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Paolo Giorza (1832–1914)

by John Carmody

This article was published:

Paolo Giorza (1832-1914), musician, was born on 11 November 1832 in Milan, Italy, son of Luigi Giorza, baritone, organist and itinerant painter. Having studied first with his father and Enrico La Croix, at the age of 10 Paolo won a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music, Milan; Luigi's political activities, however, forced the family to move to nearby Desio. Eventually Paolo heard Rossini's Mosé at La Scala, Milan, and his destiny was determined. The first of Giorza's more than sixty ballets, Il Giucatore, was performed at Canobbiana theatre in 1853. His next ballet, Un Fallo, opened at La Scala, in September 1854. He later worked in Venice, Vienna, London and Paris.

In a concert in late December 1858 Giorza's polka-song La Bella Gigogin had its première in Milan: it had eight curtain calls. Recognizing its political significance, the Austrian rulers banned performances of the song, but it became the rallying cry for Lombardian liberation and was played when Napoléon III and Victor Emanuel II entered Milan in 1859. Garibaldi sought battle music from Giorza and the King appointed him cavaliere, as did King Carlos of Portugal.

Although Giorza's first opera, Corrado, Console di Milano, performed at La Scala in March 1860, was 'an unmitigated disaster', he remained devoted to music drama as composer and conductor and was a professional associate of Rossini, Auber, Meyerbeer, Verdi and Gounod. Giorza's opera La Capanna dello Zio Tom (Uncle Tom's Cabin) played in Milan in the mid-1860s. In 1867, as conductor of an Italian company, he travelled to central and North America. His proposed directorship of the Mexican Opera was thwarted by the execution of Emperor Maximilian; Giorza went to the United States of America. There he wrote a suite of incidental music for the soprano Adelaide Ristori's 1867 season of Giacometti's Marie Antoinette.

In 1871 Giorza arrived in Australia as music director of a small opera ensemble, the Agathe States group, which gave performances in Sydney in December and at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, in February 1872. He remained in Australia, employed by W. S. Lyster and then the Lyster-Cagli company. Later he worked with J. C. Williamson's English Opera Company and the Pompei-Lazar and Lazar Royal Italian companies. His broad repertoire encompassed Verdi and Gilbert and Sullivan; contemporary reviewers praised his versatility and the fluidity of his direction. Described as Australia's then 'leading score doctor', he frequently wrote songs for interpolation into performances. All this time he was teaching (including the organ in Adelaide), composing (especially religious music) and directing music (at St Francis's Church, Melbourne, in 1873-74 and later at St Patrick's, Sydney).

In Sydney in late 1874 his Catholic connexions developed, especially with (Sir) Patrick Jennings. Giorza rejoined forces with Ristori and directed the orchestra for Ilma di Mirska's concerts in the mid-1870s. Several of his masses were performed and in 1875 he conducted the Sydney première of Verdi's Requiem and his own Cantata for the Daniel O'Connell centenary celebrations, in the presence of Ristori and Archbishop Polding. Jennings, a passionate music-lover, chose Giorza as director of music for the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879-80. The appointment generated protest, especially from Sydney's resident professionals who feared, needlessly, exclusion from the musical programme. They also resented that Giorza (with Henry Kendall providing the text) was commissioned to compose the grand celebratory opening cantata. This he did with great success. It was scored for a large chorus and children's choir, a demi-chorus, soloists and a full orchestra, 'comprising every musician of note in the city', which incorporated the organ and eight pianists, one of them the composer's wife Luiga.

During the exhibition, Giorza also provided daily concerts, some of them grand orchestral and choral occasions, with Handel's oratorios prominent as well as band and chamber music and piano recitals. Frequently, Giorza was the soloist, especially on the second-hand, 'asthmatic, little' English organ that had been purchased for the Garden Palace, although he failed to play one hour per day as stipulated in his contract, which Jennings threatened to terminate. Giorza survived to perform at the closing ceremony in April; during the interminable presentations, he improvised on the national songs of the participant nations—with the conspicuous omission of Austria.

In July 1883 Giorza invited Sir Henry Parkes to a farewell concert, after which he departed for Europe. There he published his book of dance music, Souvenir d'Australia (Milan, 1884), and secured some performances, including his last ballet, Rodope, which opened at La Scala on 5 January 1892. Then, presumably for financial reasons, he returned to the U.S.A. A report in the American Catholic Standard in March 1902 mentioned that he was in Philadelphia for a performance of the first of his nine masses but in 1906, having lost most of his scores in the fires which followed the San Francisco earthquake, he moved to Seattle, where he continued to teach but became impoverished. An obituarist described him as 'a sturdy figure of a quaint old man with a splendid halo of white hair'. He died on 4 May 1914 in a boarding-house at Seattle. After a service at St Benedict's Catholic Church, he was buried in Calvary cemetery, the grave and funeral costs being paid for by Ambrose Chiappa.

Although he was an internationalist, Giorza's career illustrates the richness of Australian intellectual and cultural life before Federation. He was, with Isaac Nathan, the most significant musician to work in Australia during the nineteenth century.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Savio, Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo, vol 5 (Rome, 1958)
  • A. Gyger, Civilising the Colonies (Syd, 1999)
  • Dizionario Biografico Degli Italiani (Rome, 2000)
  • P. Proudfoot, R. Maguire, R. Freestone (eds), Colonial City, Global City (Syd, 2000)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Dec 1878, p 5, 29 Mar 1879, p 6, 13 May 1879, p 5, 20 May 1879, p 5, 23 May 1879, p 7, 24 May 1879, p 3, 21 Apr 1880, p 10, 21 Apr 1880, p 9
  • Post-Intelligencer (Seattle), 5 May 1914, p 1
  • Seattle Times, 30 Mar 1961, p 30
  • Giorza music collection (Veech Library, Catholic Institute of Sydney)
  • newspaper cuttings, vols. 188-89 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • concert programmes, Sydney International Exhibition, 1879-80 (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Carmody, 'Giorza, Paolo (1832–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 November, 1832
Milan, Italy


4 May, 1914 (aged 81)
Seattle, Washington, United States of America

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