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BENEDETTO JUNCK ' BLESSED JUNK OR HIDDEN TREASURE'

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 [1] .''

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 [2] ) 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 [3] . Junck's short-lived elder brother Enrico (1849-1878) was also a painter belonging to this group [4] . 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.

LA SIMONA


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 their love.

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 'correct Italian'.

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:

Romanze
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 trad. Zendrini)
Pub. Lucca c.1884

Sei poesie di Heine
1. Flebil traversa l'anima mia (Heine: Deine weissen Lilienfinger trad. Zendrini)
2. Mia bella pescatrice (Heine: Du sch'nes Fischerm'dchen trad. Secco-Suardi)
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 trad. Secco-Suardi)
5. Alta ' la luna e l'onde irradia (Heine: Der Mond ist aufgegangen trad. Secco-Suardi)
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 [5] .'

'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 the text [6] .

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 Secco-Suardi's pen.

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 eines Mauren' [7] . 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 [8] but theirs, like Junck's, remain isolated voices.

©Christopher Howell 2009




[1] Both articles were signed by A.H.W. ' Mrs. Edmond R. Wodehouse.

[2] The published score is undated but the Milan Conservatoire copy is stamped 1877 by the publisher Lucca. Grove I (Appendix) gives 1878.

[3] Held in the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin; for a reproduction see: http://www.gamtorino.it/descopera.php'id=336&lang=1

[4] An example of his work, also held by the GAM of Turin, can be seen here: http://www.to2011cottini.it/Immagini/GallGAM/pages/Junck.htm

[5] The copy in the Milan Conservatoire bears an autograph dedication by Junck 'To his friend Aldo Noseda'. It was later donated to the Conservatoire library as part of the Noseda collection.

[6] I have consulted the second edition. It is therefore possible that the 'changes' were Panzacchi's own and Junck followed the first edition.'

[7] This information comes from Emily Ezust's marvellous Lieder site: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/. I have selected only the better-known composers among those listed. The reader is referred to this site for the full German texts and for further information on settings by a wide range of often very obscure composers. The fact that only four Junck settings are currently listed there (May 2009) makes one wonder just how much more of genuine value remains to be discovered.

[8] A selection of songs by Martucci, Sgambati, Bossi and several others will shortly be recorded for Sheva Collection by the mezzo-soprano Elisabetta Paglia, accompanied by the undersigned.
 


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