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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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As the 20th century emerged, music in Italy was dominated by opera, by opera houses of widely varying standards but enthusiastic audiences, and by opera composers, as it had been for the previous century. Giuseppe Verdi, with Richard Wagner the most important opera composer of his age, died in 1901, while Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) adapted the typical Italian melodic emphasis and expressive orchestration to more realistic psychological scenarios in a style known as verismo. His last opera, Turandot, moves in its musical language into the 20th century, but many of his followers wrote in an idiom that still very largely belongs to the 19th century. Franco Alfano (1876-1954) is discussed below; of the other major verismo composers, Umberto Giordano (1867-1948) greatest successes were with Andrea Chénier (1896) and Fedora (1898), although he continued with seven more operas, notably Il Re (1929). Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) had similar early success with Cavalleria rusticana (1890), one of the staples of the operatic repertoire, and with L'Amico Fritz (1891). The only opera of Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1944) to survive in the regular repertoire is Francesca da Rimini (1913-1914). Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) continued this Italian tradition, but with comic operas often drawing on 18th-century music; his enduring work is Il segreto di Susanna (1909).

The operatic reaction in a more modern language was led by such figures as the neo-classicist Giorgio Ghedini (1892-1965), who used Billy Budd as the basis of an opera in 1949, two years before Britten, and Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968), who was influenced by Debussy and Mussorgsky; but their works have not survived the popular taste of the opera house as successfully as those of the verismo composers.

Noted composers of orchestral and instrumental music had disappeared from 19th-century Italy, and it was not until the First World War that a generation of Italian composers emerged who wished to restore this balance, and were less singly-mindedly interested in the operatic stage. Two features in particular emerged in this new Italian trend: the influence of Impressionism, and a renewed interest in Gregorian chant. Both are found in the music of the Italian composer of this period best known to the general public, Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). The revival of Italian interest in older music, the equivalent of neo-classicism, centred on plainsong (found also in the music of Pizzetti and Gian Francesco Malipiero, 1882-1973), on the Italian madrigal (with a revival of interest in the compositional genius of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Monteverdi), and on Italian baroque music, including Scarlatti and Vivaldi.

Meanwhile the one innovative genius that Italy produced, Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), preferred to live in Germany, where his ideas on the movement away from Romanticism were enormously influential. In Italy, it was left to Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) to espouse the cause of the modern (partly because he had spent his formative compositional years in Paris), and to introduce not only the latest European music into Italy, but also, from 1913, the newest techniques into his own compositions, with an awareness of the developments that Bartók, Schoenberg and Stravinsky were pursuing. With Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), Vittorio Gui (1885-1975), Malipiero, Respighi and Vincenzo Tommasini (1878-1950), Casella founded the Societé Italiana di Musica Moderna (SIMM) that promoted new works between 1917 and 1919 through concerts and the magazine Ars Nova. In 1923 the poet D'Annunzio, Casella, Malipiero and Labroca inaugurated a successor, the Corporazione delle Nuovo Musiche (later incorporated into Italy's ISCM), which introduced new European as well as Italian works. But after 1920 Casella's own style mellowed, and the gauntlet of the new was taken up by Goffredo Petrassi (born 1904), whose style has followed modern developments right up until the present age, and thus links neo-classicism with the Boulezian avant-garde in a way little matched elsewhere, and Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975), who emerged as the most original and fascinating Italian composer of his generation. But the imposition of Fascism from 1922 to 1945 gradually stifled both innovation and contact with developments outside Italy, and composers of this generation also turned to an interest in earlier Italian music. The impulse towards a development of advanced contemporary Italian music was also hampered by a famous attack on modernity led by Respighi, Zandonai, and Pizzetti, published in 1932. Vittorio Rieti (born 1898) moved to Paris and in 1940 to the U.S.A.; initially known for his ballets for Diaghilev (Barabeau, 1925, and Le Bal, 1928) and for his ballets in the U.S.A., he is now most likely to be encountered in such refined and neo-classical chamber works as the Sonata for piano flute, oboe and bassoon (1924) or the Partita (1945) for flute, oboe, string quartet and piano obbligato. His opera Don Perlimplin (1952), based on Lorca, combined commedia dell'arte and Romantic elements.

Malipiero, with his clear architecture and direct language founded on neo-classicism and the neo-madrigale style that looked back to the Renaissance continued to be the leading composer after 1945. The modernity in Italian music swiftly revived, led by the senior figures of Petrassi and Dallapiccola. Of the older generation, Riccardo Nielsen (1908-1982), experimented with 12-tone rows in 1927 but abandoned the technique until 1942; Mario Peragallo (born 1910) was initially a verismo opera writer, but eventually embraced 12-tone, in such works as the opera La gita in campagna, and the serial but lyrical Violin Concerto. The Romanian Roman Vlad (born 1919), who settled in Italy in 1938 and become a citizen in 1951, produced non-dodecaphonic works that disrupt tonality, arriving at a fusion of tonal and atonal elements. The following generation quickly became influenced by the avant-garde represented by Boulez and Stockhausen, and three important Italian composers made major contributions to the avant-garde. Luciano Berio (born 1925) has been the most accessible, moving to the use of folk-music in the 1970s, and Luigi Nono (born 1924) the most extreme, with a deep commitment to left-wing politics. Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) became celebrated as a conductor of contemporary music; with Berio he founded the Italian Radio electronic music studio in Milan in 1955. The oldest of these post-modernists, Giacinto Scelsi (1904-1988), is just beginning to become known for his often spartan works combining a spiritualism drawn from Eastern philosophies with unusual harmonic concepts, sometimes using micro-tones. Sylvano Bussotti (born 1931) took the avant-garde firmly into Italian opera in often outrageous works.

Italian music of the 20th century is still far too little known outside Italy; Casella, Dallapiccola, Malipiero and Petrassi in particular deserve wider appreciation. One of the reasons is that music in Italy has remained committed to opera, with no outstanding symphony orchestra of international fame. Another is the lack of Italian recording companies that might have disseminated Italian music with the enthusiasm and dedication of those in other countries. Symptomatic of this is the lack of an Italian Music Information Centre.



















born 8th March 1876 at Posillipo (Naples)

died 26th October 1954 at San Remo


Alfano is chiefly remembered outside Italy for his completion of Puccini's Turandot (1925, although Alfano's actual uncut ending, considerably longer, has only recently been rediscovered). However, his own Risurrezione (Resurrection, after Tolstoy, 1902-1903), his third opera and the second to be performed, followed Puccini's verismo example and has had great success in Italy. At the same time his orchestral music (for example the Suite romantica, 1907-1908, revised as Eliana) followed a Romantic vein. But with his eighth opera, L'ombra di Don Giovanni (The Ghost of Don Giovanni, 1913, revised 1941), and its sometimes unsettled harmonies, he started to move away from the still current and popular Italian operatic tradition to include the influence of Debussy and Strauss. This awareness of more modern ideas resulted in his co-founding of Musica Nova in Bologne (1920). The culmination of this development was the opera La leggenda di Sakuntala (The legend of Sakuntala, 1914-1920, orchestral score reconstructed 1952 following destruction in World War II), considered to be his major work. Based on a Sanskrit play, it combines an Italian lyricism with luxuriant orchestration and exotic colours (qualifying Alfano for the completion of Turandot). Such works were less to Italian tastes than verismo operas. He wrote some admired chamber music (Cello Sonata, 1925, Violin Sonata, 1922-1923, revised 1933) and songs that have remained in the Italian repertoire (four settings of Tagore, 1918, 1928, 1934, 1947). His later operas, of which the best known is probably Cyrano de Bergerac (1936), became more conventional, while a neo-classical idiom emerges in his later orchestral works (as in the Divertimento, 1934, for small orchestra with piano obbligato).

Alfano's main teaching posts were at the Liceo Musicale Bologna (1916-1923, director 1918), as director of the Liceo Musicale Turin (1939), and at the Liceo Musicale Pesaro (1947-1950).


works include:

- 2 symphonies (No.1 revised as Sinfonia classica)

- Danza e finale di Sakuntala, Suite romantica and Una danza for orch.; Divertimento for small orch. with piano obbligato

- cello sonata; violin sonata; Concerto for string trio; 3 string quartets; piano quintet and other chamber works

- È giunto il nostro ultimo autumno, Cinque nuove liriche tagoriane, Nuove liriche tagoriane, Tre liriche, Tre poemi di Rabindranath Tagore and other songs

- Himno al libertador Simon Bolivar for unison voices and orch.

- ballets Lorenza, Napoli and Vesuvius

- operas I cavalieri e la bella, Cyrano de Bergerac, Il dottor Antonio, La fonte di Enschir, La leggenda di Sakuntala, Madonna Imperia, L'ombra di Don Giovanni (revised as Don Juan de Manara), Il principe Zilah, Risurrezione and L'ultimo lord


recommended works:

opera La leggenda di Sakuntala (1914-1920)

opera Cyrano de Bergerac (1936)


BERIO Luciano

born 24th October 1925 at Oneglia

died 27th May 2003


Luciano Berio was considered in the early 1960s to be one of the major Italian exponents of total serialism, a reputation which hampered a wider appreciation of his music. For as his idiom has developed, it has proved to be one of the most accessible of the post-war avant-garde, and he emerged as the leading Italian composer of his generation.

His earliest works show an explosion of interest in the new ideas of the day which he encountered after the end of the Fascist regime, and which are exemplified in the angrily energetic Concertino (1951) for clarinet, violin and orchestra. The Three Poems from James Joyce's Chamber Music (1953) for soprano vary from a strict pointillistic approach to a sensualism of rich colours and expressive effects. But at the end of the 1950s Berio had developed a personal set of preoccupations that gave his music a particular individuality. The first was an increasing interest in the voice, influenced by three contemporary Italian writers, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and Edoardo Sanguineti, and by the emerging discipline of semiotics. The voice was of interest to Berio not just for the musical production of word-texts, but also for its colours and sounds, both of the imitation of nature and of elemental language structures without concrete meanings. The second was a love of theatrical content and effect, in concert as well as stage works, where dramatic events could take place again without the necessity of concrete language. The third was a preoccupation with a musical commentary on, and merger with, other musics (including his own) and other art forms. In these, Berio proved to be the main composer of a post-Modernism that paralleled that of the literary arts.

With the Sequenza I (1958) for flute, Berio embarked on a series of Sequenzas for solo instrument, virtuoso works using extremes of register and new techniques, and often (as in the clown/performer analogy of the Sequenza V, 1966, for trombone) involving a large measure of theatrics in performance. The insight is into the relationship between the performer and the instrument, and if the extreme nature of some of the writing is accepted, this series is a fascinating commentary on music and its performance. The best known is probably Sequenza III (1966) for female voice, a work that had been heralded by the seminal electronic piece Ommagio a Joyce (1959), in which Berio took recordings of Cathy Berberian reading excepts from James Joyce's Ulysses in English, French and Italian, and made an electronic construct out of them that musically echoed Joyce's own reworking of language. Even in the purely electronic Momenti (1960) much of the work sounds like the chattering of hundreds of voices, while Visage (1961) is an imaginary drama using Cathy Berberian's voice mixed with electronics, full of allusions to dramatic incident and extreme emotions and reactions in the vocal line, without specifying any actual action. Epifanie (Epiphanies, 1959-1961) for soprano and orchestra is a kind of mobile showing alternative ways of setting text to music, while Circles (1960) for female singer, harp and percussion transcribes a musical circle from understandable language to disconnected vocal sound and back again. The singer physically circles on stage, joining different instrumentalists and blending her voice with that particular sound. The commentary on Berio's own work came in a series of pieces in which one arises out of the other. Sequenza II (1963) for harp led to Chemin I (1965) for harp and orchestra, Sequenza VI for voila led to Chemin II and Chemin III for viola and orchestra (all 1967), while Chemin II itself became Chemin IIb (1969) for small orchestra, and Chemin IIc (1972) for bass clarinet and small orchestra. Berio himself has described this process as similar to covering an onion core with new layers. Chemin IV (1975) for oboe and thirteen strings is a commentary on Sequenza VII (1969) for oboe.

The first of Berio's actual stage works also date from this period. Passaggio (1961-1962) is a protest music-theatre work, and the exhilarating Laborintus II (1965) for speaking voice, female soloists and ensemble is a music theatre piece whose texts were compiled by Edoardo Sanguineti from works by Dante, Eliot, Pound and Sanguineti himself in homage to Dante. Then with the concert work Sinfonia (1968, fifth movement added in 1969), Berio produced one of the choral masterpieces of our age, that seemed to reflect exactly an aspect of modern Western culture, being fragmentary in appearance but with an undercurrent of continuity through anguished joy. Its third movement takes quotations from the scherzo of Mahler's Symphony No.2, and places them in a complex web of vocal dialogue. It was followed by his first large-scale opera Opera (1969-1970), which drew an analogy between the outmoded form and outmoded capitalism. Berio's subsequent operas, La vera stroia (first performed 1982) and Un rè in ascolto (first performed 1984) have been musical responses to the new literature examining the process of literature, using the kind of fantastical ideas beloved by the novelist Calvino, the librettist of La vera stroia. Un rè in ascolto (A King Listens) uses texts by Calvino, W.H.Auden, and a play by the 18th-century Friedrich Gotter. It explores the world of dreams and fantasies, both of life and of the theatre, through a theatre impresario who is auditioning for a play. Layered on this is a wealth of Shakespearean allusion, for the impresario is named Prospero, and various characters have reference to The Tempest. The various layers of the stage action are matched by differentiated layers of music. Recital I (1972), a theatrical piece for a virtuoso performer, shows a singer on the edge of breakdown, psychologically and linguistically. The correlation between singer and instrument, evident in Circles, is also seen in Coro (1975-1976) for 40 voices and orchestra, where each singer is placed next to an instrument of similar range. This epic work juxtaposes small groups or solos based on folk texts (often with unusual effects, such as the murmurings of an African Gabon song) and massive chordal, cluster-filled swathes of orchestral chords in which the tutti choir merge with fragments from the poetry of Pablo Neruda. A-ronne (1974-1975) for eight voices explored the relationship between speech - and the affects of speech delivery - and music, using a poem by Edoardo Sanguineti that itself draws on fragments by other writers, from Dante to Eliot and Barthes. It concentrates on the inflections of speech in various settings and with a wide range of emotions, in what Berio has described as documentary style. Gradually these are combined with appropriate, generally simple, musical parameters that eventually emerge into a neo-madrigal idiom that largely supplants the quasi-speech sounds. Its documentary nature distances the listener, but it is nonetheless fascinating, and not without moments of humour.

