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An Interview with Michele Galvagno: Cellist and Master of the Art of Music Engraving

For those familiar with the Cello Museum’s newsletter, you may recognize Michele Galvagno. I first encountered his work through his gorgeous editions, and he is a remarkable figure in the world of music engraving and cello performance. Galvagno’s journey, beginning as a cello student seeking better music editions, has evolved into a professional career marked by precision, artistry, and dedication.

Michele Galvagno

Michele Galvagno. Photo courtesy Michele Galvagno.

In this interview, he shares his inspirations, processes, and insights into the world of music engraving, teaching, and performing. His passion for the cello and commitment to creating music editions of the highest quality shine through, offering readers a glimpse into the meticulous and creative mind behind some of the finest music engravings available today.

The following interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


Background and Inspiration

Brenda Neece (BN)

What initially drew you to music notation, and how did it become a central part of your professional life?

Michele Galvagno (MG)

As a cello student, around the turn of the century (!), I started to be dissatisfied with the quality of certain editions I was practicing from. This drew 13-year-old me to try to do better, which, obviously, proved harder than expected. One thing is sure, though: it was love at first sight, and I have been engraving scores in one way or another ever since. It was not until much later, around 2011, that it became a profession.

Music Engraving and Publishing

BN

Can you describe your process for music engraving and what challenges you typically encounter?

MG

It all starts with the source, which could be a hastily penned manuscript, a patchwork in a notation program, or even a MIDI file. From there, my task is to breathe life and order into it and shape it to become a work of art. The first hours and days of each project are the most delicate ones because a great deal of detail is needed to get started—page size, fonts, preferences—changing any of these things down the road is painful, something like changing ideas about the canvas after you’re already midway through painting.

BN

How do you ensure high quality in your published scores?

MG

The only way to constantly challenge yourself. In engraving, like in cello playing, look at your work as if you were a stranger or, worse, a judge. The single thing that made me improve the most in my cello playing was to record my practicing and then listen to myself. At first, I was so shocked at how huge a difference there was between what I believed I had played and what I had actually played.

Repeating this exercise time and time again helped me reduce this gap to the point that I was conveying exactly what I wanted to express. But it was not easy, and the same goes for publishing-level scores: what you see on screen means little until you print it on paper or proofread it on a big tablet. In this phase, you catch glaring mistakes that you can bet you would have never found onscreen.

Bach First Suite with piano accompaniment by Carlo Alfredo Piatti

Another crucial aspect is to play your engravings. It is so important! You may have respected all engraving rules, but realizing that a specific cautionary accidental is fundamental for proper performance can only be found by playing your scores. Since my editions are focused on the cello, it certainly puts me in an advantageous position!

Recent Projects

BN

You have worked on various projects, including the Dotzauer and Kummer editions. Could you share some insights into these projects and what makes them special to you?

MG

The two main projects around which I am developing my editorial catalogue are the Dotzauer Project and the Piatti Opera Omnia, dedicated to two giants of the cello: the German Justus Johann Friedrich Dotzauer (1783-1860) and the Italian Carlo Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901).

Justus Johann Friedrich Dotzauer (20 January 1783 – 6 March 1860)

Justus Johann Friedrich Dotzauer (20 June 1783 – 6 March 1860)

The Dotzauer Project’s aim is to remove all the layers of falseness surrounding his name and his musical production, and let cellists finally enjoy the man to whom, in one way or another, they owe everything! Basically every aspect of what makes good, healthy, and modern cello playing was initially documented in writing by Dotzauer. Most cellists only know his 113 solo cello studies, and only in their heavily edited version from Klingenberg (Ed. Peters).

But what if I told you that he didn’t write 113, but 250 studies, 333 pedagogical cello duets, majestic concertos and amusing concertinos, delightful chamber music, and much, much more? My current focus is to complete the publication of his pedagogical cello duets. Five books are already out there (Op. 52, 58, 63, 156, 159), and more have already been copied. I just need to play through them to check that everything is correct and to add my performance suggestions. This project is particularly dear to me because it resonates with my endless thirst for justice, since I deeply believe Dotzauer’s music deserves much more recognition than it gets.

