Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a Jewish-Italian musician who is known for his work as a Hollywood composer, and also as one of the twentieth century's foremost composers for classical guitar. Born in 1895 to a family of bankers, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was introduced to music by his mother and had completed studying composition by the age of twenty-three.
His career actually began through the support of famed Italian composer/pianist Alfred Casella, who included Castelnuovo-Tedesco's works in his own repertoire. Through Casella's endorsement, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was admitted to Italy's Societa Nazionale di Musica and also to the International Society of Contemporary music. Via these channels, Castelnuovo-Tedesco earned the necessary cachet to be recognized among more established European composers. Still, he continued performing as a pianist while developing his own compositions.
The first major period of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's career began with the premiere of his opera La Mandragoa in 1926, an adaption of a play written by Machiavelli. In future years, Castelnuovo-Tedesco would adapt other great literary works by Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Virgil, and Wordsworth. He even drew inspiration from Biblical and Judaic texts. It was also during this period that a chance encounter with famed guitarist Andres Segovia would inspire Castelnuovo-Tedesco to write the first of 100 pieces for the classical guitar.
The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's rise to power threatened Castelnuovo-Tedesco, who with the aid of famed Italian emigré conductor Arturo Toscanini, would flee Italy for the United States in 1939.
Settling in Hollywood, he immediately secured a contract composing for MGM. And though he would later speak dismissively of his work in Hollywood, Castelnuovo-Tedesco described film-scoring as an “authentically American artform.” He scored nearly 200 films and mentored younger composers such as John Williams.
He died in his Beverly Hills home in 1968 at the age of 72.