BENEDETTO JUNCK ' BLESSED JUNK OR HIDDEN
Browsing through the first edition of 'Grove' in search of
something quite different, I stumbled across the following:
... pre-eminent in every respect above other living writers
of songs in Italy is a young Florentine, Benedetto Iunck by
name. For beauty of melody, skilful accompaniment, originality
and grace, a very high place would be assigned in any country
to Iunck's publication 'La Simona' ...
Junck was too recent a discovery to have an entry of his own
in the Dictionary but this was corrected a few years later
in the Appendix. The article also put right the spelling of
his surname and the city of his birth:
JUNCK, BENEDETTO, born August 24, 1852, at Turin, his mother
being an Italian, and his father a native of Alsace. After
a mathematical training at Turin, he was sent into a commercial
house at Paris. He would from the first have preferred to
make music his profession, but although the Juncks were a
wealthy family, his father objected to the choice of so precarious
a career. His natural bias, however, proved too strong; and
instead of applying himself closely to business, Benedetto
Junck devoted his time chiefly to music. Such musical education
as he brought with him to Paris was slight, and almost entirely
confined to the pianoforte. Hence the orchestral works of
the great masters which he first heard in Paris keenly stirred
his artistic temperament; and his ambition to dedicate himself
to music became deeply rooted. In 1870 he returned to Turin
as required by law to perform a year of military service,
and about this time his father died. He was now free to follow
his own inclinations, and at the age of 22 he went to Milan,
and put himself under Alberto Mazzucato (then principal of
the Milan Conservatorio) for a course of study in harmony
and counterpoint. He also worked for a short time under Bazzini.
In 1879 Junck married, and his home is now in Milan, where
during the winter season he gives concerts in his own house,
at which leading artists are wont to meet. Being a man of
independent means, he has no motive for writing but the impulse
of his own mind. His works are not numerous, but are all marked
by earnestness, refinement and culture.
... the earliest of Junck's works, 'La Simona', still stands
pre-eminent among them for originality and power ...
With this wealth of melody, contrapuntal knowledge and
genuine musical feeling, Benedetto Junck may unquestionably
be regarded as one of the most distinguished of the younger
Italian composers of the present time
I have quoted the biographical part of the entry in full since
it still represents pretty well the sum of what we know about
Junck. He died on 3 October 1903. 'La Simona' (c.1877
) was followed by other vocal works, mainly Heine settings
in Italian translations, two sonatas for violin and piano,
a string quartet and 'Serenata', a 'Poemetto lirico' for soprano,
tenor and string quartet. This latter, however, was published
only in an arrangement for voices and piano and, as discussed
below, may not survive in its original form. Further biographical
glimpses ' rather than details ' may be caught from the lives
of those he frequented.
In Milan he was much involved in the 'Scapigliati' ' 'tousle-headed'
' movement. This group of Bohemian artists, disorderly on
principle, achieved most in the field of literature ' Boito
mingled with them for a time. Its two leading painters were
Daniele Ranzoni and Tranquillo Cremona. Indeed, insofar as
Junck is remembered at all in Italy, it is as the subject
of a portrait by Cremona
. Junck's short-lived elder brother Enrico (1849-1878)
was also a painter belonging to this group
. Puccini was mindful of the 'Scapigliati' when he wrote
'La Boh'me'.' To all appearances, then, Junck, with his ample
monetary resources, gradually relinquished his role as a promising
young composer for that of the sort of well-heeled patron
on whose bounty all such groups of 'beautiful and damned'
artists depend. The young and ailing Alfredo Catalani, for
example, received early encouragement and support from the
Junck household. He repaid the debt in true 'Bohemian' style
by having an affair with Junck's wife Teresa.
Composers come and composers go, but it was surprising to
find one so very highly rated in an august British dictionary
yet totally forgotten today ' in Italy no less than elsewhere.
Generally names linger on even when the music does not. Curiosity
demanded a visit to the Milan Conservatorio, whose library
proved to contain all of the few works Junck was known to
have published. 'La Simona' seemed the obvious place to start.
