This disc comes in Capriccio’s ‘Modern times’ series although Dallapiccola died almost forty years ago and his music was at its most performed over fifty years ago. Even so, to many he will represent in some works the ‘difficult’ face of twentieth century music. He had for much of his time been a twelve-tone composer although one with a typically Italian lyrical gift.
The first work is also the earliest. Partita per orchestra
is a four-movement piece summed up pithily in the notes as “a solemnly dark passacaglia, then a rugged burlesque and a rubato recitative with following fanfares leading over to a lyrically contrasting song”. Adding flesh to that, the finale is curious in that it is a setting of a medieval text, a lullaby — no words are given in the booklet. “Naenia B.M.V.” - ‘Molto tranquillo’ is how the movement is headed. One can’t help but speculate whether the idea for the piece came to Dallapiccola from knowing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. That finale has a text of folksy religiosity, one might say. Dallapiccola had visited Vienna in 1930 and may have come across the Mahler. In any case this movement sets the work apart from other Italian Partitas of the period by Casella and a composer quite influential on Dallapiccola but rarely heard outside Italy, Giorgio Ghedini. I must add however that I prefer the Chandos recording (CHAN10561
; the second of two Dallapiccola volumes
) with Gillian Keith not only for its more leisurely approach but also for the lyrical purity of Keith’s voice as opposed the more heavy, over-precious quality of Arantz Ezenarro. Even so the movement does not hang together as a part of the overall conception. Interestingly the 2009 Chandos recording was the work’s first outing since its premiere in 1933.
In 1946 Dallapiccola was asked to write some music to accompany a film about the artist Piero Della Francesca. The composer started immediately but after a short while the project was cancelled, meanwhile he had written two movements for violin and piano inspired by paintings known as ‘The Procession of the Queen of Sheba’ and the tumultuous scene ‘ The Battle of Heraclius’. These deeply contrasted panels are reflected musically by first, a sensuous Sarabande
and then by a fanfare and fugue.
The title Duo Studi
was allotted to the rescued piece but immediately afterwards it was orchestrated and the title Due Pezzi per orchestra
was allotted to it. The work uses two tone rows. The first is stated straightaway by the solo violin in movement 1. The second is mainly used in the wild and violent second movement; in this Dallapiccola combines dodecaphony and fugue in a masterly fashion. The final C sharp major chord has an air of total defiance.
Incidentally, the recording on Chandos by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda (CHAN10258
) is even more sumptuous taking two and a half minutes longer to express the first movement.
The Piccolo Musica Notturna
reflects the poetic and highly colourful language that had become a strong part of Dallapiccola’s style by the mid-1950s. Apparently it was inspired by a poem by Antonio Machado about a nocturnal walk in a village square by moonlight. The composer described the music as “an expression of feeling rather than a description”. The melodic lines are calm and only rarely disturbed by strong dynamics. There is a convincing use of ‘klangfarbenmelodie’ and it is again a serial work with canons in various forms. I find it very beautiful and the performance sensitively and convincingly reflects its overall character. There are incidentally no Mozartean connections.
is surely a Schoenbergian inspiration. It is on the same Chandos disc
as the Due Pezzi
. The work falls into eleven short sections/variations which are, helpfully, separately tracked. It is an adaptation, or really a straight orchestration, of a large-scale piano work which in English is called “Annalibera’s musical notebook”; Annalibera was Dallapiccola’s daughter. It is a dodecaphonic work, dating originally from 1952. Clearly there is a Bach reference and it may well be linked with the composer’s later ‘Songs of Liberation’. The B.A.C.H. motif can be heard at the beginning. There are also movements called ‘Contrapunctus’ and the fourth is a two-part invention called ‘Linus’. The titles given in the piano original are removed to be replaced, for example, by ‘Allegro, con violenza’ (the original was ‘Ritmi’) and for the beautiful lyrical variation eleven ‘Molto lento; fantastico’ (the original was “Quatrain”). I would advise any student of serial technique to study this work and its use of differing canonic techniques. All I would say to the general reader is that it is marvellously and colourfully orchestrated, with much that is beautiful and also much that is exciting. Oddly enough a book I have been using for reference ‘The Music of Luigi Dallapiccola’ by Raymond Fearn (Rochester Press, 2003) does not mention the Variazioni
at all but analyses in great depth the piano original.
Let me say immediately that Three Questions with Two Answers
is a stunning work and one that I have known for twenty-five years. Bruno Moderna recorded it in the 1970s and more recently, on Chandos, Noseda with the BBC Philharmonic, mentioned above (CHAN10561
) in a slightly more spacious rendition. Dallapiccola is not asking just one repeated question as does the solo trumpet in Charles Ives’s ‘The Unanswered Question’ — ‘What is the meaning of existence’. He also asks ‘Who am I?” and “Who are we?”. These questions we can call ‘A’ so the form is ABACA. The music is based upon a series of four chords which cover all twelve tones and create various rows. They are also used in the opera Ulisse
which the composer was working on at the time. This orchestral essay is a sort of dry run for the opera. To me it’s a masterwork.
The recordings are excellent the booklet notes are well translated but otherwise only adequate.