Coro had also demonstrated the integration of folk-music into Berio's idiom. This has been of importance since the early 1970s; he had already arranged folk-songs in Folksongs (1964) for soprano and seven instruments, orchestrated in 1973, which with its hues of modernism has proved widely popular. Though not based on folk-music, the sinuous twists of Sequenza VII (1969) for oboe and sound source have a rustic feel (especially against the drone effect of a held single note played by another sound source). Cries of London (1974, later revised) use street cries as the basis for a varied series of a cappella miniatures, applying modern textures to a traditional base. In the rather introverted and essentially lyrical Voci (1984) for viola and orchestra, the Sicilian folk melodies on which it is based have merged with the colours of the orchestra, folk music through a distorting filter, totally assimilated into the overall means of expression in an attractive work.

Berio's voice became less prominent after the 1980s, partly because the post-Modernist movement which his music embodied had passed the peak of its intellectual incisiveness. He lived and taught in the U.S.A. from 1962 to 1971.


works include:

- Sinfonia for 8 voices and orch.

- double piano concerto; Chorale for violin and orch.; Points on the Curve to Find... for piano and small orch.; Il ritorno degli Snovidenia for cello and small orch.; Voci for viola and orch.

- Allelujah I, Allelujah II, Bewegung, Concertion, Eindrücke, Encore, Entrata, Nones, Quattro versioni, Still and Tempi concertanti for orch.

- series Sequenza (I for flute, II for harp, III for female voice, IV for piano, V for trombone, VI for viola, VII for oboe, VIII for violin, IX for clarinet or saxophone, X for trumpet)

- series Chemin (I for harp and orch.; II for viola and ensemble; IIb for small orch.; IIc for bass clarinet and small orch.; III for viola and orch.; IV for viola and strings; V for clarinet and electronics)

- Duetti for 2 violins; Due pezzi for violin and piano; Musica leggera for flute, viola and cello; string quartet; Formazioni and Sincronie for string quartet; Linea for 2 pianos, marimba and vibraphone; Différences for 5 instruments and tape

- Cinque variazioni, Erdenklavier and Wasserklavier for piano; Rounds for harpsichord

- Agnus for 2 female voices, 3 clarinets and drone; Bewegung II for baritone and orch.; Calmo for soprano and 7 instruments; Chamber Music for female voice, clarinet, harp and cello; Circles for female voice, harp and 2 percussion; Epifanie for soprano and orch.; El mar la mar for soprano. mezzo-soprano and 7 instruments; Opus No. Zoo for speaker and wind quintet; Quattro canzoni popolari for female voice and piano

- A-ronne for 8 voices; Coro for chorus and orch.; Cries for 6 or 8 voices; Magnificat for 2 sopranos, chorus and orch.; Ora for voices and orch.; Questo vuol dire che for voices, instruments and tape; Sinfonia for 8 voices and orch.

- music theatre Laborintus II, Passaggio and Recital I

- operas Opera, Un rè in ascolto and La vera storia

- electronic Chants parallèles, Momenti, Mutazioni, Omaggio a Joyce, Perspectives and Visage


recommended works:

Circles (1960) for female voice, harp and two percussionists

Coro (1975-1976) for chorus and orchestra

Epifanie (159-1961, rev.1965) for soprano and orchestra

electronic Omaggio a Joyce (1959)

opera Un rè in ascolto (1984)

Sequenza III (1966) for female voice

Sequenza IV (1966) for piano

Sequenza V (1966) for trombone

Sinfonia (1968) for eight voices and orchestra

Three Poems from James Joyce's Chamber Music (1953)

Voci (1984) for viola and orchestra


BUSONI Ferruccio (Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto)

born 1st April 1866 at Empoli (Tuscany)

died 27th July 1924 at Berlin


Ferruccio Busoni is one of those original thinkers who influenced music in our century more by his concepts and by his championing of and contacts with other composers than by his own compositions, which are still little known to a wider public. He was also one of, if not the, greatest pianist of his day. Of German as well as Italian ancestry, he spent most of his life working in Germany (moving to Berlin in 1894), as his musical characteristics reflected, although he thought of himself as Italian.

It was Busoni who, reacting against the age of Romanticism in general and to Wagner in particular, advocated what proved to be an alternative approach to the parallel reaction of the French Impressionists. In doing so, he anticipated a number of trends that were to come to fruition in the second and third decades of the 20th century. However, his early music was influenced by Mendelssohn and Brahms, until in the 1890s he developed an aesthetic that harked back past the developments of the 19th century to the Classical period and beyond (and in particular to the works of Bach, the interest in which he did much to revive). He sought a return to the grace, elegance, and formal structures of the Baroque and Classical periods within a modern idiom; consequently, Baroque forms are sometimes encountered in his works, and the often unusual orchestration reflects the concerto grosso emphasis on individual instruments, rather than the denser orchestral textures of the Romantic period. Harmonically, he tried to remove himself from the `tyranny of minor and major', and experimented with new scales (including 113 possible ways of arranging whole and half steps within a seven note series), occasionally coming close to atonalism but usually not straying far from a tonal base. Counterpoint plays a major role in his art. Yet at the same time his incessant inquisitiveness could equally adopt a style that sounds totally Romantic, or close to Impressionism. He is, though, as much as any composer the founder or at least the precursor of neo-classicism, incorporating what he termed `junge Klassizität' from as early as the Konzertstück (1890) for piano and orchestra. Some of his later works are so classical in their cast, such as the formal layout and harmonies in the Elegie (1920) for clarinet and piano, or the shadow of Bach in the Divertimento op.52 (1920) for flute and piano, that they seem to have lost touch with the century they are written in.

His major work with orchestra is Romantic in scale, scope, and execution, however much individual procedures reflect his study of Classical musics, and however much commentators have tried to claim otherwise. The Piano Concerto (1903-1904) for piano, male chorus and orchestra, is a gigantic work that would be much better known were its difficulties not so great, requiring great stamina from the soloist, and were the size of its forces not so daunting. It opens in the grand virtuoso manner, a long orchestral introduction leading to the entry of the soloist pounding out arpeggios in one of the noblest and most exciting introductions to any concerto. After the first movement, the soloist becomes prime inter pares, but the impulse remains purely late-Romantic, in spite of some Classical procedures and textures. It transcribes the struggle of the soul, symbolized by the illustrations of temples that Busoni requested for the frontispiece of the score, and ends with the male chorus singing a song of illuminated triumph from Aladdin by the Danish poet Oehlenschlaeger. The five movements were to be played without a break, though performances inevitably have a pause, simply to get the breath back. Beethoven and sometimes Berlioz lie behind this concerto, in both temperament and actual sound; in the second movement there is a resemblance to d'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountain Air of 1886 so marked that one wonders whether Busoni had unconsciously borrowed. By leading back to Beethoven and using the scale of Mahler, Busoni unleashed the apogee of the Romantic piano concerto in one of its finest manifestations. The Violin Concerto (1897) has almost completely disappeared; it is a lyrically rich work whose neglect is difficult to understand, except that much of the solo writing lies low and requires the fullest of tones. The slow movement is gorgeously sensuous, with echoes of Gregorian chant, and the entertaining finale seems populated by comedia dell'arte characters, making mischievous allusion to Dvořák's New World Symphony and setting up a fantastical and humorous interplay between trumpets and soloists.

Busoni's major piano works are the huge Fantasia Contrappuntistica (1910) and the six piano sonatinas. The Fantasia (second version, 1910, third version 1912, also versions for two pianos and for organ) derives some of its material from the last, unfinished, fugue in Bach's Art of the Fugue, and combines its contrapuntal creations with intermezzos and variations. The sonatinas show the range of Busoni's stylistic interests and incisiveness of pianistic intellect, with the clarity and some of the procedural formality of the era of Bach never far away, but mixed with echoes of Debussy (notably in some of the inner phrasing of the fourth sonatina) and (in the second) of Schoenberg. They make fascinating if not immediately alluring listening. The Sonatina No.1 (1910) oscillates between the thinnest of austere textures and contrapuntal layering or Impressionistic strokes. The Sonatina No.2 (1912) is stormy, thunderous, with dense textures and harmonies verging on the atonal. The Sonatina No.3 (1915) is much more lightly textured, being subtitled (in Latin) `Sonatina for the Use of the American Child, Madeline M., Composed for the Harpsichord', though it would require a child of prodigious talents to play it, and is clearly written with the piano in mind. The opening of the Sonatina No.4 (1917), subtitled `In diem nativitas Christi MCMXVII' seems like Bach in modern guise, and its ending was used in the opera Arlecchino. The homage to Bach is direct in the Sonatina No.5 (1918), being subtitled `Sonatina brevis in signo Joannis Sebastiani Magni', and it reworks Bach's Fantasy and Fugue in D, BWV 905. The Sonatina No.6 (1920) is different in tone and content, a wild and brilliant fantasy on themes from Bizet's opera Carmen, full of Lisztian delight in touches of pianistic colour and surprise, its changing moods following the original story.

Busoni's earliest opera to maintain a precarious foothold in the repertoire, the `theatrical capriccio' Arlecchino (1914-1916), is a comic satire in the style of commedia dell'arte, telling the story of a cuckolded tailor (who opens and closes the work reading Dante) and the jealousies and loves of the cast, including the successfully adulterous hero and a caricature of the operatic tenor in the person of a knight. In tone and in musical style it anticipates Weill, who was deeply influenced by the work, and is both entertaining and tuneful. It is perhaps the first neo-classical opera, harking back to the buffa style of Rossini. Turandot (1917) was a comic companion piece to Arlecchino, but has been completely eclipsed by Puccini's (serious) opera on the same subject. Full of exotic melodies and colours, as well as marches that anticipate both Weill and Prokofiev, some of the music was turned into an entertaining orchestral suite. Busoni's masterpiece is generally agreed to be his final opera, Doktor Faust (1910-1924), with a libretto by the composer, and completed after his death by Philipp Jarnach; a more effective version by Anthony Beaumont appeared in 1986. Busoni felt (partly in reaction to the prevailing fashion of verismo, exemplified by Puccini) that the concept of a naturalistic opera plot told by singing was inherently absurd; opera should show the fantastical and the symbolic, and thus the Faust story was well suited to this aesthetic. While including the main elements of the story (Faust summoning Mephistopheles, Faust's death), Busoni chose essentially unlinked episodes from the story, creating an overall character portrait in a number of scenes, initiating (with, to a lesser degree, Berg's Wozzeck) a technique widely employed in later 20th-century operas. Instead of the conventional Christian ending, Busoni elects for a metamorphosis worthy of Virgil: as Faust dies, he passes what can be seen as his Schopernian will (or, according to some, his personality) to his dead child, who springs up as a youth. However, Christian imagery lies behind much of the work as a contrast, as in the memorable scene where Faust signs the pact with Mephistopheles and wonders what he has done to the backdrop of a distant Easter chorus, the orchestra quietly undulating as a third layer; all three build to a powerful climax as Faust becomes more and more agitated. The opera has an unusual layout, with an opening symphonia preceding two long prologues (essentially serving as a first Act), followed by the main action in three scenes, in the first of which (coming, in terms of duration, right in the middle of the opera) Faust performs magical acts that require considerable stage effects. Musically, the idiom is late-Romantic, though permeated with Busoni's knowledge of earlier musics and with an often lean clarity of texture. Doktor Faust occupies a similar position to Pfitzner's masterpiece, Palestrina, both works more familiar by name than in performance, and most likely to be encountered in festivals. Both, too, while having an earnest sincerity and convincing portraits of their main characters, miss an intangible spark that might make them more popular. But there are many sections of memorable power, including the intermezzo introduction to the main action (starting with a soldier's prayer against the organ, and building with the addition of the orchestra and the arrival of Faust and Mephistopheles to menacing brass) and the arguments between the Catholic and Protestant students (with the intolerant Protestants prophetically marching off to a goose-step, right arm raised). The purely symphonic passages are especially effective, notably the very beautiful and subdued opening Easter Sinfonia. Doktor Faust is a fascinating and rewarding, if not overwhelming, discovery.

The works of Busoni most likely to be encountered are unfortunately not his original compositions, but the extraordinary transcriptions he made of earlier music, notably that of Bach, which indicate what a prodigious pianist he must have been. They are often used as encores by dare-devil pianists, and can be terrifically exciting. As enduring was Busoni's influence as a teacher (his most notable pupil was Weill) and as musical thinker; his Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music was published in 1907. There is a biannual Busoni Prize for outstanding contributions to modern music.


works include:

- piano concerto; violin concerto; Divertimento for flute and orch.; Indianische Fantasie, Konzertstück and Romanza e Scherzoso for piano and orch.; clarinet concertino

- Berceuse elegiaque, Lustspielouvertüre, Nocturne symphonique, Rondo Arlecchinesco, Sarabande and Cortège and Tanzwalzer for orch.