The present article was conceived in tandem with the recording
of this cycle and the other works for voice and piano on Sheva
Collection, in which I was joined by two Italian singers,
Ninny Nobile and Vito Martino. Hopefully, both the recording
projects and the article itself will gradually expand to cover
Junck's other works.
The words for 'La Simona' were written ' specially, one presumes
' by Ferdinando Fontana (1850-1919). Fontana is particularly
remembered as the librettist of Puccini's first two operas,
'Le Villi' (1884) and 'Edgar' (1889). His other libretti include
two for Franchetti and he also provided an Italian version of
Leh'r's 'Die lustige Witwe'. 'La Simona' presages 'Le Villi'
in its obsession with sinister old legends.
The first two songs present the characters of the tale as rustic
stereotypes, Simona at her spinning-wheel (1) and Pasquino a
simple lad who liked his drink and changed his mind one day
beneath a veranda (2). We are not told the epoch in which the
story took place; suffice to say that these elements establish
it as distant from our own time and also Junck's. The listener
might take note of the passing reference to flowers, particularly
in Pasquino's song, since they are fundamental to what follows.
The first of the duets (3) reveals a curious situation, since
each character has a fatally different concept of love. Simona
wishes to remain between Pasquino's arms for ever, while he
wishes to die looking at her face. The chosen tessituras, very
high for the tenor, less so for the soprano, seem intended to
make Pasquino dominate the music.
Pasquino now implores Simona to come with him to a garden he
knows which is full of flowers and where the sun does not penetrate
the thick branches (4). Simona promises to come next Sunday
and looks forward to declaring their love there in the garden
where she will sit beside him and kiss him (5).
In their second duet (6) they walk through the deserted fields
and roads, united at last in their thoughts. Yet for them this
is only the path towards the garden. Their present happiness,
of which they are barely aware, is in reality the climax of
The pair enter the wood (7). Simona, palpitating as when she
first set eyes upon Pasquino, says farewell to the fair blue
sky. Pasquino now begins to relate old legends (8). In particular,
he tells of a group of fairies which had gathered in this same
forest. Stricken by the death of their husbands and lovers,
they implore the herbs of the forest to provide them with a
similar fate. In this song the high tessitura so far used for
the tenor is exchanged for a more baritonal range, enabling
the singer to present Pasquino in a new, frightening light.
Dismayed, Simona protests that Pasquino is making her cry when
she wants to be happy (9). For her the forest is a place of
beauty, of perfumes, colours and honey. But Pasquino continues
implacably (10): the herbs are more mysterious than the forests
themselves, there are fatal essences in the juices of the roses.
He shows her a leaf that is like love itself; it tempts the
lips but those who taste it die. He declares that he has no
fear of love, for his strength is in her. Nor, then, does he
fear this leaf, which he tastes and then falls to the ground,
devoured by the terrible poison.
In the last two songs Simona addresses onlookers. At first she
will not believe them when they say Pasquino is dead; later
she has to accept it is so (11). In the final song she tells
how it happened (12); as she relates how he tasted the leaf,
she does so herself. Called by the fairies, she dies commending
her soul to sweet love.
This decadent tale, possibly influenced by Baudelaire's 'Fleurs
du mal', reverses the romantic theme of the redeeming power
of love. Love becomes here a destructive force.
The title itself is curious. Readers will know that quite a
number of Italian operas are named after their heroines ' Norma,
Aida, Tosca and so on. And they will know that there is no definite
article in front of the names ' La Norma, L'Aida, La Tosca '
Readers who have studied Italian, with a teacher or a book,
will know that, while Italian uses the definite article in a
number of cases where English does not, it is not used with
a person's name. Those who have learnt Italian in the field,
though, and learnt it in Northern Italy, will know that there
is a widespread habit there of using the definite article with
a person's name ' la Giulia, la Francesca etc. This is a colloquial
custom and educated speakers are well aware that it is not really
It is unlikely that Fontana and Junck were making ignorant use
of a colloquial form that may not even have existed in their
day. The use of the article is probably intended to draw attention
to the way in which Pasquino sees her as an abstract symbol,
an object rather than a living person. Thus the obvious criticism
that the characters in this tale are stereotyped images is turned
upon its head. Their failure is due to the fact that Pasquino
sees Simona in this way. So his love, instead of having redeeming
power, becomes as destructive as the poison of the leaf.
