During our long-standing friendship we have discussed all sorts of musical items. At the top of our discussions is a composer named: Francesco Paolo Neglia, he is my great Uncle. After spending a tremendous amount of time discovering information on my great uncle’s life, music, mission, successes, and failures, all of which was written in Italian, I translated the text to the best of my ability and am sharing it in this chapter simply titled Francesco Paolo Neglia.
Many do not know his name, and yet the activity of this praised conductor, composer and entrepreneur rival that of his contemporaries.
Francesco Paolo Neglia was a native of Castrogiovanni, now Enna, Sicily. He was born on May 22, 1874, into a musical family, his father Joseph was a violinist and choirmaster at the cathedral, and his mother, Maria was a primary school music teacher.
As a boy, Francesco played the violin in the cathedral chapel orchestra as well as the city theater. By the time he finished his studies (age 19), he had become an elementary school teacher in his hometown. A year later, he moved to Palermo, where he studied at the Conservatory with William Zuelli where he graduated with high honors in violin performance, conducting and composition. For some time after his graduation, he devoted himself to conducting, overseeing the coordination of operas in several Italian theaters.
On December 17, 1900, at the age of 26, he married Marie Dibbern, whose family was of German origins but lived in Taormina. After many failed attempts to kick start his career in Sicily, he made the decision to move to a new location, Hamburg, Germany.
In 1901, with the help of Anna Spies, the aunt of his wife, he settled in Hamburg. In Germany, he gained nearly immediate notoriety as an important and great musician. So much so, he establishes the Akademisches Musik-Institut. Later in 1908 renamed Neglia Konservatorium and within a few years, the enrollment exceeded 500 students.
After founding the Conservatory in Germany, his conducting career began to take off. In a very short time, the newspapers would classify him among the greatest interpreters of the Beethoven symphonies. These reviews lead to many invitations for him to conduct the greatest orchestras of Berlin, Kiel, Bad-Nauheim, Frankfort on Mein as well as the famous Stadt Theater in the company of the famed Felix Weingartner.
For over a year I have been putting together a history of FP Neglia, both written and pictorial. I have unearthed many interesting facts, articles and other documentation about his life. I have been searching for any or all rights to his music, [I even contacted a lawyer in Sicily to assist me (through a friend here in the USA)] I have been in contact with most parties in Enna: the Conservatory di Francesco Paolo Neglia, the Mayors office, the school of FP and more. After I find out more information concerning the copyrights of FP material; which I think at this point, is public domain, I will purchase the rights myself. My hope is to have all of his music recorded and performed in the next few years. In addition to the performance(s) and recording, Il Ponte Magazine is interested in running FP as their cover story in a future issue. If I can produce enough material, UNICO, Il Ponte, The Italian Tribune, the Italian American Society (and hopefully others) will pitch in and help raise the necessary funds to produce the recording/performance.
A few days ago, a friend of mine who lives in Italy contacted me concerning a large chunk of material collected by the nephew of FP Neglia. This material was discovered in Liguria at a vintage bookstore. These archives (6 scrap books) contain photos, programs and critiques of FP from 1901 to 1914 when he was in Hamburg, activity as composer and conductor from 1900 to 1956, including photos, news and libretto on the first performance of his opera Zelia, also letters/reports by Mario Barbieri.