Screen shot from a YouTube video. Left to right: Paul Lavelle, Jane Priscilla Sousa, Simone Mantia, ca. 1949
Euphonium players might object to the title of this post. After all, Simone Mantia was the leading euphonium soloist of his generation. He played euphonium on most of his best-known performances. On the other hand, he never wrote a book called The Euphonium Virtuoso.
Simone Mantia was born in 1873 in Palermo, Italy. Some sources say that he and his family immigrated to New York when he was 17. However, the only biographical sketch I have found that appeared during his lifetime implies that he arrived in New York when he was 8. In either case, his Italian heritage shaped his first experiences in music.
Italians’ love of opera in the 19th century is well known. Less well known are its numerous wind bands, both military and amateur. At the time of Italian unification, there were about 1,700 of them, with thousands of enthusiastic participants.
Italians adopted the valve trombone as soon as it became available. A few valve trombonists became nationally known as soloists, playing mainly transcriptions and variations on operatic arias. Only near the end of the century did Italian trombonists begin to switch to playing slide trombones.
In the US, therefore, most bands and orchestras used slide trombones, but opera companies that specialized in Italian opera used valve trombones as long as Italians did. When Italian opera companies began to favor slide trombones, American companies began to switch as well.
As a child, Mantia started to play alto horn, an important voice in 19th-century wind bands. He later switched to euphonium and valve trombone, likewise important band instruments. Slide trombone came later under harrowing circumstances. Continue reading →