is one of those composers who have had a bad press. A brief
survey of my musical friends reveals that either he is unknown
to them or at worst he is seen as being a pale imitation of
Schoenberg or Webern. Now at least the person who took this
view is on the right track. It is reasonably well known that
Dallapiccola was seriously influenced by a performance of
in Florence. In
fact, he claimed it changed his life. However it would be simplistic
to say he was merely a follower of the 12-tone school of composition.
If we look at the other key influences in his life we must note
a decided Italian slant. He loved the writings of Dante and
the music of Verdi and Monteverdi. In spite of being Italian,
Ferruccio Busoni provided a Germanic correction to these predilections;
however it was after hearing the music of Anton Webern that
Dallapiccola decided to use the twelve
note method of composition as the fundamental basis of his work.
Yet, it is not as straightforward as this. There is nothing
‘academic’ about the music of the Dallapiccola. Like the British composers Humphrey Searle and
Richard Stoker he does not allow the ‘series’ to take over his
creativity. He does not fall into the Boulez-ian
trap of total serialism. In most music by Dallapiccola
it is the Italian lyricism that comes first. And it is this
fusion that makes his music vital for today’s audiences. It
combines structure with complexity but also a certain tunefulness
that is nearly always approachable and often quite moving.
Dallapiccola is represented on only
eighteen or so CDs by perhaps a dozen works. Yet he wrote a
considerable amount of music in a wide variety of genres. Perhaps
his most ‘famous’ works are the two operas Il
Prigioniero and Ulisse, although I cannot remember
having seen or heard either. His piano work Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera was written for
his eight year old daughter and has had a number of recordings
made over the years. Perhaps his finest choral work is the Canti di Liberazione.
is a minor revelation to be presented with a full CD of his
orchestral works. I have to state straightaway that I am impressed
with virtually every note of this widely varied programme. A generous seventy minutes of music from Chandos
allows us to explore five major works from the late 1940’s and
The Frammenti Sinfonici dal Balletto
‘Marsia’ is a ‘suite’ of music
drawn from Dallapiccola’s only ballet – Marsia. The original work was composed
in 1942 based on a classical legend involving the satyr Marsyas, the discoverer of flute music. The story of the ballet
tells how, due to jealousy, this musician was flayed alive.
Obviously this comment about a society that is cruel was not
suitable fare to be presented in Mussolini’s Italy
so the work was not actually performed until 1948.
salvaged some two-thirds of the music as part of the ‘Frammenti.’ It is very easy to play at ‘spot the influence’
– perhaps Respighi and Ravel spring to mind as prime influences.
I love this work, in spite of its less than
savoury subject matter. The orchestration is near perfect
– so much tonal
colour is present. One cannot help feeling that Dallapiccola
was a master of instrumentation, even if the musical establishment
does not place him on a par with Ravel himself.
The Due Pezzi (1946-47) originated from sketches
made for a film score. This was to have been a documentary about
the great Renaissance painter Piero
della Francesca. The film was never made. Dallapiccola salvaged some of the music and used it in Due Studi for
violin and piano. Later these Studi were re-scored and expanded for full orchestra. This
is a full blown 12 tone score – however the constructional principles
never get in the way of our enjoyment. The second ‘Pezzi’ is subtitled ‘Fanfara e fuga’ – this
is an exciting exploration of cool twelve-note contrapuntal
development. This work generally looks back to the baroque era
in spite of the ‘modern’ sound. The work ends with a straightforward,
but quite surprising, C major triad.
Tartiniana (1951) is much more ‘light
music’. There is a good tradition of ‘…iana’
pieces in musical history. We think perhaps of Alfredo Casella’s
or possibly Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana and Korngold’s Straussiana. So
maybe it is hardly surprising that for a Koussevitzky Foundation
commission, Dallapiccola chose to use elements of Giuseppe Tartini’s sonatas. Tartini had an
extra attraction for the composer – both had been born in Istria on the Adriatic.
This is an accomplished
work that explores the style if not the timbres of the older
composer’s sound-world. However this is not early music. There
is, for example, no use of original instruments or contemporary
scoring. Yet, it is a perfect union between two eras of music.
There is a hard-edged freshness introduced to the ‘original’
themes that brings the music up to date.
pieces Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera
(1952) are one of the few Dallapiccola
works that I have known for many years. It has always impressed
me as being an extremely tightly controlled, well constructed
work. It is usually regarded as his masterwork for the instrument.
It was written in 1952 for his daughter, Annalibera’s 8th birthday. The English translation
of the title is ‘A Musical
Notebook for Annalibera.’ It is
easy to see the allusion to the well known Musical
Note Book for Anna Magdalena by Sebastian Bach. The present
work is a complex investigation of canonical and contrapuntal
devices within the context of 12-tone composition. Extensive
use is made of the B-A-C-H note set.
Dallapiccola reworked this piece for
the Louisville Symphony Orchestra as his Variazioni per Orchestra. The programme
notes give a detailed analysis. Suffice to say that Dallapiccola
has created a totally new composition out of the original. It
is a work full of variety and wonderful tonal colouring.
There is much here that is introspective yet often great outbursts
from the orchestra create ‘massive effects’. It is an extremely
beautiful work that should be regarded as one of the masterworks
of the nineteen-fifties.
The Piccola Musica Notturna was written after the ‘Variations’ in 1954. The very title is
meant to conjure up Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. But this is not a divertimento in the classical
model. It is a ‘nocturne’ that has its roots in the work of
Busoni, especially in his Berceuse
élégiaque and the Nocturne
symphonique. This work is prefaced
by a quotation from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado which sets
the scene of a solitary traveller in a deserted village.
This is not programme music as such;
the text is simply there to give a ‘mood’ to the piece. Most
of the ‘nocturne’ is restrained, yet there are one or two aggressive
irruptions which suggest passing thoughts of a less than tranquil
nature. The programme notes state
that, ‘…this is among the most serene and mysterious of twentieth
dispose of the presentation. The sound quality is stunning;
the balance must have been quite hard to realize because much
of the music is soft. Chandos engineers have been able to create
the magic that this music calls for. I must admit that I wonder
how well the concert hall would serve some of this ‘pianissimo’
music. I think the CD player and the privacy of our own room
allows us to appreciate the sheer beauty of these intimate passages.
feels nice - a lovely ‘sky at dusk’ coloured
cover seems just right for this music. The programme
notes are excellent and give as much information as one could
possibly need – bearing in mind that little is easily available
in English on Dallapiccola’s life
a look at the Chandos web site and was delighted to find that
this release may be a part of an ongoing project. The conductor, Gianandrea Noseda regards it as
a personal crusade to further the reputation of Luigi Dallapiccola.
Let us hope that Chandos leads the way with re-establishing
the repertoire of one of the finest composers of the twentieth
century and one who is perhaps most unjustly neglected.
as alluded to above the playing is superb – by both the soloist
and the orchestra. This is a beautiful, committed and stunning
enthusiasts of lyrical (almost romantic) twelve tone music it
is a ‘must have.’ For those who may have doubts about buying
this CD because it is ‘serial’, be prepared to take a tiny risk
– you will not be disappointed. I cannot praise this CD too