His first meeting with Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia in 1932 inspired Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco to compose for the guitar. His affinity for and understanding of the instrument, including a talent to balance the relatively quiet guitar with the volume of an orchestra, earned him a reputation as one of the leading composers for the guitar in the 20th century. He would go on to write nearly one hundred works for the instrument, both with orchestra and for solo, and dedicated many to Segovia.
But the late 1930s in Europe were problematic for an Italian Jew. Even before 1938 Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music was banned from the radio and performances were canceled. He wrote to the former conductor at Milan’s La Scala opera house, Arturo Toscanini (now living in the US but not a citizen), and to violinist Jascha Heifetz (a citizen since 1925), for sponsorship as an immigrant to the US. This effort proved successful and Castelnuovo-Tedesco came to the US in 1939 (becoming a citizen in 1946). Like other composers who fled Europe at this time he found work in Hollywood (with help from Heifetz), eventually composing or collaborating on about 200 films over the next 15 years. Additionally, he had among his students future film composers Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams.
He composed his Guitar Concerto #1 just before he left Europe in summer 1939. Based on three Italian folk songs, Segovia described the melancholic second movement as Castelnuovo-Tedesco's "tender farewell to the hills of Tuscany which he was about to leave." Hear the entire Guitar Concerto #1 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco today at 2:00pm on CapRadio Music.