always considered an international leader, one of the greatest and most versatile Italian figures in accordion literature. On the whole, as composer we can assert that he was open to many musical forms and styles, always remaining connected to the tradition of researching and experimenting, not only forms and musical structures, but above all sound and tone through electronic and new instruments. Apart from his versatility, his legacy has a double value: as a man, seeing the need to be competently up-to-date, dutifully and with humility but also with perception, adapting to the changes 7 We should remember the LP Megamoog (produced by World – ediz. Minstrel, Roma) with 13 pieces by Fugazza, realised with the collaboration of Fabio Fabor). Time brought him; as a musician, he had an open mind, precision and craft in all his activities. Today, in our society of evident individualism and a general indifference to the past, I believe that the figure of Gianfelice Fugazza will not be (could not be) easily forgotten.

by Alessandro Mugnoz


Autore: Gianluca Bibiani

Gianluca Bibiani ha scritto 1200 articoli.

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