- 2 violin sonatas; 2 string quartets

- 6 sonatinas for piano; An die Jugend, Elegien, Fantasia Contrappuntistica (3 versions, also versions for 2 pianos and for organ), Gavotte, Indianisches Tagebuch, Minuetto Capriccioso, 2 sets of Piano Pieces, Prelude and Fugue, Toccata and Twenty-Four Preludes and other works for piano

- ballad Des Sängers Fluch for contralto and piano; Zigeunerlied for baritone and orch.; Album Vocale, Lied der Klage and other vocal music

- operas Arlecchino, Die Brautwahl, Doktor Faust and Turandot


recommended works:

opera Arlecchino (1914-1916)

opera Doktor Faust (1916-1924)

Fantasia contrappuntistica (1910-1912) for piano

Piano Concerto (1904)

Piano Sonatinas Nos.1-6 (1910-1920)

Violin Concerto (1897)



A.Beaumont Busoni, the Composer, 1986

E.J.Dent Ferruccio Busoni, 1933, revised 1974



born 1st October 1931 at Florence


Bussotti is a polymath of his age: composer, successful painter, set designer, stage, film, and opera director (and not merely of modern works), and experimenter in all multi-media forms. He established his reputation for multi-media stage presentations with La Passion selon Sade (1965-1966), which, although based on a 16th-century French sonnet, incorporates Sade's two heroines, Justine and Juliette, as well as O from The Story of O, in a staging that includes gestural, sound and lighting effects, mime, and dance; Bussotti termed it a `chamber mystery play'. In it are a number of features, discernible in earlier works, which together become characteristic of his music. The strong erotic themes were evident in the homoerotic texts of Pièces de chair II (Flesh Plays, 1958-1960), a set of fourteen pieces for low voice, piano and ensemble, five of which became the best known of his earlier works, Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor (1959), with graphic pictorial notation and unpredictable elements that reflected the influence of Cage. The multi-roles of musicians and actors and the sense of theatrical fantasy provide the stage structure for free and fragmentary musical ideas evolving from a 12-tone idea, unified by the use of the combination of two mottos, D-Es-A-D-E (De Sade) and BACH (Es=E flat, H=B flat). The theatrical elements include the multi-layering of time and character: the 20th century mirrors the Romantic writer Musset, who is mirroring the Italian Renaissance.

The element of fantasy (or the fantastical) often emerges in Bussotti's music in a feeling of sound combinations moving in and out of focus with insubstantial rhythms, discernable in Cinque frammenti all'Italia (1967-1968) for six soloists and chorus. Characteristically, it assimilates Renaissance madrigals in settings fragments from a number of poets, with brief contributions from piano and tubular bells in the second of five sections, the last opening with the title-words of all the previous sections. Bussotti developed this method of quotation and incorporation to include his own works, a concept initiated in the opera Lorenzaccio (1968-1972) in 23 scenes, 250 costume changes (all the costumes originally designed by the composer), and multi-media elements (film, spoken sections, offstage happenings). It is based on a play by Alfred de Musset about the assassination of the Florentine Alessandro de'Medici by his brother Lorenzo in 1537. The musical sources range from Monteverdi to Webern, from Verdi to Tosti (Bussotti's teacher), and finally, to end the work, the inclusion complete of his own Rara Requiem (1969-1970) for voices (in several languages) and orchestra. The complex web of allusion cannot, of course, be appreciated in totality by the audience, but this is not Bussotti's intent. Rather it is a kind of autobiographical self-creation in which the memory becomes the motivation of the piece, which in turn reworks memory. Sections of the opera were themselves used for the rather raucous `Lorenzzaccio' Symphony for orchestra.

The process was developed further (and explicitly) in Bussottioperaballet (1975), in which the theme of the whole piece - the individual position of the artist - is expressed by two parts, the first a ballet on an Egyptian myth incorporating fragments of Pièces de chair on tape, the second Nottetempo (Nighttime) for soloists and chorus that weaves two plots, the one Greek mythology, the other an episode of Michelangelo's life. The element of the fantastical is to the fore in an earlier ballet, Bergkristall (1972-1973), for it is based on a novel by Adalbert Stifter in which two children have dream-like visions and imaginations after getting lost in the snow at Christmas; they are eventually rescued. Bussotti's score, using a large orchestra, abounds in shifts of focus and in the insubstantial, sometimes with glittering cold effects; it verges on the Expressionist, and its dense drama is worth the encounter. Bussotti's own experiences in Paris in the 1950s surface in La racine (Pianobar pour Phèdre) (1980-1981), with the literary allusion to Racine, the 12-note idea being based on the 12 syllables of Racine's iambic hexameters. The autobiographical and erotic elements, and diverse vocal influences from the madrigal to Sprechgesang, recur in La Rarit, Potente (1980).

These essentially theatrical concerns, designed to weave a complex series of dramatic reactions rather than intellectual responses, parallel the recasting of process evident in other Italian media (for example, the writing of Calvino) with their elements of fantasy, reworking of the past, complex allusion and self-indulgence, and have provoked strong audience reactions.

Bussotti was professor of the history of music drama at L'Aquila Academy of Fine Arts (1971-1974), and from 1975, artistic director of the Teatro la Fenice, Venice.


works include:

- Sette folgi consisting of Coeur for percussion, Couple for flute and piano, Lettura di Brabanti for voice, Manifesto per Kalinowski for ensemble, Mobilestabile for voice, piano and guitar, Per tre sul piano for piano and Sensitivo for string soloist

- Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor

- Julio organum Julii for organ; Breve for ondes Martenot

- Opus cygne for soprano and orch.; Memoria and Rara Requiem for voices and orch.; Cinque frammenti all'Italia for 6 soloists and chorus

- ballet Bergkristall

- Bussottioperaballet; operas Lorenzaccio, Nottetempo, La Passion selon Sade and Le racine


recommended works:

ballet Bergkristall (1972-1973)

opera La Passion selon Sade (1965-1966)

Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor (1959)



born 25th July 1883 at Turin

died 5th March 1947 at Rome


Alfredo Casella was the major personality in Italian new music between the First and the Second World Wars, through his enthusiasm for and promotion of new music as organizer, pianist and conductor and through the example of his own compositions. Currently, the music of such figures as Respighi or Malipiero is more likely to be encountered, but Casella's knowledge of contemporary trends in both music and the visual arts (which he claimed were an influence on his music), had more effect on the development of Italian music than these better-known composers. He was influenced by spending 1896 to 1905 in Paris, thus being immersed in concert music rather than opera. His early works show an eclectic range of influences, from Mahler (in the two symphonies, 1905-1906 and 1908-1909) to Fauré. The best known work of this period is probably the Sicilenne and Burlesque (1913) for flute and piano or piano trio (many Casella works exist in more than one arrangement), in an Impressionist style similar to Respighi. The use of Italian folk-song, uncommon among Italian composers, is most overt in the Sicilian and Neapolitan tunes of Italia for orchestra (an Italian response to the music of the Spaniard Albéniz, 1860-1909).

With the song cycles Notte di maggio op.20 (1913) for low voice and orchestra, and L'adieu à la vie op.26 (1915, to words by Tagore translated by Gide) for low voice and piano (instrumental arrangement, 1926) Casella embraced the latest ideas, having discovered the music of Stravinsky and Bartók. The works of this period experiment harmonically through extreme chromaticism and polytonality, but still include a wide range of emotions, from works reflecting the war (Pagine di guerra op.25, 1918, for piano duet, later orchestrated, and Elegia eroica op.29), to the sarcasm and dissonance of the Piano Sonatina op.28 (1916). This modern stance mellowed in the 1920s, as he both returned to the interest in Italian folk-song (the lively ballet La giara [The Jar], 1924, based on Pirandello) and added an interest in pre-classical Italian music, in an attempt to parallel what he saw as the lucidity of landscape in Italian art. It is the music from this period, sometimes infected with a sense of pleasurable humour, that is more likely to be encountered. The Scarlattiana (1926) for piano and small orchestra is an Italian equivalent of Stravinsky's Pulcinella, based on Scarlatti keyboard sonata themes, entertaining in its colourful instrumentation and neo-classical combination of the antique and modern, if not as individual or as piquant as Stravinsky's score. The sense of pleasure, craftsmanship, and timing of effect in the Serenata op.44 for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin and cello (1927, also version for small orchestra), is delightful. With its sinuous melodic flow, and a mysterious nocturne that includes an almost Mexican solo trumpet, it is not surprising that it shared (with a work by Bartók) a major composition prize in Philadelphia. The Italian neo-classical is at its grandest in the Concerto romano op.43 (1926) for organ, brass, timpani and strings, which is purely baroque in musical (and architectural) inspiration.

Neo-classicism is also evident in his first opera, La donna serpente, (1931) inspired by 18th-century commedia dell'arte. The political climate in Italy was reflected in the opera (subtitled 'mystery in one act') Il deserto tenato (1936-1937), which praises Mussolini's Ethiopian war, but in Casella's last works (such as the Concerto op.69 for piano, timpani, percussion and strings) there is a suggestion that Casella was moving towards the adoption of a 12-tone system.

As a promoter of new music, Casella founded (with Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Gui, Malipiero, Respighi and Tommasini) the Società Italiana di Musica Moderna (SIMM) that, with its magazine Ars Nova, was enormously influential in its two years of activity (1917-1919). In 1923, with the backing of D'Annunzio and with Malipiero and Labroca, he set up the Corporazione delle Nuovo Musiche (later incorporated into Italy's ISCM). He continued his promotion of new music at the Venice Festival of Contemporary Music (1930-1934), while his interest in Italian baroque music was reflected in his founding of the Siena Weeks music festival, which still runs.

Apart from the infectious delight of such pieces as the Serenata, Casella's music will perhaps be of more interest to those following the course of music in Italy than to the general listener, who will probably find Dallapiccola and Petrassi (both twenty years Casella's junior) more interesting as experimental Italian composers.


works include:

- 3 symphonies

- cello concerto; Concerto for Orchestra; Concerto romano for organ. brass, timpani and strings; Concerto for Strings, Piano, Timpani and Percussion; Concerto for Trio and Orchestra; violin concerto; A notte alta for piano and orch.; Partita for piano and orch.; Scarlattiana for piano and 32 instruments

- Elegia Eroica for orch.; Introduzione, Aria e Toccata for orch.; Italia, Paganiniana, Pupazzetti and Suite in C for orch.

- 2 cello sonatas; Sicilienne and Burlesque for flute and piano (or piano trio); Concerto and Five Pieces for string quartet; Sinfonia for piano, cello, trumpet and clarinet; Serenata for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin and cello

- piano sonatina and other piano works

- song cycle L'adieu à la vie; Notte di maggio for voice and orch.; Tre canti sacri for baritone and orch.; Missa Solemnis pro pace for soprano, baritone and orch.

- ballets La Camera dei Disegni, La Giara and La rosa del Sogno

- operas Il deserto tenato, La donna serpente and La favola di Orfeo


recommended works:

Concerto romano (1926) for organ, brass, timpani and strings

ballet La giara (1924)

Scarlattiana (1926) for piano and small orchestra

Serenata (1927) for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin and cello



A.Casella Music in My Time, 1941, trans. S.Norton, 1955



born 3rd April 1895 at Florence

died 16th March 1968 at Hollywood (U.S.A.)


Castelnuovo-Tedesco's life was divided between Italy and the U.S.A., as he left Italy in the face of anti-semitic pogroms in 1939 and became an American citizen in 1946. His output is huge, much of it unpublished and rarely heard, especially (as was the fate of many emigrés of the time) that written in the U.S.A.. As far as one can therefore judge, his works seem to be uneven, and those now most often heard usually involve the guitar, for which he showed a particular sensitivity. The basis of his idiom is Impressionism, and the core of his output loosely divides into concertos, works based on Shakespeare, music with Jewish influences, and, in the 1940s and 1950s, a considerable amount of film music. Of his concertos, the sometimes encountered Concertino (1934) for harp and chamber orchestra demonstrates both his virtues and the unevenness. The Mediterranean colours, the sparkling Impressionism, the sometimes unusual effects (the final movement has a Spanish flavour), are particularly attractive, but too often the music becomes trite and unmemorable.

Much more consistent, and his most frequently played work, is the Guitar Concerto op.99 (1939). The score specifies an unusual layout for the small orchestra, and the felicitous opening movement has a memorable main theme and a pastoral atmosphere set up by the guitar's answers to a lovely passage of horn calls. The slow movement is gentle and melodic, the finale rumbustious; throughout the work, the emphasis is on the sheen of delightful melodies and decorations of the soloist in one of the most attractive of all guitar concertos. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's solo guitar music is extensive, often written for Segovia; the series Les guitares bien tempérées for two guitars are especially effective, combining the formality of the structure of the prelude and fugue, some of the spontaneity and earthiness of the folk origins of the instrument, and the resonating colours available from two guitars.

