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Antonio Bibalo

Born: 1922

Died: 2008

Nationality: Norwegian

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Photo © Erik Berg

The Norwegian composer Antonio Bibalo was born in 1922 and is originally from Italy, more specifically from the city of Trieste. Bibalo's encounter with music began with the piano, and his instrumental talents took him on to the Conservatoire in Trieste, where he took his diploma in 1946. During World War II Bibalo, like other Italian men, had been conscripted into Mussolini's army. He escaped, but was captured by the Germans and had to do forced labour as a German prisoner-of-war. 

After the Conservatoire Bibalo focused on making his name as a concert pianist, and this career was well in progress when he chose to drop the piano in favour of composition, which had interested him since the age of 16-17. To move ahead with his music studies Bibalo went in 1953 to London, where he studied composition with Elizabeth Lutyens, one of the pioneers of twelve-tone music in England - the technique has influenced many of Bibalo's works in the course of his career. 

In 1955 Bibalo won the Third Prize in the international Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw for his Fantasia (1954) for violin and orchestra, and this became the starting-shot in a composing career which at first demanded great persistence and will-power from Bibalo, not least because he chose to move to Norway. Antonio Bibalo had visited Larvik on a holiday in 1956 and decided that he would live in that country. But it was no easy matter for him to get started on a career as a composer in Norway. For a period Bibalo had to earn a living as a music copyist and bar pianist at the Oslo Grand Hotel; but he also made contact with the Norwegian composers Arne Nordheim and Klaus Egge, and later he became a member of the Norwegian Composers' Association. 

In 1968 Bibalo became a Norwegian citizen. By that time he had already written his first opera, The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder, which was performed in Hamburg, as well as music for the ballet Pinocchio, and a number of orchestral works; but the commissions from the Norwegian orchestras only began to come at the end of the 1960s. Later Bibalo has received many honours acknowledging his great importance for Norwegian musical life. In 1992 he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Olave (1st Class) and he was awarded the Lindeman Prize in 1992. 

It is primarily the big opera productions - The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder (1958/62), Miss Julie (1975), Ghosts (1981), Macbeth (1990) and The Glass Menagerie (1996), that have made Antonio Bibalo's name as a composer in Norway and abroad. The textual sources for these operas are all to be found in literary works by great and famous authors: Henrik Ibsen, Henry Miller, William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. Miss Julie is one of the most frequently performed operas of the post-war era, and The Glass Menagerie was awarded the prize as "Work of the Year" by the Norwegian Composers' Association in 1996. 

Bibalo is his own librettist - this gives him control over the work as well as inspiration for the music that bears the text. When he composes music for the operas, he chooses a tonal idiom that he feels fits the characters and action of the opera. Miss Julie, for example, was written with the twelve-tone technique, while Ghosts was composed in a semi-romantic style to characterize a family that belongs to the middle class of the nineteenth century. 

Bibalo's instrumental music demonstrates the same capacity to be inspired by stylistic schools without being tied down by them. Bibalo has written several solo works for piano, as well as two piano concertos, two symphonies, a number of works for chamber orchestra, including Autunnale (1968) and The Savage (1982/83), two wind quintets and one string quartet. 

According to Bibalo himself, the stylistic variation from work to work is an indication of development. He is not a composer who has settled on a particular style in his compositions; he is constantly changing and attempts to write music where stylistic features from twelve-tone music, jazz and other sources are assimilated in the music, without becoming pastiches of the music of other composers.
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