Alfredo Campoli & Bel Canto.

September 10, 2009 at 02:23 AM ·

Having been born with such a natural talent Alfredo Campoli might have been expected to build his life around that talent. He did not; he enjoyed many activities and simply played when asked.

It was an unusual talent in the sense that he might be compared with Maria Callas or Luciano Pavarotti, not only because his tone was absolutely unique but also because he based his approach to performance on ‘bel canto’.
Just a few notes and his wonderful sound is instantly recognisable. Had he been born at a later time he might well have become an icon of the instrument. Unfortunately, the recordings of his performances that remain, although providing some insight into his tone and style, do not do justice to the enormous sound he drew from the instrument and the ability to derive the absolute perfection of tone invested in the instrument by the maker.
Born in Rome on the 20th October 1906 Alfredo died in Berkshire on 27th March 1991.
His father was leader of the orchestra at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome and was Alfredo's first teacher. His mother was a dramatic soprano who had toured with Scotti and Caruso.
The family moved to London in 1911, and five years later Alfredo was already giving public concerts. By the age of thirteen he had won so many prizes that he was asked not to compete in future competitions. In 1919, however, he did enter the London Music Festival and won the gold medal for his performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. He went on to tour with such singers as Nellie Melba and Clara Butt.
During the depression there was little demand for a soloist and Alfredo formed his Salon Orchestra and the Welbeck Light Quartet playing at restaurants in London, and other such venues. He first appeared at a Prom in 1938 and during the Second World War gave numerous concerts for Allied troops.
After the war, he had extended tours of Europe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia, while continuing his work with the BBC, eventually clocking up over 1,000 radio broadcasts.
Alfredo made his American début in 1953, playing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the New York Philharmonic under George Szell and in 1955 gave the first performance of the Violin Concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss, which was written for him. In 1956 he twice toured the Soviet Union.
Alfredo Campoli owned the Dragonetti Stradivarius, however, it was his 1843 Rocca that he used predominantly, the Dragonetti being housed in the bank for security.
He considered the phrasing of each passage he played and if he could achieve 'bel canto' by shortening or lengthening a note then he would do so. He was not afraid to lift the bow from the strings, an act that seems to be completely avoided today. Brief breaks of sound can add tremendous drama and power to a performance, even when not indicated by the composer.
In 1961 I made a recording of Alfredo Campoli playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Hayes Orchestra in Bromley, Kent. The cadenza from the first movement is just a miracle. My wife and I subsequently visited Alfredo at his home in Southgate on many occasions and I had the great pleasure and privilege of recording him in rehearsal with Peter Katin. Daphne Ibbott and Valerie Tryon, I also promoted his last Queen Elizabeth Hall recital, which was recorded and will be published at a later date.
In about 1972 I was granted permission to record a lunchtime concert in the Fairfield Halls Croydon, given by Alfredo with the formidable British pianist Peter Katin. Two sonatas from that recording have now been published, together, with a Brahms sonata, recorded by the same duo in Alfredo’s Southgate home, to create a new CD, a review of which is being added to this site.
Lovers of the violin who didn’t have the great honor and joy of hearing Alfredo Campoli playing in a live situation missed the opportunity to hear probably the greatest, English violinist. The only choice now is to search out the few recordings that exist. I have decided to devote as much time as possible to issuing the substantial collection of private recordings I made of him during our years of friendship, with the blessing of his surviving widow, Joy Campoli. The first is now available. CD3/2009, the Fairfield Halls recital and Southgate rehearsal.
Alfredo was a warm human being and a unique violinist.

Replies (16)

September 10, 2009 at 06:33 AM ·


I heard Campoli play the Mendellsohn cocnerto when I wa sa kid.  Awesome.



September 10, 2009 at 07:06 AM ·

As a teenager I heard him in New Zealand sometime in the '60s. Made a big impression. 

September 10, 2009 at 10:44 AM ·

IMHO, Campoli's Mendelssohn with Boult is the best recording of that concerto. And his Bliss with

the composer is just extraordinary. A great violinist who deserves more recognition.

September 10, 2009 at 12:42 PM ·

Dear Geoffrey: Thank you so much for that brief but informative, insightful, and loving biography of Mr. Campoli. I have been familiar with a handful of his recordings for decades, and have been totally awed by his unique sound, technique, and "voice." Where are the one-of-a-kind Campoli's today?

September 11, 2009 at 02:55 PM ·

La Symphonie Espagnole (debut in NY under Szell, December 6th 1953) was recorded and is available in a 4 CDs box devoted to George Szell, published by WHRA in Canada. (WHRA 6019)

September 11, 2009 at 03:19 PM ·

Sandy asked,  " Where are the one-of-a-kind Campoli's today?
A good question. I cannot honestly say that I have felt magic from any of the contemporary players that I have heard.

No doubt teaching techniques have reached a high standard and the best performers, theoretically, are correct. But a comfortable life and only minor difficulties deprive performers of the drive and romantic energy that inspired performers like Campoli.

Listen to him play. There are idiosyncrasies in his unique technique that could be studied and emulated. They are the trade marks that resulted in the BBC selecting him for more than 1,000 broadcasts. The reason he was in demand - more than 900 performances of the Mendelssohn in his lifetime, and as Carlos Majalis also added to this thread, 'Campoli's Mendelssohn with Boult is the best recording of that concerto. And his Bliss with the composer is just extraordinary. A great violinist who deserves more recognition. In fact I was weaned on his Eduard van Beinum Mendelssohn (BEULAH 1PD10)

Alfredo's one, great misdemeanor was to be responsible for me giving up the violin. Try though I may I could not produce such a wonderful sound and second best was not an option.