The music inspired by Shakespeare includes eleven concert overtures, song cycles, duets, and two operas, of which The Merchant of Venice was a success on its appearance in 1956. The most important are the 33 Shakespeare Songs op.24 (1921-1925), whose wide range of styles includes the tango. Often in his songs one encounters works of telling effect, as in the simple and apt settings of Sei odi di Orazio (Six Horace Odes, 1930), Impressionistic in their accompaniment, but with long cantabile vocal lines. The works with a Jewish influence include the Jewish Rhapsody for piano, using Hebrew themes, and the Violin Concerto No.2 (titled The Prophets, 1933). Le danze del Re David op.37 (1925), one of three Rhapsodies (opp.30, 32, and 37), combines the overt Impressionism with Lisztian echoes, a Hebrew linking motif, and, towards the end, the kind of modal harmonies that were being utilized by such Italian composers as Respighi.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco taught at the Los Angeles Conservatory from 1946 to 1968, and among his many distinguished pupils were band leaders Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle, the conductor André Previn and the film composer John Williams.


works include:

- cello concerto; 2 guitar concertos; concerto for 2 guitars; 2 piano concertos; Concertino for harp and chamber orch.; Concerto de camera for oboe and chamber orch.; Poem and Symphonic Variations for violin and orch.; Serenade for guitar and chamber orch.

- much orchestral music including 11 overtures on Shakespearean subjects, An American Rhapsody and Indian Songs and Dances

- cello sonata; sonata for cello and harp; Divertimento for 2 flutes; sonata for flute and harp; Fantasia for guitar and piano; 2 trumpet sonatas; sonata for violin and cello; The Lark and Sonata quasi una fantasia for violin and piano; sonata for violin and viola; 2 piano trios; 3 string quartets; 2 piano quintets

- piano sonata and other piano music

- guitar sonata; Capriccio diabolico, Escarraman, Passacaglia, Rondo, Sonatina canonica, Suite and Variations à travers les siècles for guitar; Caprichos de Goya and Les guitares bien tempérées for two guitars, and other works for one, two, or three guitars; Platero y yo for narrator and guitar

- many songs and song cycles including settings of Heine, Proust, Shakespeare and Whitman

- much choral music including cantatas The Fiery Furnace, Naomi and Ruth and The Queen of Sheba and oratorios The Book of Jonah, The Book of Ruth, The Song of Songs and Tobias and the Angel; choral song cycles including settings of Keats, Cristiana Rossetti and Shelley

- ballets the Birthday of the Infanta and The Octoroon

- operas All's Well That Ends Well, Aucassin and Nicolette, Bacco in Toscana, The Importance of Being Earnest, La mandragola, The Merchant of Venice and Saul


recommended works:

Guitar Concerto in D op.99 (1939)

song cycle Horace Sei odi Orazio (1930)



born 3rd February 1904 at Pisino (Istria)

died 18th February 1975 at Florence


Dallapiccola was one of the first major composers outside Schoenberg's circle to adopt 12-tone techniques, and with Berg he was the main composer to show that 12-tone ideas could produce sounds that had audible connections with the tonal tradition. For he fused the lyrical, and especially vocal, Italian tradition with the new procedures, suffusing them with the lucidity of the northern Italian light that gives the wonderful illusion of being both sharply focused and hazy at one and the same time. His sense of orchestral or instrumental drama has much in common with Berg, surges suddenly swelling up from underneath the music or tense rhythmic phrases suddenly injected to turn the progress in a new direction. His textures are generally much lighter than those of the Austrian composer, his colours (as if seen in the glare of that Italian light) far more monochromatic. Much of his output is of vocal music, and his adoption of 12-tone techniques seems to have been an organic recognition that they answered his needs for word setting, rather than a reaction to tonality of his contemporaries; consequently his music has a naturalness and fluidity often lacking in those contemporaries. A kernel four-note idea, first heard in the Divertimento (1934) for voice and five instruments, recurs through his music, as well as the use of quintuplets symbolizing the five syllables of his name.

His earliest music had neo-classical and neo-madrigal elements (in such works as the Cori di Michelangelo, 1933, for chorus and boys' or women's voices and seventeen instruments), but the Sei cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane (1936) for chorus and orchestra takes chromaticism to its limits for atmospheric effect, and uses an 11-note series at the end. The intense Tre laudi (1936-1937) for soprano or tenor and thirteen instruments explores 12-tone ideas, using a series in retrograde and inversion, and was the study for Dallapiccola's first opera, the one-act Volo di notte (1937-1939), based on one of the summits of 20th-century literature, Saint-Exupéry's Night Flight, which contrasts the freedom and adventure of flight against the regularity and security of the earth-bound world.

The seminal works that established Dallapiccola's combination of Italian lyricism and exclusively 12-tone techniques are the three sets of Liriche greche (Greek Lyrics, 1942-1945), using translations by the Italian poet Quasimodo. The Cinq frammenti di Saffo (1942) for voice and fifteen instruments combines a different 12-tone row with tonal elements in each song, but the Sei carmina Alcei (1943) for voice and eleven instruments are based on a single row, manipulated canonically, and a sense of complete technical freedom is achieved in the Due liriche di Anacreonte (1946) for voice and four instruments. The Due studi (1947) for violin and piano have something of the extreme reduction to basic elements of Webern, while maintaining a melodious atonal flow. Job (1950), a `sacra rappresentazione' or staged cantata inspired by an Epstein sculpture, uses a single 12-note series as the basis of the music. In the Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (Musical Notebook for Annalibera, the composer's daughter, 1952) for piano, some of the eleven brief, canonic, and often delicate pieces, alternating fast and slow, make references to the past, the first using the B-A-C-H motto. During the 1950s Dallapiccola's style became increasingly refined and lean, the emotional effects more calculated, as in the Goethe Lieder (1953) for soprano and three clarinets, with its complex rhythmic polyphony, or the intense and dramatic cantata An Mathilde (1955) for soprano and chamber orchestra, based on Heine. But at the same time he also returned to a kind of neo-classicism, retaining the economy of statement and lucidity of texture, in the Tartiniana seconda (1955-1956; the first was written in 1951) for violin and piano (also orchestrated) which uses a theme by Tartini in a melodious and delicate four-movement suite. This was a passing aside; Dallapiccola then maintained the rarefied atmospheres and strict procedures reminiscent of Webern through the rest of his output. Yet there remained that implicit lyricism, evident in such works as the Parole di San Paolo (1964) for soprano and eleven instruments and based on St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, where the wide-leaping solo voice and the delicate tracery of the instrumentation, reduced to bare essentials, creates a radiant atmosphere, or his final opera, Ulisse (1960-1968), which explores the hero's psychological search.

More important than this gradual development to a personal fluency of 12-tone techniques is Dallapiccola's place as the composer of the conscience of freedom in the 20th century. Many of his works have the theme of freedom denied or freedom regained, in part reflecting his own experiences during childhood and during the period of fascism and Nazi occupation. The Canti di prigionia (Songs from Captivity, 1938-1941) for chorus, two pianos, two harps and percussion uses texts by three imprisoned writers, Boethius, Mary Queen of Scots, and Savonarola, and offsets the tonal plainchant Dies Irae against the 12-tone harmonies. Persecution, the promise of liberation, and disillusion of psychological torture are the themes of Dallapiccola's one-act masterpiece, the opera Il prigioniero (The Prisoner, 1938-1948), which quotes from the captivity songs. Its central character is imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition during the Flemish struggles of independence from Spain. He is given hope both for the success of his cause and his personal freedom by his jailor, who encourages him to voice his true feelings and helps him escape. But his freedom is short-lived: in the garden outside the prison the jailor is waiting for him, is revealed as the Grand Inquisitor, and leads him to the gallows. This exceptionally beautiful but dramatically tense work is based on 12-tone principles but with a series that sets up the resonances of tonal themes. Lucid orchestral writing carries much of the dramatic impetus, together with passages of polytonality and tonal choral writing. It is difficult to convey the singular atmosphere of this work; it is as if the lyrical urgency of Puccini (the opening phrase could easily start a Puccini opera), the dramatic and psychological understanding and orchestral punch of Berg, some of the instrumental touches of Orff, and elements of the brooding Bartók had been fused into a completely individual, totally modern, and indisputably Italian idiom, of delicacy and power and anguish and urgency. Anyone who is convinced that 12-tone music has to be harsh on the ear should hear this opera, for those harsher sounds are used only at appropriate dramatic moments.

The end of the Second World War is reflected in the Ciaccona, intermezzo e adagio (1945) for solo cello, moving from the unsettled writing of the opening chaconne and the dramatic effects of the intermezzo to a feeling of desolation in the opening of the adagio that transforms into a gentle song of peace. Freedom is again the central theme of Dallapiccola's major choral work, Canti di liberazione (1951-1955) for chorus and orchestra, using texts from Sebastianus Castellio and Augustine's Confessions. In the radiantly beautiful Sicut umbra (1970) for mezzo soprano and instrumental ensemble, it is death that is the liberator, in settings of poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez; the final song uses instrumental figures based on the shapes of the constellations, with harp, celesta and vibraphone added to the flutes, clarinets and strings. The Dallapiccola theme of reconstruction after destruction found its final outlet in Tempus destruendi, tempus aedificandi (1971) for unaccompanied chorus, centred on the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Dallapiccola and the Hungarian Kurtág are the two composers who have demonstrated that 12-tone principles could be used to create a lyrical idiom that those coming from a tonal tradition can readily appreciate. It is unfortunate that neither are better known, for they hold the seeds of a continuation of this particular line of development of classical music. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than in the opera Il prigionerio, which shatters the commonly held illusion that there is no Italian opera after the verismo composers that continues the Italian tradition of lyricism and dramatic intensity. Dallapiccola taught at the Florence Conservatory (1930-1967), and on short visits to the U.S.A.


works include:

- Dialoghi for cello and orch.; Piccolo concerto per Muriel Couvreux for piano and chamber orch.

- Due pezzi, Piccola musica notturna, Questions with Two Answers and Variazioni for orch.

- Ciaccona, intermezzo e adagio for solo cello; Due studi for violin and piano; Tartiniana and Tartiniana seconda for violin and piano (also orch.)

- Quaderno musicale di Annalibera and Sonatina canonica for piano; Musica per tre pianoforte for three pianos

- An Mathilde for soprano and orch.; Cinque canti for baritone and 8 instruments; Commiato for soprano and 15 instruments; Concerto per la notte di Natale dell'anno 1956 for soprano and chamber orch.; Divertimento for voice and five instruments; Liriche greche (No.1 Cinq frammenti di Saffo for voice and 15 instruments, No.2 Sei carmina Alcei for voice and 11 instruments, No.3 Due liriche di Anacreonte for voice and 4 instruments); Parole di San Paolo for soprano and 11 instruments; Preghiere for baritone and chamber orch.; Quattro lirische di Machado for soprano and piano or chamber orch.; Rencesvals for mezzo soprano or baritone and piano; Sicut umbra for mezzo-soprano and 12 instruments; Tre laudi for soprano or tenor and 13 instruments; Tre poemi for soprano and 14 instruments

- Canti di liberazione and Requiescant for chorus and orch.; Canti di prigionia for chorus , 2 pianos, 2 harps and percussion; Sex cori di Michelangelo for chorus, boys' or women's voices and 17 instruments; Tempus destruendi, tempus aedificandi for chorus

- ballet Marsia

- staged cantata Job; operas Ulisse, Il prigioniero and Volo di notte


recommended works:

Canti di liberazione (1951-1955) for chorus and orchestra

Canti di prigionia (1938-1941) for chorus, two pianos, two harps and percussion

Liriche greche (Greek Lyrics, 1942-1945) for voice and instruments

opera ll prigioniero (1938-1948)

Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (1952) for piano

Sicut umbra (1970) for mezzo soprano and instrumental ensemble



L.Dallapiccola Dallapiccola on Opera, Eng. trans. 1987



born 21st April 1920 at Venice

died 13th November 1973 at Darmstadt


Bruno Maderna was a major figure in the avant-garde movement of the 1950s and 1960s, not only for his compositions, but also for his sympathetic and authoritative conducting of works by avant-garde composers.

Maderna's earliest works were neo-classical in style, but he quickly embraced 12-tone music after serving first in the Italian army and then as a partisan in the Second World War. Works such as the Introduzione e passacaglia (1947) for orchestra, the Concerto for Two Pianos (1948) and the Expressionist Studi per `Il Processo' di Kafka (Studies for `The Trial' of Kafka, 1950) for reciter, soprano and small orchestra were influenced by the example of Webern, but Maderna then turned to `total serialism', systematizing especially the overall form and the rhythms. The accessible Serenata No.2 (1955) for eleven instruments includes the mandolin in its instrumentation, and the String Quartet (1956) uses a complex rhythmic structure, with the second movement a retrograde of the first. The Webernesque Piano Concerto (1959) has an unconventional handling of solo instrument.

Maderna then became primarily concerned with sound events that alternate tension and relaxation, constructing works by mathematical principles, sometimes with performer choices in performance; the effect is a kind of expressive avant-garde impressionism, where the quality of dense sonorities and textural colours is paramount. The division of forces is responsible for much of the spatial effect of Maderna's sonorities; his works are better appreciated for the sensuous colours and interjectory events than for any understanding of formal procedures, which are anyway often determined by the performers. The stage work Hyperion (1964) opposes a tightly controlled system with sections in which the musicians are given wide freedom of choice; it is divided into three sections, an aria for soprano and orchestra to Hölderlin texts, an orchestral section, and a section for flute and orchestra, containing material from the earlier parts. In Quadrivium (Crossroads, 1969) for orchestra divided into four orchestral groups and four percussionists, the entire score is precisely notated, but organization is determined by the conductor. The result is a swathe of different spatial sonorities and events, with much delicate percussion writing using a battery of tuned instruments in addition to struck percussion. In Aura (1971), the 54 strings are divided into distinct groups, and the interjections are imposed by blocks of brass. A tapestry of string writing, sometimes undulating, sometimes in swathes, and punctuated by bright percussion, provides the impetus of the work. The first movement of Biogramma (1972) for orchestra is perhaps the most Impressionistic of these works, and it includes a plaintive cor anglais solo; the last of the three movements is a kaleidoscope of clicking and revolving orchestral sounds. His last work, the opera Satyricon (first performed 1973), suggested he was moving in a new direction away from the avant-garde sound world he had done so much to promote.

