Le notizie relative a questa famiglia, per metà veneziana e metà viggianese, risalgono al capostipite, Rodolfo, veneziano, nato nel 1865, che in Venezia, appunto, commerciava strumenti musicali e costruiva pianoforti e arpe.
Rodolfo sposa Livia e il 13 Dicembre 1893 nasce Alberto, che, con la guida del padre diventerà un arpista di fama mondiale.
Livia si ammala di tubercolosi ed il clima veneziano è quanto di meno adatto per lei; Rodolfo decide di trasferirsi a Viggiano, dove pensa di poter lavorare con la sua abilità di costruttore di arpe, e Livia potrà curare la sua malattia con l’aria salubre del paesino lucano.
A Viggiano Alberto inizia a studiare l’arpa con la guida di un tutore, Vincenzo Pizzo, ed in seguito si iscrive al Conservatorio di S. Pietro a Majella, di Napoli, dove brillantemente completa gli studi di otto anni in soli cinque.
Nel frattempo Livia soccombe alla malattia e Rodolfo si sposa con la viggianese Apollonia Paoliello, dalla quale avrà quattro figli, John, Livia, Aida e Victor.
Nel 1909 Salvi si trasferisce in America, a Chicago, insieme al cognato Giovanni Paoliello, valente violinista viggianese, dove Alberto inizia la sua carriera di arpista e tiene il suo primo concerto al Princess Theatre. Qui Alberto sposa Anna Russo, sua cugina, che gli era stata vicino durante un periodo di esaurimento in Italia, e dalla quale ha due figli, Livia, morta in tenera età, e Albert Jr.
A questo punto gli viene offerto un contratto di prima arpa al Metropolitan di New York, dove la sua carriera arriva ai massimi livelli e viene acclamato come interprete dalle straordinarie capacità. I giornali lo esaltano e molti artisti suonano con lui incidendo moltissimi 78 giri per la Victor RCA.
Nel 1937 succede ad un altro arpista lucano, Edward Vito, nello staff dell’Orchestra della NBC di Chicago e tiene molti concerti con il suo predecessore, con la direzione di Toscanini.
Anche Victor, nato a Chicago nel 1920, impara da piccolo a suonare l’arpa con la sorella Aida, e dopo aver suonato durante la guerra nella Great Lakes Naval Station Band, ottiene un contratto come solista nella St. Louis Symphonietta. Ma la sua grande passione, ereditata dal padre, è quella di costruire le arpe e così nel 1954 a New York viene costruita la prima arpa Salvi. In seguito si trasferisce a Londra e poi in Italia, a Piasco, dove stabilisce anche la sua dimora. A Villa Maria si reca Fulton De Wayne che incoraggia Victor a continuare la sua opera di costruttore di arpe e così vengono fondate altre due fabbriche, una a Vignola Borghera e l’altra in Svizzera, ampliando notevolmente la produzione. Infine arriva anche sul mercato americano, fondando l’International Harp Corporation.
Oggi le arpe Salvi sono strumenti eleganti e raffinati, usati da grandi interpreti nei teatri più prestigiosi e che qualificano l’azienda come leader del mercato mondiale, ma bisogna ricordare che le storia meravigliosa di Victor Salvi ha preso le mosse da un piccolo paese lucano, che oggi vuole rendere omaggio al suo famoso figlio per rinverdire il brillante passato che fece dire al Pascoli, in una lettera al Carducci: l'aria ottima, il cibo squisito, pittoreschi i dintorni; le rovine di Grumentum a pochi passi ; arpeggiamenti da per tutto fanno di Viggiano l'Antissa della Lucania.
Per ricordare tale grande passato, in giugno, il 23-24-25, Viggiano, assegnerà la cittadinanza onoraria al fratello di Alberto Salvi, Victor Salvi, concertista, e titolare della Salviharps (www.salviharps.com) leader mondiale nella fabbricazione delle arpe e a capo della Fondazione Alberto Salvi.
