THE CLARINET IN SEARCH OF ROSSINI
The clarinet is possibly better endowed as to repertoire than
its other woodwind cousins. All the same, it is a slender list
compared with the wealth of material available to the violinist.
I have already recorded a disc of British clarinet music – C.H.
Lloyd, Stanford, Hurlstone, C.A. Gibbs and Finzi – with the
leading Italian clarinettist Alessandro Travaglini (Sheva Collection
SH 021). We decided to dedicate our next disc, logically enough,
to Italian music (Fiori Rossiniani, Sheva Collection
There is, in fact, a small list of original music for clarinet
and piano by Italian 20th century composers – in
particular Busoni, Longo, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Rota. We may
come to these later. We decided, instead, to turn to a much
more celebrated composer who wrote very little for this instrument
– Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868).
The dearth of music by Rossini for clarinet, together with the
vogue for operatic transcriptions, fantasias, potpourris and
the like, encouraged the virtuoso clarinettists of the day –
and not only in Italy – to provide more material of their own.
Most of these reworkings of well-known Rossini themes were written
within the master’s own lifetime.
Iwan Müller (1786-1854) was born in the present-day Estonian
capital of Tallin (then called Reval) and travelled throughout
Europe as a virtuoso. He made a number of technical improvements
to his instrument and his studies are still valued as teaching
material by modern players. His 3 Fantasien op.27 open
with an aria less well-known today, “Di piacer mi balza il cor”
from “La Gazza ladra”. The other two pieces are based on celebrated
arias from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”: “Ecco ridente in ciel”
and, inevitably, “Una voce poco fa”. His vision of Rossini seems
aimed at drawing the witty Italian into the gentler world of
Schubertian lyricism. Witness, for example the extension of
Rosina’s independent declarations into a romantic dialogue with
the piano. It can be rather disarming to find well-known thematic
material, transcribed at first fairly literally, suddenly branching
off into something quite different, then returning nonchalantly
to the Rossini original.
Ernesto Cavallini (1807-1874) was Milanese. He
entered the city Conservatoire at the age of 10 and, after touring
Italy, joined the orchestra of La Scala. Concert tours took
him to Paris in 1842 and London in 1845 where the leading British
clarinettist Henry Lazarus dubbed him “the Paganini of the clarinet”.
An invitation by the St. Petersburg Italian Opera Orchestra
led to his remaining in that city for 15 years, where he also
taught at the local Conservatoire. He returned to Milan in 1870.
Cavallini was admired by Verdi and the clarinet solo that opens
Act III of La Forza del Destino was written for him.
“Fiori rossiniani” (Rossinian Flowers”) provided us with
a title for the disc. It is an affectionate, sometimes irreverent,
potpourri of well-known and less-well-known Rossinian melodies.
It has been suggested that some, at least, of the decorations
in these pieces may reflect typical singers’ practices of the
day – but not necessarily the best ones. It is also possible
that Cavallini’s treatment of the “Tirolese” from “Guglielmo
Tell” has something to teach us about tempo. The clarinet fireworks
that accompany its later stages would seem to set a maximum
tempo for this section – a tempo little more than half that
adopted on some modern recordings of the opera! There may be
a lesson for conductors here.
Also included is Cavallini’s “Una lagrima sulla tomba dell’immortale
Rossini [A tear on the tomb of the immortal Rossini]”, a
tribute using themes by Cavallini himself. It is a well-varied,
optimistic piece, far from the lachrymose elegy we might expect.
Arguably the composer of a “Petite Messe Solennelle” that is
neither small nor solemn was better celebrated thus.
Stefano Golinelli (1818-1891) was born in Bologna. A
student of Vaccaj, in 1840 he was named professor of piano at
the Bologna Conservatoire on Rossini’s recommendation. In 1842
Hiller described him as the finest Italian pianist of his time
and urged him to make a career as a virtuoso. Tours followed
in France, Germany and England.
Most of Golinelli’s output is for solo piano, but he wrote 2
Morceaux de Salon for clarinet which we included simply
by virtue of their dedication to Rossini. There are no specifically
Rossinian influences, except insofar as the first may reflect
the fascination which the Alpine atmosphere of “Guglielmo Tell”
held for its contemporaries. More generally, a suggestion of
Italian opera attenuates the influences of Mendelssohn, Schumann
and Liszt. Above all, they are attractive pieces, suggesting
that further exploration of Golinelli may be worth while.
Domenico Liverani (1805-1876) was born in Castelbolognese.