Maderna became a West German citizen in 1963, and after many conducting posts in Germany he became chief orchestral conductor of Radio Milan in 1971. With Berio he co-founded the electronic studio of Italian Radio in Milan.


works include:

2 oboe concertos; violin concerto; Grande aulodia for flute, oboe and orch.

- Aura, Biogramma, 3 Composizione and Quadrivium for orch.; Giardino religioso for small orch.; Julliard Serenade for small orch. and tape

- Serenata for 2 instruments; string quartet

- cantata Kranichsteiner Kammerkantate `4 Briefe'

- electronic ballet Oedipus-Roi

- staged event Hyperion; opera Satyricon

- electronic Continuo, Dimensions, Notte in città (with Berio) and other electronic works


recommended works:

Aura (1972) for orchestra

Biogramma (1972) for orchestra


MALIPIERO Gian Francesco

born 18th March 1882 at Venice

died 1st August 1973 at Treviso


Not to be confused with his grandfather Francesco Malipiero (1824-1887), in his time a well-regarded composer of operas, or his nephew and 12-tone composer Riccardo Malipiero (born 1914), Gian Francesco Malipiero was the major Italian composer between the wars who rediscovered the pre-19th-century Italian heritage and created a `neo-madrigale' form of neo-classicism. Exceptionally prolific, his music has not had the wider recognition it deserves, and is not often encountered.

In reacting against the Romantic sentimentality of such composers as Puccini, Malipiero looked back to the pre-Classical Italian masters, whom he discovered around 1902. He evolved a neo-classical style incorporating Baroque elements and ideas drawn from the period of Monteverdi (`neo-madrigale') into a contemporary style with sometimes astringent harmonies, often created by the play of counterpoint and by modal shades. But he was essentially a lyrical composer, his melodic lines often looking back to 16th-century examples or to Gregorian chant; his music is generally good-humoured, with a lightness of touch and texture. It is also usually athematic, with little sense of the formal structures that had been developed out of the Classical period; often his works use what has been described as a `panel' construction, a series of episodes related in mood or colour. His output falls into periods of genre. Until 1918 he was primarily concerned with orchestral works, from 1918 to 1930 with operas, from 1931 to 1944 with operas and concertos, from 1944 to 1950 with a spate of symphonies, and from 1950 with a variety of genres. Stylistically, Malipiero remained remarkably consistent, with more turbulence and chromaticism in the works until the mid-1920s, a more lyrical, diatonic style until the 1950s, and then a return to heavy chromaticism, with a large output towards the end of his life which is varied in quality.

His three early symphonies (Sinfonia degli Eroi, 1905, Sinfonia del Mare, 1906, and Sinfonia del Silenzio e della Morte, 1908) were heavily influenced by early Italian music, and his first major work was Impressioni dal Vero II (1914-1915), the second of three orchestral pieces, which included imitations of birds in an Impressionistic style. He attracted wider attention with Pause del Silenzio (Silence Interrupted, 1917), which expressed the horrors of the war in seven sections. Grottesco (1917) for small orchestra is an entertaining short ballet scene written for a Futurist puppet ballet event, influenced by Stravinsky, suitably grotesque and with pungent sonorities. His major orchestral works are the series of seven symphonies (`sinfonia') composed between 1933 and 1955, which are less symphonies in structure than a series of episodes, and all of which (except for No.7) carry descriptive subtitles. The Symphony No.3 `delle campane' (1944-1945) reflects the wartime circumstances of its composition, and is highly regarded. The Symphony No.4 `In Memoriam Natalie Koussevitzky' has a fast-slow-fast-slow structure, with a poetic funereal second movement. The Symphony No.6 (1947) is for strings, and was reworked as a string quintet in 1953. To these Malipiero added a further four from 1964 to 1969. But the orchestral work most likely to be encountered is the Violin Concerto No.1 (1932), an attractive work that belies its surface blandness with warmth of detail and a pastoral slow movement of considerable lyrical beauty. The pastoral lyricism returns in Cello Concerto (1937); it is not especially profound, but is attractive and well-worth the discovery, with woodwind intertwining with the colours of the cello in the sonorous slow-movement. The eight numbered string quartets also react against 19th-century models, with a freer sense of fantasy in their construction and with a general good humour. The String Quartet No.1 `Rispetti e strambotti' (1920) uses popular forms, while the String Quartet No.2 `Stornelli et ballate' (1923) reflects its title (`Refrains and Ballads'). The String Quartet No.5 `Dei capricci' (1950) reuses music from the opera I capricci di Callot.

Towards the World War One Malipiero embarked on a series of stage works that were often experimental in style and sometimes on a music-theatre scale, often with elements of fantasy or of a dream-world. The symbolist ballet Pantea (1917-1919) has a single dancer as an hallucinating woman who is eventually confronted with an apparition of Death, with the voices sung off-stage. Sette canzoni (Seven Songs, 1918-1919) is a series of seven miniature operas, each woven around a different song, and each with a story that presents a basic twist or opposition, from a blind man who is helpless when deserted by his girl-friend to a mother who is obsessed by the memory of her son, apparently dead in the war, and does not recognize him on his return, finally going mad. Sette canzoni formed the centrepiece of a triptych entitled Orpheide, of which the third opera, Orfeo, ovvero L'ottava canzone (1919-1920) revolves around Nero's sadisms in a conflux of fantasy and reality, and includes reactions from a stage audience. Tre commedie goldoniane (1920-1922) compressed Goldoni into a rapid style strong on recitative. The symbolic atmosphere of a dream was most fully realized in Torneo notturno (1929), whose seven episodes portray two characters in various situations that eventually lead to one killing the other in prison, with a sense of the obsessive and allusive in music that draws on the neo-madrigal style. None of the many Malipiero operas from the 1930s to the 1960s seems to have had the inventiveness and individuality of these earlier works; the major operas are Capricci di Callot (1941-1942), based on E.T.A.Hoffman, whose mixture of vocal writing, dance and mime recalled some of the experimental verve of the early works, and two based on Shakespeare, Guilo Cesare (1934-1935) and Antonio e Cleopatra (1936-1937). The major success of this period was La favola del figlio cambiato (The Fable of the Changed Son, 1933), based on Pirandello. His operas during the 1950s reflect a more chromatic language, and in 1968 he wrote an unusual work, Gli eroi di Bonaventura, that was a compendium of scenes from his other operas. His penultimate opera was a little sixteen-minute miniature, Uno dei dieci (One of the Ten), in which an aging member of the Venetian Council of Ten in the Napoleonic period fails to accept that the Venetian Republic is no more, has to face reality, and looks forward to death.

Malipiero's edition of all Monteverdi's works (1926-1942), though scholarly suspect, were of immense importance in the revival of interest in Monteverdi and the late Italian Renaissance. He taught at the Parma Conservatory (1921-1924) and at the Venice Liceo Musicale (later Conservatory) from 1932 to 1952, becoming its director in 1939. He published a number of books, including one on Monteverdi (1930).


works include (from a huge output):

- 11 numbered symphonies (No.1 In quattro tempi, come le quattro stagioni, No.2 Elegiaca, No.3 Della campane, No.4 In memoriam, No.5 Concertante, in eco, No.7 Delle canzoni, No.8 Symphonia brevis, No.9 Dell'ahimè, No.10 Atropo, No.11 Delle cornamuse); 3 early symphonies; Sinfonia dello zodiaco; Sinfonia in un tempo; Sinfonia per Antigenida

- cello concerto; flute concerto; 6 piano concertos (No.6 Della machine); 2 violin concertos; Variazioni senza tema for piano and orch.; Serenata for bassoon and 10 instruments

- large number of orchestral works including Concerti, Inni, Quattro invenzioni and 2 Pause del silenzio

- Serenata mattutina for 10 instruments; Ricercare and Ritrovari for 11 instruments; Endecatode for 14 instruments and percussion

- series Dialogo (No.1 Con Manuel Falla, in memoria for small orch., No.2 for 2 pianos, No.3 Con Jacopone da Todi for voice and 2 pianos, No.4 Per cinque strumenti a perdifiato, No.5 Quasi concerto for viola and orch., No.7 for piano and orch.)

- cello sonata; cello sonatina; Impromptu pastorale for oboe and piano; Le fanfaron de la fanfare for trumpet and piano; Canto nell'infinto for violin and piano; piano trio; 8 string quartets (No.1 Rispetti e strambotti, No.2 Stornelli e ballate, No.3 Cantari alla madrigalesca, No.5 Dei capricci, No.6 L'arca di Noè, No.8 Per Elisabetta); wind quintet; Sonata a cinque for flute, string trio and harp and other chamber works

- much piano music including A Claude Debussy; works for 2 pianos

- many works for voice and orch., voice and ensemble; choral works; songs

- ballets La mascherata delle principesse prigionere, El mono novo, Oriente immaginario, Pantea and Stradivario; puppet ballet I selvaggi

- 38 operas and music theatre works including Antonio et Cleopatra, I capricci di Callot, Don Giovanni, Guilo Cesare, Merlino mastro d'organi, San Francesco d'Assisi, Sette canzoni, Torneo nuttorno, Tre commedie goldoniane and Venere prigionera


recommended works:

opera Torneo notturno (1929)

opera Sette canzoni (1918-1919)

String Quartet No.7 (1950)

Symphony No.3 delle campane (1944-1945)

Violin Concerto No.1 (1932)



A.Gianuario Gian Francesco Malipiero e l'arte monteverdiana, 1973 (in Italian)

M.Messinis (ed.) Ommagio a Malipiero, 1977 (in Italian)


NONO Luigi

born 29th January 1924 at Venice

died 8th May 1990 at Venice


Luigi Nono was one of the leading Italian figures of the avant-garde, although for many years he was recognised more in Germany than in his home country. He was also one of the few composers in the Western European tradition who have devoted much of their output to overtly political ends, in Nono's case left-wing, Communist, and social causes. A composer who is at his best when setting texts, this combination of music and politics has in itself shaped his approach to music; his uncompromising idiom is inextricably bound up with the message in that it is usually in part shaped by the text of that message. In this he evolved techniques of breaking down text into fragments, and fragments into individual syllables and phonemes. His aural imagination, especially when combining electronically modified or derived material, is bold and considerable. However, he was less obviously prominent during the later 1970s and 1980s, probably because his left-wing stances have ceased to find a ready response in Western audiences. However, few have so captured the sense of the brutal disjunction of the modern age, with a strong sense of drama, of contrasts of texture and tone, and an expressive stance, unpopular and disconcerting though the results may be. He disliked conventional concert-hall venues and media (seeing them as a provenance of the bourgeoisie), and used such venues as the factory. With much of his work combining electronic and non-electronic effects, and with texts playing a major role, his idiom is especially effective in recordings.

He used 12-tone techniques in his earliest works, such as the Variazioni canoniche (1950) for chamber orchestra, using the same tone-row as Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon, op.51. These earlier works are characterized by the use of all-interval series and mirror forms, pointillistic instrumentation (as in Incontri, 1955, for 24 instruments), and an abiding sense of colour (as in the percussion, arranged serially by pitch, in Uno Espressione, 1953, for orchestra). But he quickly turned to the use of the voice, which has formed a major part of his output, usually with subjects of social significance, or with left-wing or overtly revolutionary texts. Throughout, in spite of the often complex textures, his innate lyricism is inclined to surface even in solo lines with wide intervals.

The major stage work of this period was Intolleranza 1960 (1960, revised as Intolleranza 1970), about the effects of bourgeois capitalism on a poor immigrant, whose action is divided into a series of sketches in sharply different styles, with an important role for the chorus. In the late 1950s, after a number of vocal works including Epitaffio per Federico Garcia Lorca (1950-1953) for various forces, and La victoire de Guernica (1954) for voices and orchestra, he developed a serial structure whose elements are the vowels of the text itself. This was initiated in the neo-madrigal cantata Il canto sospeso (The Suspended Song, 1955-1956) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, on letters from resistance fighters written just before their execution, and developed in Coro di Didone (1958) for chorus and percussion on texts by Ungaretti, which are broken up into different syllables and into consonant and vowel sounds passing continually from one part to another, involving great difficulty for the singers. A pair of unaccompanied works followed, spare but with an effective purity and clear textures. Sarà dolce tacere (1960) for eight solo voices uses both sibilant, hissing, percussive sounds, and longer, floating, held single notes, but gives elements of each word to different singers, so that only when all are singing is the text reconstructed - a pointillistic effect derived from serial instrumental techniques. Similar techniques are found in Ha venido, canciones para Silvia (1960) for solo soprano and six chorus sopranos, elements of the words switching between solo and chorus, the writing characteristically high. Unusually, there is a Webern-like delicacy in the orchestration of Canciones a Guiomar (1962-1963) on verses by Machado for soprano, six female voices and instruments including celesta, lute and tinkling percussion, with a very expressive and lyrical solo vocal line, and an ethereal use of the chorus that recalls Ligeti. This is one of Nono's most effective scores; its textured fragility heralds the apparent simplicity of more recent works. There is a similar lyricism in the solo lines of Canti di vita e d'amore (Songs of life and of love, 1962, subtitled Sul Ponte de Hiroshima) for soprano, tenor and orchestra, but the effects of spatial blocks that Nono was to develop in subsequent works is more to the fore.

