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Leone Massimo

Leone Massimo was born on 25 January 1896 in Rome (Italy). His full name was Leone Enrico Giuseppe Siegfried Lelio Principe Massimo and he belonged to the House of Massimo, an old aristocratic family of Rome. His parents were Francesco Massimo, 4th Principe di Arsoli and Eleonora Brancaccio, the daughter of the Principe di Triggiano. His great-grandmother was Princess Caroline of Naples and Sicily. After the death of his father in 1943 Leone Massimo became the 5th Principe di Arsoli and was also 9th Marquis of Roccasecca, Baron of Pisterzo, Lord of Infrafumara, Nobile of Tivoli and Velletri and 2nd Duke of Anticoli Corrado.

In 1935 he married Princess Adelaide of Savoy-Genoa and they had six children. The Massimo family possessed many acreages, buildings and castles throughout Italy, for example the Castello Massimo in Arsoli or the Villa "Le Pozzarelle" in Fiesole near Florence. 


Beside his life as a member of the higher nobility and an important figure in politics and Vatican affairs in Rome, Leone Massimo was also a composer. He studied under Ottorino Respighi in Rome and graduated with a thesis about the secular madrigals of Palestrina, Marenzio and Gesualdo. Leone Massimo then continued his composition studies under Walter Courvoisier in Munich and Charles Koechlin in Paris. It seems that Leone Massimo became a well part of the contemporary composer scene in Paris in the late 1920s. For example Henri Sauguet dedicated the third movement of his "Feuillets d'album" to Leone Massimo in 1928.

In 1931 the violinist Yvonne de Casa-Fuerte founded a concert society to promote and perform contemporary compositions by French and associated composers. The society was called "La Serenade" and consisted of the members Vittorio Rieti, Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet, Roger Desormiere, Nicolas Nabokov, Igor Markevitch and Leone Massimo. The first concert of the society was given on 1 December 1931 with premieres of Rieti, Sauguet, Markevitch and Leone Massimo (his "Serenade, for 2 violins").

In the early 1930s the concerts of "La Serenade" were the place to be. The performances include works by Alfredo Casella, Kurt Weill, Jean Francaix, Olivier Messiaen, Francis Poulenc or Igor Stravinsky as well as compositions by the founding members. In 1933 four songs by Leone Massimo were part of the concert with works by Casella, Francaix and the French premiere of "Mahagony" by Kurt Weill. In 1934 a concert of "La Serenade" offered the Octet by Strawinsky with works by Sauguet and the "Concerto grosso" by Leone Massimo. The French newspaper "Le Menestrel" wrote about Leone Massimo: "jeune romain doué de belles qualités musicales" (13 April 1934). 


The US composer Virgil Thomson described the significance of this group:


"It was in that same December of 1931 that the violinist Yvonne de Casa Fuerte [..] began a new series of contemporary concerts. My music was not programed in this series, was not ever to be programed there. But I had wanted it to be [..]. It was a disappointment to be omitted from the group, because my chief musical associates were all included - Henri Sauguet, the Russian Nicolas Nabokov, the Italians Leone Massimo and Vittorio Rieti, and naturally the arrived composers Milhaud and Poulenc."

(can be found in: "Virgil Thomson: The State of Music & Other Writings", 2016)


Virgil Thomson also gave a description about Leone Massimo in his article "Now in Paris" in the journal "Modern Music - A Quarterly Review" (1933, volume 10, issue 3, page 144):


"Leone Massimo is a pupil of Koechlin and a Roman. His melodic style is of the finest Italian marble, like that of Monteverdi and Cimarosa, and he makes musical architecture with it that is at once delicate in detail, monumental and grand. He is an aristocrat rather than an elegant. I recommend particularly to chamber-musicians the String Quartet No.1, and the Sonata for violoncello and piano."


In 1934 the Countess Anna Laetitia Pecci Blunt founded the concert series "I Concerti di Primavera" in Rome, a similar society like "La Serenade" in Paris. This Rome spin-off was directed by Vittorio Rieti, Mario Labroca, Leone Massimo and Goffredo Petrassi.

Leone Massimo continued his work in Italy. During the World War II his villa in Fiesole was a refuge for the composer Luigi Dallapiccola. His composition "Frammenti Sinfonici dal Balletto 'Marsia'", composed during his stay that the villa in 1942, is dedicated to Leone Massimo.


After World War II his works received furthermore performances, for example at the Biennale di Venezia, a contemporary music festival. In 1949 his composition "Otto epigrammi, for voice and 5 string instruments" was performed in a concert with works by Hindemith, Mainardi and Milhaud. In 1960 his "Tre Fantasie, for orchestra" was performed at the same festival together with works by Matsudaira, Aldo Clementi, Riccardo Nielsen and Gino Contilli.


From 1958 to 1968 Leone Massimo taught music history at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome. Leone Massimo died on 4 May 1979 in Rome (Italy).


Although Leone Massimo was a respected and distinguished composer and in the circle of artists of international renown like Milhaud, Poulenc, Strawinsky, Messiaen or Dallapiccola, he could not settle himself as one of the leading figures of contemporary music. It is little known today about his work catalogue and only a few works were published. I could identify the following compositions:


  • La Donna, for voice and piano (1918)
  • Suite for violin and piano (1922)
  • Serenade for 2 violins (1931)
  • String quartet (before 1933)
  • Sonata for cello and piano (before 1933)
  • Quatre chansonettes, for voice and string quartet (before 1933)
  • Concerto grosso (1934)
  • Divertimento for small orchestra (1940)
  • De Sancto Francisco, for voice and 9 instruments (1940)
  • ballet "Alfabeto" (1941)
  • Otto epigrammi, for voice and 5 string instruments (1949)
  • Elogio della Poesia, for soprano and 8 instruments (1956)
  • Tre Fantasie, for orchestra (1959)
  • Due sonetti del Tasso, for voice and piano (1959)
  • Sonata for flute, violin and piano
  • Suite for piano


In my possession are the two autograph manuscripts of the works "Elogio della Poesia, for soprano and 8 instruments" and "De Sancto Francisco, for soprano and 9 instruments". With the permission of the Massimo family I am allowed to present the two scores here:


The work "De Sancto Francisco" was composed in 1940 and sets a medieval text to music. It is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, viola, cello and contrabass with soprano. As far as I know the composition remains unperformed and unpublished.

PDF-Dokument [224.9 KB]

The "Elogio della Poesia" was composed later in 1956. The work sets a poem by the Italian writer Libero de Libero (1903-1981) to music and is scored for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, cello, contrabass with soprano. The world premiere of the composition took place at the Teatro Antico in Taormina on 17 August 1970.

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