Giulio Minetti, image from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection
Giulio Minetti, a native of Turin, Italy, was born on November 22, 1866. He emigrated to the United States in 1891, arriving in New York en route to San Francisco aboard the vessel La Normandie on January 12, 1891 (the ship's passenger list can be found at Ancestry.com). It's not clear what brought him to San Francisco, but after a short time he became an active part of the City's music life.and quickly made an impression on San Francisco's musical life.
While in Europe he was reputed to have been a music school class-mate and a fellow member of the La Scala orchestra with Arturo Toscanini. His earliest mention in the San Francisco Chronicle is as a participant in a April 1893 concert supporting the prima donna soprano Signora Virginia Ferrari (his aunt). He made a positive impression at a September 22nd performance of Vieuxtemps' Fourth Violin Concerto at the Tivoli Theatre conducted by Adolph Bauer. In October of that year he performed the same work on a Symphony Concert led by Adolph Bauer. The Chronicle's unnamed critic noted the audience's appreciation:
The violinist, Giulio Minetti, went through [the Concerto's] endless difficulties in admirable style, and displayed a virtuoso quality that won him several enthusiastic recalls.He continued to be a successful soloist in the City's concert halls which made inroads for him with the City's elite arts patrons. At a November solo recital at Golden Gate Hall, he performed for a "distinctly fashionable [audience], San Francisco's leading society people being conspicuously numerous."
That is not to say that his ascendance in the music scene did not arouse some envy. The Chronicle reported that Minetti got into a fracas with a fellow Italian-American, the pianist and composer Riccordo Lucchesi. Lucchesi was also the San Francisco correspondent for the Gazzetta musicale di Milano, monthly musical magazine based in Milan, Italy. The Chronicle reported him denigrating Minetti's skills as a classical musician, noting Lucchesi's assertion that "Minetti was a fourth-rate musician who had previously played in a beer saloon in Los Angeles."
Lucchesi actually wrote the following (using the pseudonym R.A. Look):
Ai matinées orchestrali dati al Tivoli (specie di café-chantant) prese parte un nostro connazionale, il signor Giulio Minetti di Torino. Egli suonò il IV Concerto di Vieuxtemps, mostrando buona scuola e in qualche punto anche un certo grado di finitezza, poco riposo, non troppa sicura intonazione nelle note acute e non abbastanza robusta la cavata per sovrastare in un Tutti d’orchestra; parmi anche che la scelta del pezzo non fosse adeguata alle sue forze; infatti io non lasciai di lodare il Minetti in altra occasione appunto dopo averlo udito in pezzi di minor mole. In ogni modo quando si è costretti du suonare seralmente in orchestra facendo quel goffo tirocinio che il repertorio volgare dei vaudevilles e operette comiche richiede, non è possibile potere raggiungere le alte vette dell’arte.
[An orchestral matinee at the Tivoli (a sort of singing cafe) featured the participation of our countryman, Mr. Giulio Minetti of Turin. He played the Vieuxtemps Fourth Concerto, showing good training and in some passages even a certain degree of finish, repose, a not too sure intonation in the high notes, and not enough strength to prevail above the tutti orchestra. It also seems to me that the choice of the piece does not play to his strengths. In fact, I have not failed to praise Minetti on other occasions when I heard him playing pieces on a smaller scale. In any case when you are forced nightly to play in an orchestra making an awkward apprenticeship requiring the vulgar repertoire of vaudeville and comic operettas, you cannot reach the highest peaks of art.]Nothing about any beer saloons, but Lucchesi does plenty of damning with faint praise.
Neither this criticism or the fisticuffs did anything to slow Minetti's ascent within San Francisco's classical music world. Within a couple of years he became concert master of the old Tivoli Opera and of the San Francisco Symphony (a predecessor unrelated to the present day San Francisco Symphony active between 1896 and 1903).
Minetti was also active as a teacher. He taught violin at Mills College from the late 1890s and maintained studios in San Francisco and Berkeley where he taught violin, voice and ensemble. He also later taught at the California Conservatory of Music founded by Hermann Genss in 1907.
From 1906 he began directing orchestral concerts at the University of California in Berkeley. He was the director of the San Francisco Orchestral Society. He also formed a Società Filarmonica Orchestrale within San Francisco's Italian-American community.
source: Berkeley Daily Gazette (November 18, 1914), 7.
A 1907 newspaper column announcing of a 1907 performance of his work entitled "La caprice" also noted that Minetti had composed around 30 short pieces during the previous 15 years, and that music that he composed in Europe was familiar to audiences in Italy, France, Germany and Spain. He said that he wrote "La caprice" during the ferry commute from his San Rafael home to San Francisco. He was said to have lost many of his compositions during the 1906 Earthquake and Fire as well as a number of valuable violins.