During the middle 1960s, after his first rather unindividual and pointillistic all-electronic work, Omaggio a Emilio Vedova (1960 - the title refers to a politically active Italian painter) Nono started to experiment with the combination of electronic sounds and voice. Gradually the blocks of sound, observable in the preference for single held notes, predominated over serial developments, combined with sound elements derived entirely from the timbral and textural possibilities of the electronics. Nono saw electronic means as being inappropriate for the concert-hall, which was anyway ideologically suspect. Thus the dense sound picture of La fabbrica illuminata (1964) for solo voice, recorded chorus and tape uses concrete sounds recorded in a factory, purely electronic sounds, and the chorus singing or rhythmically speaking material connected with the factory, with the solo voice commenting above this in a vocal style similar to the earlier works. Even more complex and boldly presented effects, again combining and interrelating live material and tape, occur in A floresta è jovem e cheja de vida (1965-1966) for soprano, three speakers, clarinet, copper plates and tape, which uses live revolutionary sayings against taped texts using American technical war jargon in a work dedicated to the then National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. The serial deconstruction has become less obvious in favour of blocks of effects or sounds, with the successive layers of long held single notes occurring in the electronic material. Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz (1965) for solo voices and tape is a harrowing collage of grating and crying, haunting sounds, unrelenting in its appeal for the sanctity of the individual. Collage effects predominate in the phonetic experimentation, the modified street-cries of fish sellers on Venice's Rialto and the noises of water and the bells of St.Mark's that are combined in Contrappunto dialettico alla mente (Dialectic Counterpoint for the Mind, 1968) for soloists, chorus and tape; two of the sections have overt political references. The range of colour and effect that Nono can command is exemplified in the ice-cold, vocally staccato, hues of the first section; the sense of violence that Nono so well expresses is at its most obvious in this powerful soundscape. Y entonces comprendio (And then he understood, 1969-1970) for six female voices, chorus and tape, dedicated to the guerilla leader Che Guevara, uses similar techniques.

Later works continued the combination of electronic and live material, and the use of fragments of revolutionary or political texts, including slogans from the revolutionary Paris of May 1968 in Musica-Manifesto no.1 (1968-1969) for voices and tape. His second opera, Al gran sole carico d'amore (1972-1975), with a text of Marxist quotations and anonymous workers' comments, celebrates the Paris Commune of 1871.

In the middle of this period of complex and extensive vocal works came one powerful score for orchestra and tape, Per Bastiana Tai-Yang Cheng (1967), which uses serially elements from the Chinese revolutionary song `The East is Red', although the predominant feature is now the large scale swathes of slow moving spatial effects. An important influence on Nono's music has been his collaboration with other musicians, notably the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the conductor Claudio Abbado. Como una ola de fuerza y luz (Like a wave of strength and light, 1971-1972) for soprano, piano, orchestra and tape, extends the long swathes of textures found intermittently in earlier works, using transformed material of the piano and voice on tape behind the live forces in a particularly natural combination of the two media. The piano is used as an instrument of expressive sonority, the voice in a floating lament, or in near-speech; sections of voice/tape alternate with unsettled and powerful writing for piano and orchestra, using the deepest colours of both like gathering thunder, eventually answered by the tape in a powerful score.

A new departure came with Fragmente - Stille, an Diotima (Fragments - Stillness, for Diotima, 1979-1980) for string quartet, inspired by Hölderlin, quotations from whose poetry litter the score, and using material derived (though not audibly) from Verdi and Ockeghem. As its title suggests, this is a score of minute refinement and quietness, rarely rising above the lowest dynamics. This ritualistic style, slow in movement, largely quiet and contemplative, with silence paying a prominent part and the precise use of microtonal intervals, characterized Nono's later scores, as if Nono had moved from the expression of exterior events to an internal poeticism.


works include:

- Varianti for violin and orch.; Music for violin solo, strings and woodwinds;

- A Carlo Scarpa architetto: ai suoi infiniti possibili for orch.; Composizione No.1, Due expressioni, Diario polacco (Composizione No.2) and Incontri for orch.; Per Bastiana Tai-Yang Cheng for orch. and tape; Variazioni canoniche for chamber orch.

- Fragmente - Stille, an Diotima for string quartet; Con Luigi Dallapiccola for 6 percussion; Polyfonica-Monodia-Ritmica for flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, horn, xylophone and percussion

- ...sofferte onde serene... for piano and tape

- vocal works include: Canciones a Guiomat for soprano, 6 female voices and instrumental ensemble; Canti di vita e d'amore for various forces; Il canto sospeso for soprano, mezzo, tenor, chorus and orch.; Como una ola de fuerza y luz for soprano, piano, orch. and tape; Contrappunto dialettico alla mente for soloists, chorus and tape; Coro di Didone for voices and percussion; Y entonces comprendió for 6 female voices, chorus, tape and electronics; Donde estas Hermano? for 2 sopranos, mezzo and alto; Epitaffio per Federico García Lorca for chorus and orch.; Ein Gespenst geht um in der Welt for soprano, chorus and orch.; Liebeslied for chorus and orch.; Ommagio a György Kurtàg for alto, tuba, flute and electronics; Quando stanno morendo (Diario polacco no.2) for 4 female voices, flute, cello and electronics; Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz for solo voices and tape; Sarà dolce tacere for 8 solo voices; Siano la gioventù del Vietnam for unison chorus; La terra e la compagna for soprano, tenor, chorus and instrumental ensemble; La Victoire de Guernica for chorus and orch.; Ha venido for soprano and 6 female chorus; Un volto, del mare for voices and tape

- ballet Il mantello rosso for soprano, baritone, voices and orch.

- operas Al gran sole carico d'amore, Intolleranza and Prometeo

- electronic Für Paul Dessau, Musiche per Manzù, Non consumiamo Marx and Omaggio a Emilio Vedova


recommended works:

A floresta è jovem e cheja de vida (1965-1966) for soprano, three speakers clarinet, copper plates and tape

Canciones a Guiomar (1962-1963) for soprano, six female voices and instruments

Como una ola de fuerza y luz (1971-1972) for soprano, piano, orchestra and tape

Contrappunto dialettico alla mente (1968) for soloists, chorus and tape

Fragmente - Stille, an Diotima (1979-1980) for string quartet

Per Bastiana Tai-Yang Cheng (1967) for orchestra and tape

Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz (1965) for solo voices and tape

Sarà dolce tacere (1960) for eight solo voices



born 16th July 1904 at Zagarolo (near Palestrina)

died 3rd March 2003 at Rome


With Dallapiccola, Petrassi was the most important Italian composer of his generation, and one of those who helped move Italian music away from purely operatic concerns, yet his work is surprisingly little known outside Italy. If sometimes derivative, it is replete with a strong personality and sense of purpose in all the three fairly distinctive periods into which his music falls. The core of his output, a series of eight Concerti for orchestra, spans his compositional career.

His music during the 1930s was in part neo-Baroque, looking back to models of pre-Classical Italian music (and even further, using melodic ideas from Gregorian chant, as in Salmo IX [Psalm IX], 1936), but dressing them in a particularly strident, sometimes harsh, orchestral texture, with brass prominent, a basic opposition of tonal harmonies and dissonant elements, a strong sense of rhythm, and an underlying optimism. His first success, the violent Partita (1933) for orchestra, has jazz elements in its three dance movements. In the brash and especially effective First Concerto for Orchestra (1933-1934), the nocturne-like slow movement is strikingly prophetic of that of Shostakovich's Symphony No.5.

His second period, coinciding with the entry of Italy into the war, was ushered in by the `dramatic madrigal' Coro di Morti (Chorus of the Dead, 1940) for four-part male chorus and three pianos, brass, percussion and double-bass. This much more pessimistic work, with elements of Renaissance polyphony (thus placing it in what has been called the `neo-madrigal' movement), also has the suggestion of a tone-row, and an intentionally strong opposition between the chromatic instrumental writing and the modal choral writing. This period also saw a number of ballets and operas, often neo-classical in style but with an increasingly chromatic language, with Sprechstimme in the philosophical opera Morte dell'Aria (1950), and a buffa comic style in Il cordovano (1949). The elements of the Baroque were continued in such works as the Invenzioni for piano (here Bach and Scarlatti). But the masterpiece of this period is the haunting and moving Noche Oscura (The Dark Night of the Soul, 1950-1951) for chorus and orchestra, a setting of the poem by St.John of the Cross that reflects an increasing element of contemplation in Petrassi's music. Based on a four-note fragment (with the shape, if not the notes of the motto BACH), it creates out of the dark landscape of its opening large masses of slowly moving sound, the chorus always apparently rising over folds of orchestral texture out of which eventually come individual strands, weaving choral lines, and a movement towards more linear writing and to a vision filled with more light. With the Third Concerto for Orchestra (1953), which quotes Noche Oscura, Petrassi moved firmly towards atonality and 12-tone techniques, which become much freer in the Fourth Concerto for Orchestra (1954), for strings alone. Both works divide a single movement into sections, and lead to the stark Sixth Concerto for Orchestra (1956-1957), for brass, strings and percussion, with prominent brass rhythms. The relaxation of strict 12-tone application gives an improvisatory feel to works of this period, emphasized by the use of cadenzas for individual instruments, a pointillistic style of instrumental writing, and small forces (for example, Serenata, 1958, for flute, viola, double bass, harpsichord and percussion, or the String Trio, 1959). The pointillism was also evident in the orchestration of the Flute Concerto (1960), where the opposition is the free flowing style of the solo lines against serial orchestral writing. A similar opposition is found in Propos d'Alain (1960) for bass-baritone and twelve instruments. At this time Petrassi also introduced athematicism into his works; structural blocks of orchestral sonority and colour, latent in Noche Oscura, become much more prominent. In the Seventh Concerto for Orchestra (Prologo e cinque invenzioni, 1961-1962) they emerge in the clashes of brass and percussion and the sometimes strange colours; the Eighth Concerto for Orchestra (1970-1972), with a martial third section, is another effective work, if not so immediate as its predecessor.

Petrassi taught at the Accademia di S Cecilia (1934-1936, 1959-1975) and at the Conservatory de S Cecilia, Rome (1939-1959), and gained a considerable reputation as a teacher. His many pupils included Cornelius Cardew and Peter Maxwell Davies, as well as a number of Hungarian composers.


works include:

- chamber symphony Estri

- flute concerto; 8 concertos for orch.; piano concerto; Poema for trombone and 48 strings; Sonata da camera for harpsichord and 10 instruments

- Invenzione Concertata, Partita and Passacaglia for orch.

- Musica a due for 2 cellos; Prelude, aria e finale for cello and piano; Dialogo angelico for 2 flutes; Introduzione e allegro for violin and piano; string quartet; Serenade for flute, viola, double bass, harpsichord and percussion

- Eclogue, Invenzione, Toccata and other piano works

- song cycle Tre liriche and other songs; Laudes creatorum for reciter and 6 instruments; Quattro Inni Sacri for voice and orch.; cantata Noche oscura; chamber oratorio Beatitudines; choral works

- operas Il cordovano and La morte dell'Aria


recommended works:

First Concerto for Orchestra (1933-1934)

Noche Oscura (1950-1951) for chorus and orchestra

Seventh Concerto for Orchestra (Prologo e cinque invenzioni (1961-1962)


PIZZETTI Ildebrando

born September 20th 1880 at Borgo Strinato (Parma)

died February 13th 1968 at Rome


Ildebrando Pizzetti was one of the major Italian composers who reacted against the prevalent verismo tradition of Italian opera, and attempted to recapture some of the clarity of Italian Renaissance music, away from the reliance on the 19th-century Romantic melodic tradition. He is now chiefly remembered for his operas and his choral works.

The features of his operatic style are a close correspondence between vocal lines and the patterns of Italian speech, in contrast to the long lyrical lines of the verismo composers, and the prevalence and command of choral writing. His first major opera has remained his best known, Fedra (1909-1912, and not to be confused with the opera by Bussotti), to a libretto by D'Annunzio, who shared Pizzetti's artistic aims and outlook. Based on the Greek story, its central character is obsessed with her stepson Ippolito, and when rejected by him falsely accuses the stepson of having raped her. Her husband, Teseo (Theseus), calls on the sea-god for revenge, and Ippolito is thrown from his horse and dies. Fedra takes poison and confesses, but with the hope that her love will survive beyond the grave. The score combines chromaticism and neo-madrigal elements (especially in the opening chorus of act three, sometimes heard on its own as Trenodia), with a powerful characterization of Fedra herself. Debora e Jaele (1915-1921), to Pizzetti's own libretto, is based on the Biblical story of Deborah, but with considerable departures of motivation and character from the source; one of its themes is the possibility of other modes of thinking (represented by Sisera) that those prescribed by rigid religious law, here represented by Deborah. Jael herself is attracted to Sisera, and drives the tent-peg through his skull not through enmity, but to prevent his falling into the hands of the Israelites. The chorus again plays a major role, often being divided into groups, and the opera was long considered one of the masterpieces of 20th-century Italian music, but has somewhat inexplicably fallen into complete obscurity. Most of Pizzetti's late operas were criticized for following the pattern of these two earlier works, but Assassinio nella cattedrale (1957), based on T.S.Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, attracted attention; with its extensive choral opportunities and a strong central characterization also deserves to be more widely known. Its central moral dilemma is whether Thomas à Becket should obey the King or his own religious conscience; in a famous incident in English history, he was murdered by four knights. In all these operas the close marriage between spoken Italian and sung line has hampered their dissemination, since their moral and philosophical content requires a full understanding of the texts, and translation destroys the textual qualities of the vocal lines; the advent of surtitles may lead to their reappraisal.

