Mario Zanfi was born in La Spezia on June 29, 1901. At the age of four he already displayed remarkable gifts for piano playing. After attending the school of the sisters Cesarina and Amelia Posani, on November 4, 1911 he was admitted to the class of Attilio Brugnoli at the Music Conservatoire in Parma. He also became a pupil of Luigi Ferrari Trecate in Composition, excelling in every area of his musical studies. Graduating with the highest marks in every subject, on 26 June 1920 Zanfi completed his courses in Parma also earning the "Barbacini Prize" (the same Arturo Toscanini and Enrico Polo had been awarded). His concert career was met with unanimous consensus. In 1922 he won the famous Rossomandi Competition in Naples; in 1925 he earned the principal piano chair at the Conservatoire of Music in Turin and in 1931 at the Conservatoire of Music in Rome, though he chose to remain in the Piedmontese capital, alternating between teaching and performing. An outstanding presence on stage, he was an excellent Lisztian performer.
Enzo Barilli, his classmate, wrote about him in these terms:
"The echoes of Liszt's rhapsodies did vanish, they nestled among the curtains, chandeliers and organ pipes of the Verdi Conservatoire of Parma. I still feel them vibrate after many years under the magic hands of Mario Zanfi, a piano student of the great and unforgettable maestro Attilio Brugnoli. [...].
I have heard in the course of my life many great pianists but none of them left in me an indelible and profound impression like that of Zanfi in his Lisztian and Chopinian interpretations, which I heard in the school concerts at the Conservatoire. What was most amusing was seeing this shy and delicate adolescent, blond and rosy as an English schoolgirl unleash a storm of sounds that made the hall shake, making the whole audience standing in a frenzy of applause. His fiery temperament and his transcendental technique overwhelmed every difficulty, every obstacle. "
He retired in 1966 after having accumulated a considerable wealth that, in his legacy, he bequeathed to the Parma Music Conservatoire to promote an international piano competition dedicated to the composer whom he loved most, Franz Liszt.
Mario Zanfi died on November 23, 1976.