Alberto Salvi’s Life
Alberto Salvi was a rare musician, a virtuoso whose talents were recognized and appreciated throughout his lifetime. As a glowing article from the May, 1923 Good Housekeeping points out, harpists before Alberto Salvi “have not been willing to work, to make themselves masters. The harp of supreme greatness has hung mute upon the walls. There were no new songs for it to sing, and the old-time melodies were tinkling cymbals to the ears of a vital world like our own. Alberto Salvi has brought it to life. He has restored to power the oldest of stringed instruments, the instrument that should reign over them all. And if, from his devotion, we have a people that will understand the harp as they understand the violin or the piano, life will owe him a debt that can never be repaid.” This man to whom the harp world owes so much was born on December 13, 1893 and started playing the instrument at the age of five in his father’s harpmaking shop in Venice. When he was six, the family moved to Viggiano, Italy, a town that was well-known as a centre for training of musicians and in particular of harpists. At the age of 13, Alberto Salvi was admitted to the Real Conservatorio (San Pietro a Maiella) in Naples, where he was awarded an eight-year scholarship but finished the curriculum in only five years. During his school years, he occasionally played with the San Carlo Opera. In 1914, Alberto Salvi followed his father Rodolfo to the United States, where he immediately received great acclaim and financial success. He performed mostly solo recitals from a vast repertoire that included works by Couperin, Rameau, Bach, Handel, and also original pieces for harp by Debussy, Pierné, and Ravel. He made many recordings and also performed with such famous singers as Caruso, Gigli, Schilpa, Ponselle, De Luca, and Claudio Murzio. Alberto Salvi was such an extraordinary virtuoso and versatile harpist that he was able to present his instrument to the public in a very personal manner that displayed both an exceptional technique and an intimate understanding of the coloristic and expressive possibilities of the harp. The critics were soon calling him “the Paganini of the harp” and by 1919 he was grossing $40,000 per year. Critics were unanimous in their praise for him, as the following excerpts demonstrate:
“Never has there been such maestry.” “For the first time, harp music becomes more than a mere series of graceful arpeggios and long drawn out chords.” “Usual harpists have utterly failed to realize the possibilities of the instrument - have confined themself to trivialities. But Salvi has modernized the harp. He destroys monotony. One forgets in sheer wonder at what the instrument can be made to accomplish... forgets that he is listening to the harp and hears the many instruments of the orchestra.”
In the late 1930s, the world of concert harp suffered from the effects of the Great Depression, and Salvi took the position of harpist in the Chicago NBC Orchestra. He adapted himself to the newer idioms with apparent ease, and was heard on, among others, the Bell Telephone Hour and the Firestone Show. From 1946-56 Alberto Salvi was instructor of harp at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He appeared repeatedly on the Artists’ Showcase produced by the Chicago NBC Orchestra in such works as the Debussy Danses, the Pierné Concertstück, the Ravel Introduction et Allegro, and the Zabel Concerto before the showcase orchestra was disbanded in 1965. Throughout his long career, Alberto Salvi had the good fortune to be the owner of an extraordinary Wurlitzer concert grand harp that was originally built for the Panama Pacific San Francisco Exposition in 1915 and was given to him for publicity purposes after the company could not find a buyer to meet the harp’s $15,000 price tag. Alberto Salvi continued performing until the end of his life, which came on October 19, 1983, two months shy of his 90th birthday. He left behind him a musical legacy that will serve as an inspiration to generations of harpists.
What an amazing experience to hear these recordings of Alberto Salvi! That is true virtuosity! His playing is a valuable lesson for young harpists - his wonderful rubatos and his incredible tempi and electricity! He was a truly great harpist and musician and this recording will be of benefit to future generations of harpists. Suan McDonalds Distinguished Professor of Music Indiana University
Alberto Salvi’s Technique
As with compositions for violin and guitar, those for harp require a profound knowledge of technique that cannot be acquired merely by studying manuals or methods books. Composing for the harp means, above all, knowing how to play the instrument so that all its possibilities and secrets can be discovered. Alberto Salvi’s concert programmes inspire virtuoso tendencies that elaborate on and repropose transcriptions of pieces written both for analogous instruments and for ones radically encountered on grounds different from those contemplated in the original version. Among his contemporaries, Alberto Salvi’s virtuosity was unequalled and his technique is unheard of today. Passages demanding great agility and velocity and an extraordinary sense of rhythm are executed with mathematical precision, such as the Fantasie Impromptu by Chopin that is played by Salvi with incredible maestry. One of the techniques Alberto Salvi was particularly noted for was his tremolo. Special attention should be paid to his tremolo effect in Old Folks at Home. To produce this tremolo, he would play one string with his thumb for greater effects. When speaking of Alberto Salvi’s genius, we would do well to recall the expression “transcendental performance” coined by Franz Liszt: that is, to surpass the inherent limitation of one’s instrument to let it assume a new and never-before-heard dimension.