Pizzetti's choral works, often unaccompanied, are deeply imbued with the clarity of polyphonic texture, the procedures, and especially the pacing of Italian Renaissance music. Within the limitations these archaic elements impose, they are exceptionally beautiful, with a feeling or airiness and lightness, giving the impression of the spaciousness of a church setting, whether the words are liturgical or secular. There is little obvious stylistic change from the earlier choruses, through the purity of the Tre composizioni corali (1942-1943) to the contrapuntal luminosity and gentle ecstatic motion of the settings of Sappho in Due composizioni corali (1961). I pastori (1908) for lower voice and piano (later orchestrated), is the best known of his songs, to words by D'Annunzio, and of his non-vocal music the colourful suite from the incidental music to D'Annunzio's play La pisanelle (1913) was once popular. The lines of his chamber music usually follow vocal models (indeed, the Canti ad una giovane fidanzata, 1924, are in effect and construction songs without words for violin and piano); the slow movement of the Violin Sonata (1919) is highly regarded for its expressive qualities.

Pizzetti taught at the Parma Academy (1907-1908), the L.Cherubini Institute, Florence (1908-1917), was the director of the Milan Conservatory (1924-1936), and taught at the Accademia di S Cecilia, Rome, from 1936.


works include:

- symphony

- cello concerto; harp concerto; violin concerto; Concerto dell'este for orch.; Canti della stagione alta for piano and orch.

- Canzone dei beni perduti, Per l'Edipo re di Sofocle (3 orchestral preludes), Preludio a un altro giorno, Rondo veneziano

- cello sonata; violin sonata; piano trio; 2 string quartets

- Due liriche drammatiche napolitane for tenor and orch.; many songs and song cycles

- cantatas including Epithalamium, Filiae Jerusalem adjuro vos, Oritur sol et occidit and Vanitas vanitatum; Cantico di gloria `Attollite portas' for 3 choruses, 24 wind, 2 pianos and percussion; unaccompanied choral works including Due composizioni corali and Tre composizioni corali

- operas Assassinio nella cattedrale, Il calzare d'argento, Clitennestra, Debora e Jaele, Fedra, La figlia di Iorio, Fra Gherardo, Gigiola, Lo straniero, L'oro, Orséolo and Vanna Lupa; radio operas Cagliostro and Ifienia; incidental music


recommended works:

opera Debora e Jaele (1915-1921)

Due composizioni corali (1961) for chorus

opera Fedra (1909-1912)

Tre composizioni corali (1942-1943) for chorus



G.Tebaldini Ildebrando Pizzetti, 1934, Eng. trans. 1951


PUCCINI Giacomo (Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria)

born 22nd December 1858 at Lucca

died 29th November 1924 at Brussels


Apart from the claims of his less well-known trilogy Il Trittico and his last opera, Turandot, it is really debatable whether Puccini has any place in a book on 20th-century music. His operas, straddling the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, were seen as a new departure for Italian opera, but with the hindsight of a century they emerge as the culmination of the Romantic 19th-century Italian operatic tradition. Their structures conform to late-Romantic requirements, and they are awash with heightened emotions and psychological choices for the central characters that conform to Victorian rather than 20th-century affects. All his operas are at their base variants on well-worn love-affair themes. His chief innovation was the development (with Mascagni and others) of a style known as verismo, which often used not the historical settings common to earlier Italian opera, but representations of the present or near-past, usually with characters with whom the audience could identify rather than those drawn from noble or powerful classes. This required more accurate psychological characterization, but by and large Puccini's is a pre-Freudian psychology, relying more on accuracy of observation of human interaction than any understanding of subconscious motivations. Nor do Puccini's operas make use of the kind of psychological symbolism that was being adopted elsewhere: the Louisianan desert in the last act of Manon Lescaut, for example, is symbolic of very little, other than to provide a setting for a love-death scene, and the symbolic possibilities of Turandot are countered by the sumptuous direct musical treatment. Similarly, his sometimes exotic settings (the far West of the States, Japan, the China of the past) mainly provide a mask through which the verismo can induce the tear-jerking sentimentality beloved of the 19th-century by distancing the audiences from the deficiencies in the naturalistic surroundings. At the same time, he was a master of theatrical effect and of the integration of musical idea and stage action: the orchestra very rarely acts as a mere accompaniment to the vocal line. Well aware of Debussy, he musically responded to his age through more daring harmonies and often pentatonic casts to his melodies, but these orchestral innovations emerge less as a new departure than an exoticism, still part of the Italian lyrical melodic tradition. Apart from a few imitators whose success was short-lived (see Introduction, above), he drew a period of Italian opera to a close, without the possibility of further development of that particular tradition.

None of this is to deny the considerable power, the sumptuous beauty, the melodious and orchestral instinct, and the sheer gratification of Puccini's operas; but Puccini's works will not be dealt with at any length in this Guide. After the one-act Le villi (1884), and the failure (through an appalling libretto) of his second, Edgar (1889), Puccini reached maturity with Manon Lescaut (1893), based on the novel by Abbé Prévost already used as an opera by Massenet. All Puccini's mastery of orchestral colour, symphonic construction, and ebullient energy are contained in the first act, and the opera abounds in glorious melodies. There then followed three works that have remained the staples of all opera companies. La Bohème (1896) is set in the Latin quartet of Paris, populated by poets, painters, philosophers and musicians, based on a novel by Henri Murger. It tells, amid scenes of considerable domestic realism, of the love of Mimi for Rodolfo, their parting, and her death by consumption. The meltingly beautiful duet `Che gelida manina' (`Your tiny hand is frozen') is one of the best known of all duets. Tosca (1900) has one of the most celebrated heroines in all opera, a woman who will sacrifice herself and commit murder for her revolutionary lover, and who commits suicide when she realizes her rescue attempt has failed. It also has one of the most fascinating portraits of malevolent power in the figure of the police-chief, Scarpia, who dominates the second act. Madama Butterfly (1904), based on a play by Paul Belasco, tells of the clash of cultural understanding as an American naval officer marries a Japanese woman, primarily for sexual infatuation, leaves her, and returns years later with his American wife to find his Japanese woman patiently waiting for him and committing suicide when she learns the truth. All these three operas have a streak of cruelty against women which is disguised by the rich orchestration and melodic satisfaction, and by the sentimentality of the endings.

La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West, 1910) took as its basis another play by Belasco. Here the setting is a mining camp at the foot of the `Cloudy Mountains' of California, with a somewhat melodramatic plot. Although the music successfully integrates genuine folk-songs, and Puccini's own similar inventions, the characterization emerges as too one-dimensional to achieve the success of the preceding operas, although the work is occasionally revived. Puccini's next opera did not appear for seven years, and with it he changed stylistic direction. La Rondine (The Swallow, 1917) was an attempt to write a lighter opera in the Viennese style full of waltzes, and has never been popular. Far more interesting, but almost as neglected, is the trilogy Il Trittico, in which the three operas were designed to follow an old Italian traditional pattern of a tragedy, a morally uplifting work and a farce, all presented in one evening. The actual plots of the three operas have no connection, and they are now generally now presented on their own, though those fortunate enough to see all three in one evening have attested to the powerful effect of the juxtaposition of moods. Il Tabarro (The Cloak, 1913-1916) is perhaps the most interesting of the trilogy. Its libretto, based on a play by Didier Gold, has an atmosphere strongly reminiscent of Zola, examining the social conditions of the less well-off of Paris, here the world of the bargemen on the Seine. The one act is built in an arch, whose first half has a seamless orchestral flow evoking the river, and an interplay between the characters that is one of Puccini's finest achievements. The second half concentrates on the evolving drama between the adulterous wife and the jealous husband, and is more conventional, but the ending is the one place where Puccini achieves genuine horror rather than more sentimental emotions. The husband invites the shivering wife to nestle under his cloak; she does so, only to find there the body of her murdered lover. Puccini's major weakness, his inability to produce a truly spiritual operatic passage, mars the second part of the trilogy, Suor Angelica (1916-1917), the story of a woman who has become a nun because she has had an illegitimate child. The miracle ending does not have the luminosity it requires. The most popular of the trilogy is Gianni Schicchi (1917-1918), based on the fragment of a story from Dante. Firmly in the opera buffa tradition, with touches of commedia dell'arte, it is Puccini's one truly comic opera, stronger on stage action and the twists of the plot (in which Gianni is asked to impersonate a dead man so his will can be changed to the family's benefit, and instead changes it in his own favour) than on characterization.

Puccini's finest opera is Turandot (1920-1924), based on a Gozzi fairy-tale in the commedia dell'arte tradition, and already set with a very different tone by Busoni. The story concerns a Princess who refuses to marry unless the potential suitor can answer three riddles; the penalty for failure is death. The latest suitor, Calaf (a prince in disguise) succeeds, but agrees to let Turandot out of the obligation to marry him if she can guess his real name by the next dawn. Calaf's faithful woman-slave, Liù, who is herself in love with him, is about to be tortured to reveal the name of her master, but commits suicide. In a complete turnabout, Turandot realizes she is in love with Calaf; he himself, before dawn, tells her his name. At this point the opera was unfinished, apart from a few sketches, although Puccini expressed his intention that Turandot should declare her love for the Prince in the morning. Act III was completed on these lines by Puccini's pupil Alfano, and is usually seen in a curtailed version, although Alfano's longer and dramatically more effective ending has recently been restored in some productions. One of the reasons that Puccini never finished the opera may be that the problem of the ending in a sense had no solution: Prince Calaf's love is a kind of blind infatuation, and the `happy' ending, if ecstatic, raises difficult moral questions, not the least about the torture and suicide of Liù, the complete reversal of Turandot's position without any plausible psychological anticipation, and the implied message of the complete submission of women to men. The problem, again, is that the potential symbolism with which the story is so replete is not fully realised in the libretto or the setting. But the musical portrait of this ice-cold and yet passionate woman is brilliant, and Puccini succeeded in combining very different theatrical moods into an operatic whole: the ecstatic passion of his love-music, the tragedy of Liù, and the comedy of the three Courtiers, Ping, Pang and Pong, who play a role similar to Shakespeare's `rustics'. The music, sensuous, ecstatic, sometimes extraordinarily beautiful, moving in blocks of idea with a richness of orchestration that impels the whole drama, marked a new evolution for Puccini. The chorus is far more prominent than in his earlier operas, taking a dramatic rather than a passive role, especially in Act I, and the harmonies abound in pentatonic and whole-tone scales, with bitonal moments and an exoticism that is not merely the colouristic effects of the Chinese setting (with the influence of Chinese folk-songs), but an integral part of the harmonic conception. This deeply ambiguous drama produced a score of richness, musical integration, and sheer aural effect unmatched in any of his earlier works.

Not everyone will share the view of this writer (and many others) that there is a profoundly disturbing aspect to Puccini's output. There is a streak of cruelty and sometimes sadism in the plots Puccini chose that is masked, and in a sense condoned, by the sumptuous and lyrical beauty of the musical treatment, so that events that should be tragic all too easily emerge as sentimental instead of cathartic. It is this treatment that makes Puccini a 19th-century, and not a 20th-century composer, but there is no gainsaying the brilliance of his musical genius and the extraordinary depth of his theatrical understanding. He concentrated entirely on opera; most of his handful of other works are early, and almost never heard.


works include:

- march Scossa elettrica and 2 early works for orch.

- La Cosonsolata for violin and piano; Crisantemi and Three Minuets for string quartet

- Foglio d'Album and Piccolo Tango for piano

- 11 songs with piano; Cantata a Giove; Inno di Roma for chorus and orch.; Mass for 4 voices and orch.; Requiem for chorus and organ

- operas La Bohème, Edgar, La Fanciulla del West, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, La Rondine, Il Trittico (Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi), Turandot, and Le Villi


recommended works:

opera La Bohème (1896)

opera Gianni Schicchi (1917-1918)

opera Madama Butterfly (1904)

opera Manon Lescaut (1893)

opera Il tabarro (1913-1916)

opera Turandot (1920-1924)



M.Carner Puccini, 1958, 1974

Greenfeld, H. Puccini, 1980



born 9th July 1879 at Bologna

died 18th April 1936 at Rome


More than any other Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi achieved an international reputation while restoring orchestral and instrumental music to a tradition that had been entirely dominated by opera. In doing so, his overall achievement has been obscured by the popularity of a trilogy of tone-poems about the historical heritage of Rome, Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome, 1916), I pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome, 1924), and Feste romane (1929). The first two have retained their considerable popularity on the concert-stage, beloved of audiences but denigrated by the critics, in part because their idiom all too successfully foreshadowed the musical style that Hollywood was to adopt for its epic and heroic films.

But Respighi's idiom is much more than these atmospheric late-Romantic scene paintings, and over the recent years the rest of his output has been gradually re-examined, and some interesting and attractive music has emerged. Respighi is the best known of the `Generazione dell'ottanta' (the `Generation of the 80s') who revived orchestral and chamber music in Italy, hitherto dominated by opera to the virtual exclusion of other forms of indigenous music. Part of that revival was a re-examination of Italian Renaissance and Baroque music, and Respighi was steeped in earlier traditions. As a result, his generally late-Romantic idiom, founded on the most masterful sense of orchestral colour any Italian composer has ever achieved, is not only tinged with the influence of French Impressionism, but also with the modes and styles of early musics, which give many of his works an unusual flavour, like an unexpected but fitting sauce on a familiar dish.