September 26, 2009 at 08:25 AM ·

I remember hearing Campoli play the Elgar concerto at the Proms when I was a lad and was completely bowled over by the interpretation and the beautiful sound he produced, it was an inspiration to my own subsequent study of the concerto. Imagine my amazement when he was sitting opposite me in the Tube on the way home--no limousine for this distinguished virtuoso!!

November 3, 2013 at 02:04 AM · I have to bump this topic. I had never heard of Alfredo - which I now admit with not a little embarrassment as I am English.

Why hit up on this now? Well, its a silly story - but that's how many great things happen isn't it? I posted a picture of my new violin (an Alceste Bulfari 1991) on FB which stimulated a discussion on whether I had named it. To cut this short, I googled an Italian violinist - and Alfredo Campoli came up. And then I noticed that he was born in Italy but, as I did, moved to England as a child - but perhaps the neatest coincidence was that he died the same year my violin was made. So I looked for some recordings and discovered this:

Campoli Mendelssohn

His style is unique and totally engrossing - if you only have a little time listen to the slow movement - starting about 13.30. You won't regret it.... Perhaps someone can explain why such talents are rarely mentioned. Maybe there just isn't enough room.

November 3, 2013 at 03:03 AM · Alfredo was indeed an extraordinary violinist. Joseph Szigeti was one of his admirers and I know that Heifetz attended one of his concerts and took the trouble to go backstage to meet him. I was lucky to be good friends with both Alfredo and his wife, Joy. I had lessons with Alfredo and now have one of his Roccas, number three as he styled it. Joy died only three years ago at the age of 97.

November 3, 2013 at 04:09 AM · Campoli's recordings are extraordinary. He's sometimes disparagingly called a salon violinist, but he's compellingly listenable in the same way that Kreisler is. His Bruch Scottish Fantasie is fabulous, especially, but the rest of his recorded output is worth hearing, too.

November 3, 2013 at 07:11 AM · Rumour had it that Campoli (he liked to be known professionally by his surname only) sold his Strad, reputedly an excellently preserved example free of cracks, and bought 6 Roccas.

Sadly, 5 of these were declared fakes.

"Camps" wasn't one of those prima-donna types. When playing the Elgar Concerto with our orchestra he helped us squaddies by suggesting fingerings for the tricky orchestral bits. Oh, and he was said to be a brilliant table-tennis player.

November 3, 2013 at 10:24 AM · Nice to see he has his fans here - I'm certainly converted. I read that he was also an avid bridge player - and died just before playing. Reading about him, he sounds, and also looks, like such an easy going non-prima donna. And that's exactly what comes out when he plays. Unpretentious honesty of feeling that just pulls you in.

I want to be an Alfredo when I grow up... well, now I can at least say I play one :)

November 3, 2013 at 11:48 AM · I've looked at Elise's YouTube link above to the Mendelssohn recording. The anonymous YouTube uploader of the recording, for whatever reason, didn't give any programme listing or artist details, but a little digging reveals that it is apparently an audio download of a compilation CD on the Dutton Label from circa 2001. The rarity of this CD is exemplified by the asking prices on Amazon(UK), varying from £22.53 to £288.86 (!), so we are indeed grateful on this occasion for the existence of YouTube and the uploader.

The listing of the compilation, taken from the CD sleeve, is:

Mendelssohn: Vln Conc Op 64 - London Philharmonic/Van Beinum

Paganini arr Kreisler: Vln Conc No 1 in D - National Symphony Orchestra/Victor Olof

Tartini: Violin Sonata in G min

Corelli arr Leonard: "La Folia" Variations

Bazzini: La Ronde des Lutins

Pianist: Eric Gritton

I have posted this listing as a comment on the YouTube link

As a young lad in the immediate post-war years I was aware of Campoli and heard him on our scratchy extremely lo-fi radio (called a "wireless" in those days), which was my sole source of non-live music because we didn't have a record player. Of course, I was too young then to appreciate the nuances of his playing, particularly from that source. A few years later my cello teacher, who knew Campoli professionally, praised him to the heavens, as did others of that time who saw him perform.

November 3, 2013 at 12:40 PM · Hi Trevor - thanks for the music list! I guess you saw my question on the utube page.

And yes, I listened to the wireless back then too ...

November 3, 2013 at 02:35 PM · Hello David. That rumor is false. Alfredo retained his last Strad, the Dragonetti, until late in life and sold it only after he retired. He had three Roccas (I have number three), a Pressenda and late in life he acquired a John Lott Guarneri copy which he liked very much and on which he made his last recording (Handel Sonatas--unfortunately never issued). He had had two other Strads but sold them only when he replaced them with another. He also owned a fine Guadagnini at one time but sold that to Grumiaux. It's currently owned by Joseph Silverstein.

I don't know about table tennis,

but when he was young, he was a fine tennis player and almost made it to Wimbledon. Before he retired, his London home was burgled and they stole all his tennis trophies while leaving the Strad undisturbed in its case on a chair. He was also a Bridge player of international stature and the Bridge trophies disappeared along with the others.

I have Alfredo's entire collection of LP's which Mrs. Campoli gave me after Alfredo's death. It took me several trips to bring them all back to Canada.

November 3, 2013 at 04:24 PM · "That rumor is false. Alfredo retained his last Strad, ....."

David is delighted to have been reliably informed that this rumor was false!

Back to the subject of Alfredo Campoli & Bel Canto....

I once heard the operatic bass-baritone Raimund Herincx jokingly describe his own EXTREMELY powerful voice as "not bel canto but can belto".

Campoli's sound wasn't overwhelmingly LOUD when heard live, but it always recorded well. Bel Canto indeed.

I heard many a "can belto" fiddler - names largely forgotten now.

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