Junck's musical idiom needs to be seen against the backdrop
of the typical Italian Romanze of the day. The best known
are probably those of Verdi. They tend to sound like spare operatic
arias, with piano accompaniments frequently no more pianistic
than those to be found in operatic vocal scores which are, of
course reductions of orchestral originals. Rossini had attempted
something more enterprising in later life, but very much sui
generis and not a very useful model
Junck clearly knows his Schumann. Playing the piano part on
its own one gets the idea of typical lieder accompaniments,
resourceful and imaginative without undue dominance. The piano
interludes in no. 7 truly seemed to have strayed from some little-known
Schumann intermezzo. Only the last two songs veer towards a
more operatic expansiveness. Harmonically Junck rarely goes
beyond Mendelssohn but even this apparent conservatism has to
be seen in the context of Italy in the 1870s. Distinctly more
modern is the composer's use of thematic reminiscences. I prefer
this phrase here to the word 'leitmotif' since what actually
happens is that Junck, during the last two songs, quotes considerable
passages from the preceding ones as Simona relives her experiences
with Pasquino and relates the manner of his death. Another curiosity
is that between one number and another there is often a quite
drastic jolt of tonality. This may be a further way of demonstrating
that Simona and Pasquino are not really united at all; each
is following his or her own individual path towards destruction.'
What may seem disconcerting is that the refined, well-schooled
accompaniments are combined with vocal lines that are not only
thoroughly Italianate but also have a tessitura which can only
be coped with by full-blown, spinto, operatic-style
singing.' The result is a work without any real parallels, in
Italy or elsewhere, almost a one act opera for two singers and
piano. It could probably be staged, though the best stage for
it would very likely remain that of our own mind. The ultimate
hero of the work, however, is Junck's fund of melody, simple
yet memorable and never banal, ensuring that the cycle as a
whole has a greater effect than the sum of its parts.
OTHER WORKS FOR VOICE AND PIANO
The published scores being undated, we rely on Grove I again,
which lists 'Otto Romanze' (words by Panzacchi and Heine) (1881)
and 'Two Songs' (words by Heine) (1883). The Milan Conservatorio
copy of the former is undated while the latter, published separately
not as a set, are stamped 1884 by the publisher. Also held by
the Milan Conservatorio and undated are 'Sei Poesie di Heine'.
However, while all Junck's previous works had been published
by Lucca, this last appeared under the imprint of the 'Stabilimento
Tito di Gio. Ricordi e Francesco Lucca'. Failing fortunes against
vigorous competition had compelled the Lucca publishing company
to merge with Ricordi in 1888, giving us the earliest possible
date for the 'Sei Romanze'.