His early influences included Rimsky-Korsakov, who in Russia taught him composition and the grounding of his brilliant orchestration (1901-1903), and contemporary Germanic models. Among the earlier works that resulted is the large-scale Sinfonia Drammatica (1913), with an influence of Mahler, especially in the eclectic material, and of Strauss in the extravagance of scale and orchestration. It foreshadows The Fountains of Rome in the first movement, and Respighi's later use of the medieval in the material, if not the orchestration, of the second. If the symphony does not approach either composer in quality - the overall structure is too diffuse - it nonetheless has appeal both as a late Romantic work and as a very rare example of an Italian symphony of the period. Respighi's subsequent orchestral works, all inspired by visual imagery, fall into two general categories, those descriptive of places, and those with a strong spiritual element, but both categories combine Impressionistic writing with elements of old modal chants, lyricism, and Renaissance influences. Of the former Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome, 1916) itself is a masterful piece of orchestral tone-painting, as vivid as any written, direct and appealing in its emotions, suffused with a love of the subject-matter, and without any pretensions other than its descriptive goals. I Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome, 1924), looking back in particular to the Rome of Classical times and the pines that line the Appian way, is almost as fine, with an uncanny sense of past ghosts, in the sound of the nightingale over nocturnal mists and the emerging march of a ghostly legion, coming past and dying away again. These works have sometimes been criticised for their limited artistic aims, but such criticism is churlish, as they have no other intent than their mood-evocation, in which they succeed brilliantly. Feste romane (1929) is less successful and less often heard; more interesting is the Impressioni brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions, 1928), which follows a similar formula and in which the plainchant Dies Irae is prominent, as well as marvellous aural suggestions of the Brazilian wildlife. The element of the spiritual in Respighi's temperament is represented by the Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows, 1925, from an earlier piano piece) and by Respighi's loveliest work, Trittico botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures, 1927), full of luminous light and joy in its aural evocations of `Spring', `The Adoration of the Magi' and `The Birth of Venus'.

Respighi's interest in earlier music is exemplified in his arrangements of lute music for orchestra, the Antiche arie e danze per liuto (Ancient Airs and Dances, set 1 for orchestra, 1917, set 2 for small orchestra, 1923, set 3 for strings, 1931), brought to a wide public by a famous recording conducted by Dorati in the early 1960s, and popular ever since. Gli uccelli (The Birds, 1927) for orchestra is a delightful five-movement suite for small orchestra, each movement based on a work by a 17th-century composer. La boutique fantasque (1919) arranged the music of Rossini for a ballet. But Respighi also produced three major abstract works of considerable interest. Both the Concerto gregoriano (1921) for violin and orchestra and the Concerto in modo misolidio (1925) for piano and orchestra are examples of those artistic works that succeed in spite of their obvious faults, here of overall form and contrast of emotional weight. Such overt use of Gregorian plainsong and old modes are rare in 20th century concertos, and the effect is attractive, the violin concerto being the more interesting, the piano concerto the more obviously virtuoso. But the best of these abstract works is also the least known, the Quartetto dorico (1924) for string quartet (sometimes misleadingly referred to as the String Quartet No.3). In form it is episodic and in one overall movement, but with the episodes grouped into contrasting sections; it assimilates both folk-music (at times sounding uncannily as if it could only have come from the pen of an English composer) and modal and Gregorian influences, and is interesting in its construction, felicitous in its quartet colours, and immensely attractive. It would give pleasure to a wide audience were it better known.

Respighi did not neglect the dominant Italian art-form: he wrote nine operas, which while not among the masterpieces of Italian opera, are among the secondary rank of works that can be a pleasure to encounter. Semirama (1910) is still under the influence of Strauss, while La bella addormente nel bosco (Sleeping Beauty, 1916-1921, re-orchestration and version for children's mimes, 1934) was originally written as a puppet opera, and is generally considered the best of his stage works. The well-known story has some added twists, chiefly that the Princess wakes up in the 20th-century, the opera ending with a fox-trot. Respighi's fourth opera, Belfagor (1919-1922), is an often dark-hued romantic comedy, under the influence of Verdi's Falstaff, and especially of Puccini, in the conversational style and the use of one major recurring theme and repeated melodic ideas. The libretto by Claudio Guastalla (the librettist of all his subsequent operas), based on a comic novel by Ercole Morselli, is promising, being the story of a senior devil who comes to earth to see whether, as it is said, all the world's woes are caused by marriage, and who is outwitted by his intended bride. With touches of modality (associated with the heroine), there is much attractive music that is worth the hearing, beautifully and delicately scored, but the character possibilities of the story are not fully realized in the libretto. La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell, 1923-1927) is based on the symbolist fairy-tale by Gerhart Hauptmann, in which a bell-maker is inveigled into the world of the fairies, leading to the betterment of his art but to the suicide of his wife, in a clear allegory of the creative process. In La fiamma (1931-1933) Respighi seems to have been as much impelled by the possibility of the sumptuous settings of Byzantine art as by the plot. The story is actually based on a play by the Norwegian Jenssen, transferred for the opera from the Nordic north to 7th-century Ravenna. Respighi responded to the settings with a sumptuous lyrical score, and the combination of the richness of the settings and the music ensure that it is sometimes revived. For if the symbolic plot, about the Exarch's wife who suffers for her adultery by being convicted of witchcraft, is not steeped enough in either psychological dilemma or symbolic quality for real effect, the richness of the score is often compelling. In the marvellous last act the vocal lines have the sensuality and flow of Puccini, overridden when one is expecting Pucciniesque ending to a passage by ideas influenced by Monteverdi or by Byzantine church music, to considerable effect. The general tone is very different, and the symbolism more cogent if less exotic, in Maria Egiziaca (1929-1931), a triptych that looks back to medieval theatrical models. It recounts three incidents of the life of Mary of Alexandria, with her conversion from a prostitute to a religious believer as the centrepiece. The first has archaic qualities (with the use of a harpsichord and quasi-recitative), the second the most impassioned writing for Mary, and the third the most ecstatic music. The vein of the spiritual makes this one of the more interesting Respighi operas, though the streak of the old Christian fundamentalist concept of women as fallen and sullied may be difficult for many listeners to accept. Respighi's last opera Lucrezia (1935-1936) was virtually complete when he died, and was finished by his wife, Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo (born 1894), herself a composer of two operas. The story is the same as that of Britten's opera, set in classical Rome, with a single soloist acting in the role of a Greek chorus, placed in the orchestra. Of his other vocal music, the Lauda per la Natività del Signore (1928-1930) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, chorus, and wind and two-piano ensemble, looking back to music of the late-Renaissance period, is held in high regard.

Respighi was active as a string player and pianist, and taught at the Liceo (later Conservatorio) di S Cecilia, and was its director from 1924 to 1926.


works include:

- Sinfonia drammatica

- Concerto gregoriano and Poema autunnale for violin and orch.; Concerto in modo misolidio and Toccata for piano and orch.; Adagio con variazioni for cello and orch.

- Ballata delle Gnomidi, Feste romane, Fontane di Roma, Impressioni brasiliane, Metamorphoseon modi, Pini di Roma, Trittico botticelliano and Vetrate di chiesa for orch.; orchestral arrangements including Antiche arie e danze per liuto (3 sets), Gli uccelli for small orch. and ballet suite La boutique fantasque

- violin sonata; Quartetto dorico for string quartet

- 2 Tre preludi for organ

- La primavera for soloists, chorus and orch.; Lauda per la Natività del Signore for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, chorus, and wind and 2-piano ensemble; songs and other vocal and choral works

- operas Belfagor, La bella addormente nel bosco, La campana sommersa, La fiamma, Lucrezia, Maria Egiziaca, Marie-Victoire, Re Enzo, Semirama


recommended works (English titles when in common use):

Belfagor (1919-1922) [see text]

opera La bella addormente nel bosco (marionette version 1922, children's mime version 1934)

orchestral arrangements Ancient Airs and Dances (3 suites, 1917, 1924, 1932)

Concerto gregoriano (1921) for violin and orchestra

opera La fiamma (1931-1933)

Fountains of Rome (1917) for orchestra

opera Maria Egiziaca (1932)

Quartetto dorico (1924) for string quartet

Three Botticelli Pictures (1927) for orchestra



E.Respighi Ottorino Respighi, 1954, in Italian, abridged English trans. 1962


SCELSI Giacinto (Count Dayla Valva)

born 8th January 1905 at La Spezia

died 9th August 1988 at Rome


Giacinto Scelsi is one of those artists who spent most of his life outside the limelight, but who late in life became recognized as a major figure. Part of the reason for this were his personal circumstances: born a Count and with private means, he travelled extensively, and, without the need for an income for his music, shunned publicity. He has been called a Minimalist - misleadingly, for his minimalism bears little relation to the Minimalist school, but rather reflects a careful use of the spare musical means where each sound or sonority, however simple, carries considerable weight. His musical world, often of luminous beauty, inhabits usually slow-moving swathes of sound in which minute changes, often covering a very wide range of instrumental or vocal colour, are almost continually occurring, with glissandi effects and micro-tonal movements around a fundamental note. Rhythm in the traditional sense is virtually absent, though rhythmic events form part of those microcosmic changes, sometimes using percussive (or with string instruments, plucking) contrasts against the general sonorous flow.

He studied with a student of Schoenberg in Vienna in 1935 and 1936, but rejected strict 12-tone principles. Following a visit to Tibet and a personal crisis in the 1940s, which included a psychological breakdown and hospitalization, his music was deeply influenced by oriental philosophies and by the music heard on his travels in the Near East. The most obvious example of this influence are the Canti del Capricorno (1962-1972), a long cycle of songs for soprano with thai-gong, percussion, saxophone and bass recorder, that are spare in the extreme, and often sound as if they had been written by a composer from an Eastern musical tradition. There are no texts, but rather shifts of phonetic sounds, sometimes incantatory chants, glissandos, and minute changes of vocal colour or pitch, joined and counterpoised by instruments in various combinations, with a similar primitive aural cast. Harmonically the micro-tonal deviations create a non-tonal soundscape that has more in common with Eastern folk-musics, though regularly Scelsi will bend them back again to create moments of uplifting harmonious concord.

It is the five string quartets that form the basis of Scelsi's emerging reputation, together with the grandiose Aiôn (1961) for orchestra. The String Quartet No.1 (1944), in four movements, was written before the development of Scelsi's individual style in the early 1950s, but is still a distinctive and unusual work, with its jerky, expressive rhythmic feel, a harmonic language that borders on the atonal, propulsive counterpoint, an extraordinary tension maintained throughout the work, until the long, luminous, texturally dense and tonal close. The String Quartet No.2 (1961) belongs to a completely different sound world. Its five short movements centre on kernel notes, creating a drone axis around which minute variations of colour including metallic mutes evolve, and sparse, reticent events emerge and dissolve. Any connection with traditional methods of procedure is virtually non-existent; instead, what should appear to be static has a sense of very slow motion through the tiny graduations of idea. The extraordinary String Quartet No.3 (1963) describes in five movements the mystical journey of a soul toward liberation and catharsis. More varied than its predecessor, much of it sounds like musique-concrète, so varied are the range of string sounds, often appearing like disembodied human voices, torn with anguish in the second movement, with luminous moments of chordal harmonies in the first and fourth. Both the String Quartet No.4 (1964) and the String Quartet No.5 (1985) are more condensed, covering a wider range than their short durations would suggest. The former treats the individual strings of the instruments as separate voices (there is also a version titled Natura Renovatur, 1967, for eleven strings), and has some of the tension of the first quartet. The latter is a seven-minute series of 43 events, each superficially similar and each consisting of an initial attack followed by decay, like a searchlight swinging around an airfield, its full force hitting once every revolution. Yet each of these cells has a different content, often subtly varying the colours and timbres, and creating longer changes of emotional content. The String Trio (1958) introduced micro-tonal intervals to Scelsi's work, with a continuous drone of sonority, overlay of events (like undulations in a wave), and minute changes of pitch, colour and timbre. There is more obvious activity in Khoom (1962) for soprano, string quartet, horn and percussion, but the overall mood is still meditative in one of Scelsi's most effective pieces. Setting syllables of the composer's own invention, the seven sections use different instrumental forces, constantly changing tone and colour, and the vocal lines have the effect of a lyrical introverted improvisation.

The idiom that Scelsi developed in these chamber works combines the rarefication of the aural landscape of Pärt, Gorecki and Tavener (and predating all of them) with a more experimental cast. Anyone who enjoys those composers should sample at least Scelsi's String Quartet No.3 as an example of this unusual, prescient, and spiritually affecting composer.

In the 1930s Scelsi organized concerts of new music with Petrassi, and joined the Nuova Consonanza group of avant-garde composers in the 1950s. The dating of his works has been hampered by his habit of redating manuscripts to confuse scholars.


works include:

Aiôn, Konx-Om-Pax and Pfhat for orch.; Quattro Pezzi (su una sola nota ciascuno) for chamber orch.; Okanagon, Pranham I and Pranam II for ensemble; Natura Renovatur for 11 strings

- Anahit for violin and 18 instruments

- Trilogy `Ygghur' for solo cello; Xnoybis for solo violin; Elegia per Ty for viola and cello; string trio; 5 string quartets

- 11 piano suites; Aïtsi for electronically modified piano; series In Nomine for organ

- Antifona for tenor and organ; Canti di Capricorno soprano, thai-gong, percussion, saxophone and bass recorder; Khoom (1962) for soprano, string quartet, horn and percussion

- Three Latin Prayers for countertenor, chorus and organ; choral Tre canti sacri


recommended works:

Khoom (1962) for soprano, string quartet, horn and percussion

String Quartet No.3 (1963)

String Quartet No.4 (1964)

String Quartet No.5 (1985)



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