The "Esseffedici"

Written by  Dario Favretti
The enlightened patronage of the Ferrara Concert Society remembered by Geri Bonfiglioli.
In 1946 a group of Ferrara music lovers set up a concert society. The war had just ended, and the group was led by Renzo Bonfiglioli, a local intellectual, Jewish, anti-fascist, and a lover of music and antiquarian books. The municipal theatre had been badly damaged during the Nazi occupation and been finally closed to the public on 20 June 1944. It re-opened on 13 May 1945, and life began again: the first week of November saw productions of Tosca and Carmen with a very young Mario Del Monaco playing Cavaradossi. The Teatro Verdi, a popular civic venue which had been restored after suffering serious bomb damage, was even more lively: starting on 11 August 1945, it mounted a whole series of attractive productions, with operas such as Rigoletto, La Bohème, Andrea Chénier and L'Amico Fritz.

Shows and concerts were run by a private company and organised in a large capacity venue which offered the prospect of a sure financial return. It is entirely understandable that the municipal authorities had more urgent tasks on their hands, and it was against this social and economic background that the Società Ferrarese dei Concerti, "a UNIQUE association IN Italy", took shape.

Renzo Bonfiglioli's son Geri remembers its early days: "I may be forgetting SOME OF the NAMES, but Dr Giuseppe Minerbi, the lawyer Ireneo Farneti, the engineer Cesare Monti AND maestro Benedetto Ghiglia, who taught the piano AT the Frescobaldi Music School, AS it was THEN, were ALL involved IN founding the society along WITH my father. Those were the years OF reconstruction, AND the gradual revival OF the city's cultural life. This group of intellectuals felt it was only right that they should take responsibility for an initiative which the local authority, under the circumstances, was unable to shoulder itself. The artistic direction - as we'd call it today - was handled by my father AND Ghiglia jointly."
The Society's first concert season got under way on 26 October 1946, with the Accademia Chigiana performing quintets by Franck, Boccherini and Schumann. Over the next ten years, it was to promote a hundred and eighteen concerts, mostly held in the Auditorium Comunale in Piazzetta Sant'Anna, which was at that time still open.

Even a bald list of performers reads like a who's who of international concert artists: violinists such as Georg Kulenkampff, Oskar Shumsky and Aldo Ferraresi, solo singers such as Nicola Rossi Lemeni, the cellist Gaspar Cassadó, top chamber groups such as I Musici, the Quartetto Italiano, the Salzburg Quartet, the Vienna Octet, the Smetana Quartet, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (conducted by Karl Münchinger), pianists including Julius Katchen, Nikita Magaloff, Friederich Gulda, Clara Haskill, Alfred Cortot and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

The Society's musical evenings always ended with an after concert party at the home of either Bonfiglioli or Minerbi. Benedetto Ghiglia remembers: "Concert artists used TO arrive AT the Society simply ON an engagement, AND would leave AS the friends OF Bonfiglioli AND his GROUP. They ALL fell IN love WITH Ferrara. It happened every TIME."
Renzo Bonfiglioli's enlightened patronage was the hallmark of the Society: a way of seeing musical life which seems unimaginable today, in a world where everything is subject to the laws of the market and every aspect of concert organisation has become a strictly contractual affair in the hands of professional operators.

But within a few years the climate in which the Society flourished began to fade: artists' costs rose rapidly; university associations became involved in organising musical events in the town; Riccardo Nielsen succeeded Gilfredo Cattolica at the Frescobaldi; and the original Ferrara Concert Society group began to unravel. Benedetto Ghiglia left Ferrara for La Scala,where he became an assistant. Music was becoming increasingly professionalised, and the utopia of a patronage became ever more difficult to achieve.

The Society brought its activities to a close with a recital by the pianist Eduardo del Pueyo on 22 February 1955, leaving the town with the memory of an organisational legacy which in later years would have worthy successors at the Teatro Comunale and in the Ferrara Musica concert seasons under Abbado.

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