Here, then, are the remaining works for voice and piano which
Junck is known to have published:
1. Melodia: Tu sei bella, o mia dolcezza (Heine: Du bist
wie eine Blume trad. Zendrini)
2. Melodia: La mattina le mammole t'invio (Heine: Morgens
send ich dir die Veilchen trad. Zendrini)
3. Dolce sera ' Romanza (Panzacchi)
4. Amore e neve ' Romanza (Panzacchi)
5. Romanza ' Quelle dita oh potess'io (Heine: Deine weissen
Lilienfinger trad. Zendrini)
6. Romanza ' Flebil traversa l'anima mia (Heine: Leise zieht
durch mein Gem't trad. Zendrini)
7. Romanza ' Quando ti guardo fiso (Heine: Wenn ich in deine
Augen seh trad Zendrini)
8. Romanza ' Ha le sue stelle il cielo (Heine: Das Meer hat
seine Perlen trad. Zendrini)
Pub. Lucca c.1881
Maggio ' tornato ' Romanza (Heine: Gekommen ist der
Maie trad. Zendrini)
Pub. Lucca c.1884
Serenata di un Moro (Heine: St'ndchen eines Mauren
Pub. Lucca c.1884
Sei poesie di Heine
1. Flebil traversa l'anima mia (Heine: Deine weissen Lilienfinger
2. Mia bella pescatrice (Heine: Du sch'nes Fischerm'dchen
3. Tu sei bella, o mia dolcezza (Heine: Du bist wie eine
Blume trad. Zendrini)
4. Una volta la tua candida man (Heine: Deine weissen Lilienfinger
5. Alta ' la luna e l'onde irradia (Heine: Der Mond ist aufgegangen
6. La farfalletta ama la rosa (Heine: Der Schmetterling ist
in die Rose verliebt trad. Secco-Suardi)
Pub. Ricordi not earlier than 1888.
One further vocal work was intended to be accompanied by string
quartet but, as mentioned above, may not have survived in its
original form. This is 'Serenata', with words by E. Augusto
Berta. Like 'La Simona', it is described as a 'Poemetto lirico'
and written for soprano and tenor. Two of the movements are
purely instrumental. It was published, however, in a reduction
for voice and piano by G. Andreoli. 'Reduction', as opposed
to 'transcription', is the operative word, since little has
been done to make the result pianistic. But on the other hand,
it is not so literal as to permit an easy reconstruction of
the original instrumental score.
'Serenata' appears to have been printed privately, the only
publishing details being 'Property of the composer'. It is undated,
but the distinctly art nouveau cover illustration is
signed 'Hohenstein '90', giving us the earliest possible date.
The deduction is that Ricordi, having bought up the Lucca publishing
concern, was disinclined to further Junck's cause. 'Serenata'
appears to be the last work the composer issued
'Serenata' represents a return to a tailor-made libretto, as
in 'La Simona'. Meanwhile, however, he had been busy with literature
of a much higher calibre.
Enrico Panzacchi (1840-1904) was a poet, art critic, music critic
and professor at Bologna University. In his lifetime he was
much associated with Giosu' Carducci (1835-1907) but, while
the latter's reputation and work lives on, the name of Panzacchi
has faded. Apart from Junck, his poetry was set to music by
Catalani, Puccini, Tosti and Respighi. The poems chosen by Junck
are from the third book (of four) of a large volume entitled
'Lyrica: Romanze e Canzoni' (Bologna 1877); 'Dolce sera' is
no. 133 ' Junck set the title as a brief coda ' while 'Amore
e neve' combines nos. 129 and 130. A few changes were made to
Junck's Panzacchi settings are less operatic in manner, as well
as less demanding in their tessitura, if only slightly, than
'La Simona'. They are nevertheless extrovert and outwardly romantic
compared with the intimate tone of Heine, with whose poetry
Junck came closer to creating a form of Italian Lied.
Heine was well-known to Italian poetry-lovers of the latter
half of the 19th century, thanks above all to the
translation of 'Das Buch der Lieder' by Bernardino Zendrini
(1839-1879) under the title of 'Il Canzoniere' (Milan, 1865).
Sgambati, Ponchielli and Mancinelli also set some of these translations.
Despite the good work Zendrini undoubtedly did in spreading
Heine's name south of the Alps, he made little attempt to retain
the original rhythms of the poetry. Those readers with even
a slight knowledge of Italian might try humming
Tu sei bella, o mia dolcezza,
Pura e cara come un fior
to the opening phrases of Schumann's famous setting of 'Du bist
wie eine Blume'. They will rapidly find that, if it can be fitted
at all, the result would be clumsy and inartistic. Since Junck's
publications have only Italian texts, clearly this aspect did
not trouble him. The more-travelled Sgambati, setting the same
poem for publication in German with singable texts in English
and Italian, used a different translation altogether.