Carlo Alfredo Piatti

Carlo Alfredo Piatti (8 January 1822 – 18 July 1901)

The Piatti Opera Omnia kicked off during the celebrations for Piatti’s 200th birthday in 2022. I initially focused on short cello and piano pieces, an Elegy for two cellos, a cello quartet, a new solo caprice (edited with M° Antonio Meneses), and—get ready—the piano accompaniment to the 7th caprice from op. 25, written by Piatti himself.

Right now, I am undertaking the publication of all his production involving the voice, which often requires an additional cello. Two pieces of this collection are already out, one using Duport’s 7 as the cello line, and another titled “A Farewell.” This project aims to have all of his music played again, not “just” his caprices. As an Italian, I believe I need to do something to honor his legacy!

The First Grand Opera of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

BN

Can you tell us about your involvement with the premiere of the first opera of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

MG

The first grand opera of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Zarqa Al-Yamama, is a mesmerizing tale of love and heartbreak, tradition and pride, set in pre-Islamic Arabia (in the first half of the 4th century CE). It tells the story of the blue-eyed seer Zarqa in her quest to preserve peace for the Arab people (which, at the time, were organized as separated tribes). Its music was written by Australian composer Lee Bradshaw (of whom you can read an interview on my blog), with whom I had already collaborated on several occasions.

Bradshaw approached me one evening saying, “Are you in Turin tomorrow?” And so, in front of a dish of pasta, the deal was struck. The deadline was short, and the committee was very demanding in their requests. I had to prepare the full score, the set of 30 parts for the orchestra, and the vocal score for the soloists and choir to practice for this 90-minute opera in less than three months.

It was hard, but it was also an experience from which I have learned immensely, and which has changed me forever (for the better, I would say!). I have also written a 13-part tutorial series on how to engrave an opera in Sibelius, starting here.

Then, without planning it, I found myself in Riyadh for one week leading up to the premiere at the end of April, and I witnessed something that I could only define as a miracle unfolding in front of my eyes. We in the West are used to opera, concerts, and cultural events, so much so that we have almost forgotten how valuable those things are. The spark of joy I saw in the eyes of those people, what this meant for them, it was something I will never forget! Of course, being allowed to attend the rehearsals and the premiere with Dame Sarah Connolly singing the title role was an honor beyond what words can describe.

I realize that all this may sound “sponsored,” so please do not believe a word I just said—go see that country for yourself! Just be ready: it is nothing like what you think you know!

On the Cello

cello

BN

How did you choose the cello as your instrument?

MG

It would be more appropriate to say that the cello chose me and, most of all, was patient enough to wait for me to return the favor!

I was given my first cello before my fourth birthday, but despite my evident talent, I practiced only because it was part of my “education deal.” Back then, we used to do what our parents told us to.

My father’s efforts, though, were rewarded when I had to choose whether to keep the cello or give it away and walk down a different path. When the decision was all mine, then, I didn’t have the slightest doubt. One of my teachers would even tell me, years later, “You clearly love the cello more than music itself!” I think he was right!

BN

Because this is for the Cello Museum—what kind of cello(s) do you play? Bows?

MG

I have only one cello, an 1877 French cello by Joseph Guarini (pseudonym of Emile de Mennesson) in great need of a restructuring (neck-fingerboard-bridge).

Two bows accompany it, both by Chilean maker Domingos Fazio. One lighter and aimed at Baroque and Classical repertoire, and a heavier one for practicing and for Romantic and modern pieces. They are both gorgeous bows, and I couldn’t recommend Domingos more!

Teaching and Coaching

 

BN

How do you integrate your experience as a cellist into your teaching of music theory and music notation software?

MG

It could be said that everything I do stems from my experience in learning the cello. The unbearable back pain I had up to the age of 20, before meeting my final cello mentor, were caused by very unhealthy routines, so having to re-learn how to play from scratch in a new way developed a pedagogical instinct that has helped me in all fields ever since.

A crucial point of being an efficient teacher is the ability to understand how each different student is feeling while playing in each moment and react accordingly. In a nutshell, you need to go back to beginner level each time, but with the wisdom of hindsight that allows you to build a larger base for your pyramid.

BN

What led you to start offering personal coaching on music notation software, and what has been the response from your students?

MG

I’ve been teaching cello for the last 13 years, and music theory for even more—I believe since 2007—so it felt natural to add music notation software to the offering.