One of his most important contributions to San Francisco's musical life was the formation of the Minetti String Quartet in 1896. At its onset, the quartet consisted of Minetti, 1st violin, Hans Koenig, 2nd violin, Andre Verdier, viola, and Arthur Weiss, 'cello. This ensemble presented approximately a half dozen concerts a year for more that twenty years.
During the 1917 season, the Minetti String Quartet, Paul Whiteman (later famous as a big band leader) played viola along Minetti on 1st violin, William Laraia, 2nd violin and Arthur Weiss 'cello. (11/6/1917). Don Rayno's biography Paul Whiteman includes a publicity photograph of this iteration of the quartet. This book also details the quartet's performances in 1917 and 1918.
Minetti is seated at the left; Paul Whiteman is standing behind him - image source: Center for Jazz Arts
Minetti was the second concert master (Theodore Thomas was the first) for the orchestra assembled for the Beethoven Festival of Music in August 1915. Concurrent with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, these programs also featured the unveiling of the Beethoven Statue in Golden Gate Park and marked the arrival of Alfred Hertz in San Francisco before taking over as the San Francisco Symphony's second conductor.
Hertz's choice as musical director was initially very controversial. His predecessor, Henry Hadley, still had many supporters. Additionally, because Hertz was a native of Germany, soon to be an opponent of the United States in the First World War, there was also innuendo about his loyalties. Opponents of Hertz's appointment promoted a rival organization, The San Francisco People's Philharmonic, that competed with the San Francisco Symphony for musicians. In 1916, Minetti, with the support of Hertz and the San Francisco Symphony Association, formed another rival ensemble, San Francisco People's Orchestra. This organization was allowed to employ San Francisco Symphony musicians and was even given use of the Symphony library of orchestral parts (both of which were denied to the People's Philharmonic).
Winthrop Sergeant, future author and musical writer for the New Yorker, Time and Life magazines, recalled being able to study violin with Minetti at this time by assisting "with odd jobs around the studio, copying and marking sheet music..." Minetti discovered that the 10 year old Sargeant had composed a work for orchestra and programmed it with the young composer conducting the San Francisco People's Orchestra.
Giulio Minetti, image from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection
In the fall of 1916, Minetti began a short stint as the principal 2nd violinist and orchestra manager for the San Francisco Symphony, holding both these roles from 1916 to 1918 (while Paul Whiteman performed in the viola section). He returned as principal 2nd violinist only for the years 1918 to 1920. As orchestra manager he was involved in negotiating contracts with the musicians of the orchestra.
His personal life went through a few twists and turns. In 1902, his aunt Virginia Ferrari had to explain to the San Francisco Chronicle how her nephew had fallen "under the influence" of a Mrs. Adelaide Lloyd-Smith. He had formed an attachment to her as a vocal student and used his quartet to accompany her performances. Minetti aided Mrs. Lloyd-Smith in evading an order to testify in a trial and gave her money. She ultimately was arrested, trial and acquitted of "obtaining money under false pretenses" in Seattle.
In the coming years he settled down. He married Eleanor de Fremery in Oakland, June 9, 1912. Her ancestors came to California in 1849 and her father was the founder of the San Francisco Savings Union. They lived at on 2615 California Street and had a country home in San Anselmo.
After his marriage he remained active. He had a School of Violin and Ensemble at his house. He also formed the Minetti Student orchestra that rehearsed at the California Club at 1750 Clay Street. When the Commonwealth Club formed an orchestra in 1931, they selected Minetti to conduct. He was also a member of the Bohemian Club for 47 years.
In the 1930s he formed the San Francisco Sinfonietta Orchestra (ca. 1933) employing twenty musicians from the San Francisco Symphony. This organization presented a few San Francisco premieres of contemporary music such as On Wenlock Edge and The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jacques Ibert's Divertissement for small orchestra, and, notably, Edgard Varèse's Offrandes.
According to sculptor Raimondo Puccinelli, a group of San Francisco's "most noted citizens" unsuccessfully petitioned Pierre Monteux, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, to perform Varèse's music. Puccinelli recalled:
However the petition did do a service: Varèse met, at this time, an elderly Italian director, Giulio Minetti, who was acquainted with the petition. He became very interested. Minetti, a modest, hard working musician, had really never gone beyond the “usual” repertoire. However, he decided to place an important Varèse work on his next programme. And so on February 15th, 1938 his Sinfonietta performed “Offrandes” at the San Francisco Community Playhouse.Minetti also remained active in the Italian community. He led concerts for San Francisco's Leonardo Da Vinci Society. He often participated in benefit concerts for the Italian-American community. He was a charter member of the Il Cenacolo Club.