Inspired by the local band he took up the clarinet at an early
age and enrolled in the Liceo Musicale di Bologna in 1822. An
English patron took him on highly successful tours including
Paris and London, till he was appointed professor of clarinet
at the Bologna Liceo in 1838. His friends and admirers included
Rossini, the singers Pasta, Malibran and Rubini and the clarinettist
Cavallini. He is said to have been able to sight-read perfectly
even with the score placed upside down.
Appearing on the disc are Liverani’s “2 Chants Religieux
du Stabat Mater di G. Rossini” These takes on the two Stabat
Mater movements can be described as affectionately impudent.
While it has been suggested, as with Cavallini, that some of
his decorations may reflect the more extreme practices of contemporary
singers, his great speciality was to unleash the clarinet in
a sort of circus act while the piano takes up the melody. “Cujus
animam” starts innocently enough, but fasten your seat belts
as it hots up! It required genius of a sort, too, to transform
the timpani roll of “Pro Peccatis” into a low trill, and then
fill the rests between the stark orchestral chords with florid
All the pieces mentioned so far belong to the 19th
century. This was the great age of the transcription. However,
the practice of purloining new works for the clarinet repertoire
continued in the 20th century.
Yona Ettlinger (1924-1981) was born of Jewish parents
in Munich. His family emigrated to Palestine in 1933. After
studies in the USA and France, Ettlinger was first clarinet
of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from 1947 to 1964. Following
a brief period in Paris from 1964 he settled in London in 1966,
where he taught at the Guildhall School of Music for the rest
of his life.
The arrangement of the Third Sonata for Strings, played
on this disc, is not “creative” after the 19th century
manner, but it skilfully acquires an attractive addition to
the clarinet repertoire.
And so to Rossini himself. Rossini wrote just one, or
perhaps two, original works for clarinet and piano. “Perhaps”
refers to the “Introduction, Theme and Variations”, which was
described in the first edition as for “clarinet and orchestra
or pianoforte”. However, only the orchestral score was published
and no version for clarinet and piano attributable to Rossini,
whether printed or in manuscript, has ever come to light. There
are, or course, several modern editions with piano accompaniment,
but always of the unpianistic kind typical of orchestral transcriptions
of concerto accompaniments. We can suppose that a Rossini original,
if it ever existed and if it should ever be found, would be
more radically recast in pianistic terms. We did not include
this piece, therefore.
The “Fantaisie” (1829) was presumably called thus rather
than a sonata on account of its free form. The four movements
consist of a dramatic introduction, a light-hearted theme with
two variations (the first for piano solo), a melodramatic aria
over a tremolo accompaniment and an effervescent finale. Rossini’s
expressive gifts, as well as his verve, are well present. Clarinettists
do not greatly favour this piece since the piano hogs the show
at too many points. We are not all that far from the 18th
century world of the “sonata for piano with instrumental obbligato”.
I enjoyed myself, anyway!
Full details of the disc are as follows:
IWAN MÜLLER (1786-1854)
3 FANTASIEN op. 27
 1. Di piacer mi balza il cor (da La Gazza ladra)
 2. Ecco ridente in ciel (da Il Barbiere di Siviglia)
 3. Una voce poco fa (da Il Barbiere di Siviglia)
ERNESTO CAVALLINI (1807-1874)
 FIORI ROSSINIANI (CAPRICCIO) [10:53]
 UNA LACRIMA SULLA TOMBA DELL’IMMORTALE ROSSINI [4:53]
STEFANO GOLINELLI (1818-1891)
2 MORCEAUX DE SALON op.124 (à Rossini)
 1. Andante mosso [4:50]
 2 Allegro appassionato [3:10]
DOMENICO LIVERANI (1805-1876)
2 CHANTS RELIGIEUX DU STABAT MATER DI G. ROSSINI
 1. Cujus animam [7:01]
 2. Pro peccatis [5:43]
ROSSINI arr. YONA ETTLINGER (1924-1981)
SONATA No. 3
 1. Allegro [6:09]
 2. Andante [4:03]
 3. Moderato [2:26]
GIOACCHINO ROSSINI (1792-1868)
 1. Andante maestoso [1:19]
 2. Allegretto [3:03]
 3. Andantino [1:15]
 4. Vivace [3:17]
ALESSANDRO TRAVAGLINI (clarinet)
CHRISTOPHER HOWELL (piano)
Recorded March 2010, Studio “L’Eremo”, Lessona (Italy).
Producer: Ermanno De Stefani
SHEVA COLLECTION SH 029