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Francesco Paolo Tosti: Francesco Paolo Tosti (b. Ortona sul Mare, Abruzzi, 9 April 1846; d. Rome, 2 Dec 1916).
It has become the fashion in musical circles to look down the nose at Francesco Paolo Tosti, yet he composed a number of songs which have remained for more than a century in the repertoires of the world's most eminent singers. Perhaps he is regarded in this unkindly light because he threw off songs in an unashamedly sentimental style and became the pampered darling of royal families. He belongs to that small band of composers who could console themselves, after the critics had had their say, by crying all the way to the bank. He was sent to study the violin and composition in Naples, where he subsequently held a musical post that was as ill-paid as it was humble. At the age of twenty-three he returned home, disillusioned and in poor health, but in spite of illness he managed to compose two songs, Non m'amapiu and Lamento d'amore, which were to become highly popular. He next tried his luck in Rome, where he won a considerable success at the Sala Dante singing several of his own ballads. Princess Margherita of Savoy, later the Queen of Italy, was so impressed that she appointed him her teacher of singing.
The most important step in Francesco Paolo Tosti's career, however, was his decision to visit London in 1875. His simple yet memorably tuneful ballads delighted the taste of the English, then frankly unsophisticated in musical matters, and his songs winged their way round all the fashionable drawing-rooms in London. He was not slow to realise his good fortune and began to set English rather than Italian lyrics, which paid offhandsomely by his invitation to become teacher of singing to the royal family. Queen Victoria, it seems, was amused for once in her life. With this appointment in 1880 he decided to settle in London: he had already composed Goodbye and Forever, but it was the latter which summed up his affection for England. No doubt it was the sentimental song Mother which finally made England adopt him as her son. Curiously perhaps, it was not the Queen but her more earthy successor Edward VII who gave Francesco Paolo Tosti the ultimate accolade of a knighthood in 1908.
It may be easy to make fun of Francesco Paolo Tosti, but his enormous output of songs nevertheless reveals an enviable talent in the field he chose. The elegance of their vocal line, which has a genuine Italian flow and expressive warmth, is ample compensation for the sometimes cloying sentimentality of their lyrics, whether these be French, Italian or English. Sometimes, as in L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra, his music approaches an almost operatic intensity. And always his songs proved rewarding to the singer. Francesco Paolo Tosti never pretended to be a profound composer, but the fact that artists of the calibre of Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Jussi Björling, Dame Eva Turner and, more recently, Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras have chosen to include his songs in their recital programmes surely speaks for itself. There is always a place for enchanting melody in the world of music, and because he provided so many melodies of lasting appeal Francesco Paolo Tosti should never be despised.
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