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Alessandro Rolla (1757 - 1841)

The Italian violinist, violist, conductor and composer Alessandro Rolla may today be relatively unknown. In his own time he had a considerable reputation and his contributions to viola repertoire still retain a place of some importance among original compositions for that instrument. Rolla was born in Pavia in 1757 and studied in Milan, with counterpoint lessons from the cathedral organist, Giovanni Andrea Fioroni. He played his First Viola Concerto in the Basilica of St Ambrose at the age of fifteen, perhaps under the direction of Sammartini, and in 1782 joined the court musical establishment in Parma as principal viola-player, an appointment that allowed him time for concert tours. In 1792 he was appointed concertmaster, consolidating his reputation as a violinist and as the leading viola-player of his time. The period in Parma also brought a number of compositions. In 1795 the young Paganini came to him for lessons. In a later account Paganini told how he arrived at Rolla’s house to find the latter ill in bed. Ushered by Rolla’s wife into an adjoining room, the boy took up a violin and sight-read a concerto by Rolla, which he found there, to the alleged amazement of Rolla, who was surprised to find a boy sight-reading his concerto and told him that he could teach him nothing. Paganini, as this anecdote implies, claimed never to have studied with Rolla, although it seems very probable that he did so during the months he spent in Parma that year, taking composition lessons with Paër’s former teacher



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