Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ennio Bolognini - Serious BadA$$!

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Recently, National Public Radio asked the question 'Who was the most bad-ass composer ever?' This, indeed, has gotten us all thinking. Of course we all came up with the usuals......Wagner, Berlioz, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. After doing a little thinking and research, however, we here at Fein Violins were treated to the discovery of one of the most gloriously irreverent personages that the classical music world has possibly ever seen! So, dear readers, it is my great honor to introduce you to:

Ennio Bolognini!

Ennio Bolognini

Ennio Bolognini was nothing short of amazing! In fact, he was such a phenomenal cellist that Pablo Casals considered Ennio to be better than himself. I am getting ahead of myself, however. First, a little history lesson:

Ennio was from Argentina. Buenos Aires to be exact. His father was an amateur cellist, who also happened to be a friend of Arturo Toscanini, who happened also to have been Ennio's godfather. Now, I would think that having Toscanini, the father of modern concert programming, as your godfather would be bad-ass enough, but it certainly doesn't stop there.

Ennio, after studying cello with his father and then with Jose Garcia (who was Casal's teacher), won a Spanish/American cello competition at the age of 15. During his teen years he also had the pleasure of playing Saint-Saëns' composition, 'The Swan', with Saint-Saëns himself at the piano. Plus, he played Richard Strauss' Cello Sonata with Strauss himself.

As if all of that didn't already distinguish him enough (and here comes one of the really bad-ass parts), Ennio moved to America to be the sparring partner for Luis Firpo, who was preparing to fight Jack Dempsey (Ennio was already the welterweight champion in South America at this time). Hey, it turns out our dear Ennio was a lover AND a fighter!

While Ennio was in America, he just happened to land the principle cellist's position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was known for his fiery temper, plus he always brought his dog with him to rehearsals. (I'm not sure what kind of dog it was, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't a poodle!) He was fluent in many languages, and when Glazounov was guest conducting with the orchestra, Ennio acted as his interpreter. Right before the performance, Glazounov was overcome with stage fright and approached and spoke to Ennio instead of immediately getting up at the podium. Ennio was accused later of hogging the stage, and, being incensed by this, resigned the post of principle cellist.

Mr. Bolognini was also a pilot. He was a professional stunt pilot for a short while, and he was the co-founder of the American Civil Air Patrol, training cadets to fly B-29 bombers in WWII. Serious bad-ass.

Later in life, Ennio moved to Las Vegas. There he started his own orchestra, the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra. Yes, he founded an entire orchestra. (Not to be confused with the Las Vegas Philharmonic that is in existence today. That one is only 13 years old now)

Maestro Bolognini

Wherever he would go, Ennio Bolognini would have his friends sign his cello (presumably the same cello that he had won in the competition when he was 15.....a fine instrument made by Luigi Rovatti). Because of this, he collected an incredible array of autographs.....Kreisler, Stern, Heifitz, Starker, Liberace, and Jack Dempsey, just to name a few. His cello is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute, a proud testament to one of the most multi-talented musicians I have ever heard of. 

Bolognini's cello

As I was doing a bit of research on Mr. Bolognini, I happened to find an audio clip of him using his cello to create an entire story to entertain the sons of one of his friends. It is so wonderful that I felt like I was right there in the room with them!

Oh, and I did mention he was a composer, right? Here is a video of his "Echo Serenade", played by Christine Walevska. She alone was the cellist that he trusted to carry on the interpretation of his music.

Christine also does a lovely introduction in this video, telling the audience a little bit about Ennio Bolognini.

So, let's recap:
  1. Toscanini's godson
  2. Played with Saint-Saëns and R. Strauss
  3. Welterweight champion of South America
  4. Sparring partner of Luis Firpo
  5. Principle cellist of CSO
  6. Co-founded the American Civil Air Patrol
  7. Professional stunt pilot
  8. Founded the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra
  9. Composer
  10. Cello in the Smithsonian

All of that equals one incredible person, to me! Mr. Ennio Bolognini, wherever you are, rock on with yer bad self!

Are you a cellist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Cellos!


  1. you forgot that he was fired from ravinia festival after heated argument w director so as revenge he flew his plane as low as possible over the stage to drown out the sound during a concert. Was arrested by police when he landed.

  2. It took 12 policemen to hold him down and arrest him. JLG

  3. I played in the Las Vegas Philharmonic for Ennio in 1962 in the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda. I was in high school at the time. Many LV Strip musicians also played for him. We played for free and it was quite an honor and experience. I had lunch with his wife Dorothy a few months ago here in Las Vegas and she's still going strong. Dorothy is quite a musician in her own right. I did have an opportunity to set the record straight on Wikipedia that had the LV Philharmonic as being started in 1998.