The occasion of a jubilee encouraged a group of founders to establish the International Music Competition “Giovan Battista Viotti” in 1950. The aim was to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Società del Quartetto di Vercelli, a musical association founded in the nineteenth century, to emulate the same-name one established in Milan by Arrigo Boito. The activity stopped during the war period; afterwards the Quartet deserved to be restored; for this reason a spontaneous “quartet” of musicians and music lovers gathered and started to organize musical seasons.
Joseph Robbone, a math teacher and a refined composer, had the idea of founding a music competition after his engagement as a member of the jury of the Concours International d’Exécution Musicale in Geneva in 1949.
The first Competition took place at the Sala Grande of the “Borgogna” Museum from 16th to 25th October 1950 with three sections: Piano, String quartet and Composition (for a long time the “Viotti” has been able to boast the record of multi-instrumental competition). 19 pianists, 2 chamber formations and 18 composers from 9 countries competed for the prizes (Italy, Belgium, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Switzerland, Hungary, the Soviet Union). The absolute first winner was Jean Micault, a twenty-fiver from Paris, who played Beethoven’s “Appassionata”. Among the jurors, Giulio Confalonieri, Gino Tagliapietra, Rina Sala Gallo and Franco Mannino.
The following year the Voice section was added and, over the years, violin, ballet, chamber music, piano duo, guitar, harpsichord, horn, clarinet, bassoon, flute, oboe, organ, trumpet, trombone, cello and sonata duo sections joined the Competition with different scheduling.
The Competition had an immediate success; in 1954, when the Statute of the Società del Quartetto was signed, the applicants to the Piano section were 95, and ran high up to the record of 189 candidates in 1984; the Voice section has always been very crowded (229 contestants in 1954).
In 1957 the foundation of the World Federation in Geneva provided the standard rules for all international competitions; the “Viotti” has always observed them scrupulously. In 1986 the organisers decided to start a format of three annual sections (Piano, Voice and Violin or Chamber music); since 2006 the Competition has been hosting only one section per year, Piano and Voice alternatively.
Robbone was the president and the artistic director of the competition until his death in 1984. Maria Arsieni Robbone, his wife, a former soprano, got his radiant inheritance and entrusted the artistic direction to Giuseppe Pugliese (1985-2002) and then to Pietro Borgonovo (2003-present).
The Competition’s Hall of Fame cannot mention the over 10,000 contestants who tried to win a “Viotti” award, but, when scrolling the names of the winners and of the jurors, we may read the universal history of 20th century music. We propose a bunch of names, just for example (in alphabetical order):