The best response, actually, has been from kids learning music notation with pencil and paper. In an increasingly digital world, I felt this gave those kids some of the peace they so desperately crave.

When teaching music notation software, I usually hold 1:1 lessons where students send me their questions in advance, what they are struggling with, and then I prepare a class tailored specifically for them. I’m not a fan of “herd teaching,” but rather prefer to solve a specific issue for a specific person. That is the same approach I have in my classes dedicated to the posture of the cello.

As mentioned briefly above, my struggles with back pains and postural issues led me to study close to every available source, from the first cello methods to the most modern theories. My book on cello posture—so far only available in Italian—has over 11,000 views on the Academia.edu platform. Hundreds of messages have come in from people who read it and found something resonating with their personal situation. I just love to help people get out of that circle of suffering that almost caused me to abandon the cello.

On Technology

BN

As a tech enthusiast and iOS/macOS developer, how do you see the role of technology evolving in the field of music engraving and teaching?

MG

I should probably remove the iOS/macOS developer from my profile, since this was a brief—yet passionate—parenthesis in my life, around 2018–21. In the end, I could not abandon music for that, but learning how to code was crucial for my personal growth, and it is something I suggest everyone does, even as a game. It structures your thinking and enhances your productivity in a way few other activities can do. Perhaps practicing the cello does a better job?!

Music Technology

Technology is evolving much faster than we would like to admit, even in music notation. Plenty of apps, services, and more are blossoming in app stores around the world, with new ones being added every day. From OMR (optical music recognition) scanning apps to traditional music notation ones, from classroom replacement apps to self-teaching aids, plenty of entities are trying to convince people that they do not need other humans to learn music, or that they do not need to know the rules of music notation to get their music on a page. I don’t blame them: that seems the only way to get far in business.

From a certain point of view, this is true, but let me tell you this: to get to the top level in anything, you need to struggle. You need to experience frustration and the subsequent joy of overcoming the wall that appeared in front of you, blocking your path.

Finally, automation of boring, repetitive actions is crucial and most welcome in music notation, but the center must remain the creativity of the human mind and spirit. The choice must remain in our hands, and one cannot delegate to a program something whose definition is to be a product of human expression: ART!

Advice for Aspiring Musicians and Engravers

BN

What advice would you give to young musicians and aspiring music engravers looking to follow a similar path?

MG

The single best advice I can give them is to be coherent with themselves. Do not try to conform just because you are told to. Working hard should be a given. But then, you need to stand out from the crowd! So, what you need is to find out what makes you unique.

Specifically: learn how to use digital tools, but do not rely on them. You need to be as good in your analog craft as you are digitally—ask successful graphic designers if you don’t believe me!

BN

What projects and/or concerts do you have in the works?

MG

The Dotzauer Project is moving forward but since the next five editions or so are quite big, they may be slow to appear on the market. Recent releases include a collection of Six Songs for voice and guitar, quite curious from Dotzauer, right?

For now, the Piatti Opera Omnia is focusing on Piatti’s production for voice and piano or for voice, cello, and piano, and it will take a while to publish all 60 titles.

Engraving-wise, I’m working on a piano concerto, two symphonies, and two contemporary pieces, one for violin and piano and the other for voices and ensemble. Quite a packed period, I would say!

Follow the Work of Michele Galvagno

Follow Michele Galvagno (1)

BN

How can people follow and support your work?

MG

The best way to follow me is to start from my website; there, all links to my social pages and to my activities and publications can be found.

Specifically, I suggest they check out my YouTube channel, where I upload scrolling score renderings of the published editions.

I also have a mailing list that sends out gifts every week—as we speak, there are already 52 gifts, or one year’s worth. Discounts, promotions, and new editions are announced there first.

Finally, an interactive catalogue is available here. You can save this link as a bookmark in your browser and it will be automatically updated with new releases.



Enter for a Chance to Win a Dotzauer Edition by Michele Galvagno

Dotzauer Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win a PDF copy of Michele Galvagno edition of Twelve Original Pieces for Two Cellos, Op. 58 and a Cello Museum T-shirt. We’ll do a random prize drawing at the end of the summer 2024. Only one entry per person, please. Good luck!

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