Varèse and Minetti worked hard together as Minetti was not a “modern”…However, with Varèse’s guidance during the rehearsals he managed to do a marvelous job. Result: sensational. The theatre was sold out. the whole audience stood up and clapped and clapped: a real standing ovation. “Encore” and “Bis” were shouted until Minetti finally gave in and gave a repetition of a large section of the work. And thus San Francisco was spared the shame of having completely turned down Varèse.
Though unsung in music histories, Giulio Minetti was a central figure in San Francisco's Music Life for more than sixty years. He was continuously active as soloist, orchestral musician, chamber musician, conductor and educator. Minetti died on March 31, 1958 at the age of 91.
He also contributed to the score collection of the San Francisco Public Library. We have works of music signed by him as well as orchestral parts stamped with the name of his ensemble.
[Note: The San Francisco Chronicle articles can be found in the San Francisco Chronicle Historical database available to San Francisco Public Library card holders]
"About," The Leonardo Da Vinci Society [webpage].
Armsby, Leonora Wood, "The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra: First Decade," California Historical Society Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 3 (Sep., 1946), pp. 229-254. [available in JStor]
California Composers: Biographical Notes, compiled by Jessica M. Fredricks (California Federation of Music Clubs, 1934).
Catalog of Mills College and Seminary (Carruth & Carruth Printers, 1899).
"Eleanor Minetti Services," San Francisco Examiner (May 27, 1967).
First Performances (Music Department, San Francisco Public Library, n.d.).
"Footlight Flashes," San Francisco Chronicle (April 16, 1893), 3.
Frankenstein, Alfred, "Sinfonietta Honors Varese Songs," San Francisco Chronicle (February 16, 1938), 7.
Fried, Alexander, "Minetti Conducts Little Symphony in Novel Numbers," San Francisco Examiner (December 2, 1937).
Henderson, Victor, "A Musical Pilgrimage," Sunset (April 1907), 561-565.
Gibbs, Jason, "'The Best Music at the Lowest Price': People's Music in San Francisco," MLA/NCC Newsletter 17/1 (Fall 2002), 5-10.
"Gossip about Musical People," Pacific Coast Musical Review vol. 40, no. 20 (August 13, 1921), p. 8.
"Hurt His Whiskers: A Lively Mill Between Two Musicians," San Francisco Chronicle (December 6, 1893).
"A Listing of All the Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from its Founding in 1911," The Stokowski Legacy [webpage].
Look, R.A., “San Francisco, 23 Settembre 1893,” Gazzetta Musicale di Milano 48/42 (15 Ottobre 1893), 698.
"Maestro Giulio Minetti Dies at 91," San Francisco Chronicle (April 1, 1958), 17.
"The Minetti Concert," San Francisco Chronicle (November 26, 1893), 3.
"Minetti Concert Next Friday," Oakland Tribune (April 2, 1911), 5
"The Minetti Quartet," Town Talk (January 25, 1908), 25.
"A Modern Experiment," Center for Jazz Arts (February 2005).
"Music Lovers to have Treat: Compositions written by Minetti will be Heard in Berkeley," Oakland Tribune (April 16, 1907), 8.
"Musical Treat Assured: Series of Musical Concerts are to be Given in Berkeley," Oakland Tribune (January 29, 1906), 8.
"Mysterious Woman of San Rafael is Identified as Mrs. Adelaide Lloyd Smith," San Francisco Chronicle (December 26, 1902), 10.
Thomas Nunan, "New San Francisco People's Orchestra Helped by Hertz," Musical America (May 6, 1916), 58.
Thomas Nunan, "San Francisco Philharmonic to Continue Its Campaign," Musical America (August 19, 1916), 27.
Thomas Nunan, "San Francisco's Social Set Takes Interest in People's Philharmonic," Musical America (July 27, 1916), 37.
"Pacific Coast Musical Notes," Christian Science Monitor (February 26, 1916), 17.
Rayno, Don, Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music, volume 1 1890-1930 (The Scarecrow Press, 2003).
Puccinelli, Raimondo, "Raimondo Puccinelli's recollections of Edgar Varèse in San Francisco," SK Stiftung Kultur [webpage]
"San Francisco (California), 7 marzo," Gazzetta musicale di Milano (27 marzo 1902), 193.
Sargeant, Winthrop, In Spite of Myself (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1970).
"Sinfonietta Launches New Enterprise," San Francisco Chronicle (September 11, 1932), D3.
"Singer Who will be Heard Here Soon is Greet by Throngs on Tour," Oakland Tribune (October 28, 1917), 10.
"The Symphony Concert: Bauer's Last Programme of the Summer Season," San Francisco Chronicle (September 23, 1893), 7.
"Young Native Will Lead Orchestra: Ten-Year-Old Boy Writes Symphony," San Francisco Chronicle (May 11, 1916), p. 1.