Pizzetti was born in Parma in 1880. He was part of the “Generation of 1880” along with Ottorino Respighi, Gian Francesco Malipiero, and Alfredo Casella. They were among the first Italian composers in some time whose primary contributions were not in opera. The instrumental and a cappella traditions had never died in Italian music and had produced, for instance, the string quartets of Antonio Scontrino (1850–1922) and the works of Respighi’s teacher Giuseppe Martucci; but with the “Generation of 1880” these traditions became stronger.
Ildebrando Pizzetti was the son of Odoardo Pizzetti, a pianist and piano teacher who was his son’s first teacher. At first Pizzetti seemed headed for a career as a playwright—he had written several plays, two of which had been produced—before he decided in 1895 on a career in music and entered the Conservatorium of Parma.
There he was taught from 1897 by Giovanni Tebaldini and gained the beginnings of his lifelong interest in the early music of Italy, reflected in his own music and his writings.
He taught at the Florence Conservatory (director from 1917 to 1923), directed the Milan Conservatory from 1923, and was Respighi’s successor at the National Academy of St Cecilia in Rome from 1936 to 1958. His students included Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Olga Rudge, Manoah Leide-Tedesco, Franco Donatoni and Amaury Veray. Also a music critic, he wrote several books on the music of Italy and of Greece and co-founded a musical journal.
A disciple of poet, playwright and revolutionary Gabriele d’Annunzio, Pizzetti wrote incidental music to his plays, and was highly influenced by d’Annunzio’s dark neoclassic themes. One of Pizzetti’s later operas, La figlia di Jorio, is a setting of d’Annunzio’s 1904 eponymous play.
He was named to the Royal Academy of Italy in 1939. As noted by Sciannameo, his relations with the Fascist government of the 1940s were often positive, sometimes mixed; he received at one point high awards, and the one symphony of his mature years was the product of a commission from their Japanese allies to celebrate the “XXVI Centennial of the foundation of the Japanese Empire” (Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was also commissioned for this event, though it was rejected on account of its finale; its original finale was rediscovered after Britten’s death and only premiered then.) Pizzetti’s Symphony in A was premiered as noted in the article, and recorded in 1940, and again by Naxos with his Harp Concerto (Naxos 8573613, 2017).
His Violin Concerto in A was premiered in 1944 by Gioconda de Vito; this seems to be the only 20th-century violin concerto she ever played.
Some of his works were published under the name “Ildebrando da Parma.”