In 1886 Count Giulio Cesare Secco-Suardi published translations
of all Heine's poems. Junck preferred these versions for his
later set of Heine songs; Zendrini was retained only for two
pieces that are in fact revisions of two of the 8 'Romanze'.
Signally, 'Deine weissen Lilienfinger' was reset to completely
different music using the new translation. Although there is
still no reason to suppose Junck envisaged performance in any
language but Italian, Secco-Suardi's greater respect for Heine's
rhythms means that the new song could actually be sung to the
original German without much difficulty whereas the earlier
one could not. If this poem is typical, Heine's verse also emerges
as much better focused, with greater clarity of meaning, from
In the case of 'Tu sei bella, o mia dolcezza', the changes in
the later version are small but telling; the vocal line has
been partly rethought and the piano now doubles the melody in
the middle, rather than the upper, voice, to mellower effect.
With 'Flebil traversa l'anima mia' the changes are more radical.
The effusively romantic piano writing, harking back to 'La Simona'
and not unattractive in itself, has been pared down to make
a much more intimate setting.
It will have been observed that Junck did not hesitate to use
texts already immortalized by the great German and Austrian
composers of Lieder. The inclusion of 'Du sch'nes Fischerm'dchen'
in Schubert's 'Schwanengesang' seems to have frightened off
other composers, though Catalani also set it in Italian. Schumann's
setting of 'Du bist wie eine Blume', celebrated though it is,
evidently aroused fewer inhibitions. Settings in German are
to be found by Lord Berners, Bruckner, Henschel, Ives, Liszt,
Reinecke, Anton Rubinstein, Sgambati, Ambroise Thomas, W.V.
Wallace, Healey Willan and Wolf. Notable versions in other languages
are by Rachmaninov in Russian and Frank Bridge in English. Also
much favoured was 'Das Meer hat seine Perlen', set in German
by Franz, G.A. Macfarren and Maude Val'rie White, and in French
by Gounod ('A toi mon Coeur'). In its translation by H.W. Longfellow
as 'The Sea hath its Pearls' it seems to have exceeded the original
in popularity, at least among composers. In this form it was
set by Bairstow, Balfe, Cowen, Holbrooke and Ciro Pinsuti.
Robert Franz, a once-celebrated Lied composer whose fortunes
have so far not been revived, found Heine particularly suited
to his intimate tone: of the poems concerned here, he also made
settings of 'Deine weissen Lilienfinger', 'Wenn ich in deine
Augen seh', 'Gekommen ist der Maie' and 'Leise zieht durch mein
Gem't'. The latter also attracted the attention of Grieg, Mendelssohn
and Rubinstein. Lastly, 'Der Mond ist aufgegangen' was set in
French by Messager and 'Der Schmetterling ist in die Rose verliebt'
was included in a collection of Heine songs in German by the
youthful Stanford. No alternative settings of particular importance
seem to exist of 'Morgens send ich dir die Veilchen' and 'St'ndchen
. This latter was dedicated to Catalani. In view of that
composer's involvement with Junck's wife it is tempting, though
probably fanciful, to imagine Junck casting himself in the role
of Shakespeare's Moor and proffering a veiled threat to the
couple. If this were so, the threat fell on deaf ears; the relationship
was broken only by the sickly Catalani's early death in 1893.
There is more than enough in these later works to show that
'La Simona' was no flash in the pan. Junck retained an enviable
melodic invention and revealed, furthermore, a capacity to develop
and refine his art. The fact that his Heine settings are sung
in Italian helps to keep comparisons at bay. Yet, by any standards,
he holds an honourable place among composers inspired by Heine.
He could ' maybe should ' have established an 'Italian Lied'
of higher artistic aspirations than the 'Romanza del salotto'
which emerged towards the end of the century. However, the composers
best qualified to take up this challenge ' Martucci, Sgambati
and Bossi ' were chiefly concerned with instrumental music.
Their small song production contains work of value and interest
but theirs, like Junck's, remain isolated voices.
©Christopher Howell 2009