About this Recording
8.111317 - PIZZINI: Al Piemonte / Il poema delle Dolomiti / Grotte di Postumia / Strapaese (Pizzini) (1955-1956)
English  Italian 

Carlo Alberto Pizzini (1905 – 1981)
Orchestral Works

 

Carlo Alberto Pizzini was born in Rome on 22 March 1905 and studied composition with Ottorino Respighi. He graduated from the Bologna Conservatory in 1929.

At the age of only nineteen Pizzini founded the ‘Concerts for the musical education of students’ in Rome, with support from the Ministry of Education. Between 1932 and 1937 he was a Music Inspector for the Italian Authors’ and Publishers’ Society (SIAE), which made him an honorary distinguished member in 1954. From 1938 to 1970 he had an executive position at Italian Radio and Television (RAI). The Accademia of Santa Cecilia, the famous musical society and concert organisation in Rome, elected Pizzini to its ranks in 1942, and he served as its Vice President from 1973 until his death. In 1967 Pizzini was elected to the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna, an honour he said was especially important to him because two centuries earlier the Bologna society had conferred the same distinction on Mozart.

Pizzini represented RAI and the Accademia of Santa Cecilia on the juries of prestigious international competitions and at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. As a conductor he gave concerts all over the world, usually featuring his own compositions. He wrote in almost every form, from chamber music through music for choir, orchestra and band to incidental music for theatre, television and films. Pizzini’s works have been performed by famous conductors such as Jean Martinon, Bernardo Molinari and (with the Berlin Philharmonic) Carl Schuricht; and by leading musical institutions in Italy – including the Augusteo in Rome, La Scala Milan, the Fenice theatre in Venice and Parma’s Teatro Regio – as well as those across the world: from Montreal to Tokyo via Carnegie Hall in New York, the Salzburg Mozarteum, and the Odeon of Herodes in Athens.

Among other honours, Pizzini was made a Cavaliere di Gran Croce in the Italian order of merit and a Chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur, and was awarded the Cross of Merit by the (then) German Federal Republic.

Carlo Alberto Pizzini died in Rome on 8 September 1981. In 1995 his native city named a road after him.


Al Piemonte  (‘To Piedmont’, 1940)

The symphonic triptych Al Piemonte was inspired by the history, the natural beauty and the famously zealous work-ethic of the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where the Roman-born Pizzini lived and worked for many years. The aspects of Piedmont that most appealed to Pizzini – the great aspirations, struggles and glories of its history; the grandeur of its mountains and valleys; and the vigour of the people, especially soldiers and tireless workers in field and factory – are reflected in the three sections of the music:

Insegne gloriose (‘Banners of glory’)
The work opens with a joyful theme for trumpets and trombones. The cyclic return of this theme, in whole or in part, spreads its character across all three movements: it insinuates itself like a tender memory or allusion amid the ecstasy aroused by the alpine landscape, and at the end it unites with the hymn of praise to Fiat workers. Besides this theme, the dominant features of the first movement are a sequence of broad melodic gestures and an episode in march tempo.

Notturno sulle Alpi (‘Alpine nocturne’)
Here the main element is the opening melody sung by a solo cello, which fuses with other melodic shapes from the clarinet and strings, and returns after a crescendo, impassioned, on high trumpets. At the end the atmosphere is transfigured, as thematic fragments characteristic of the Nocturne are sung by clarinet, then oboe, strings and finally a high solo violin.

Macchine e cuori (La Fiat) (‘Cars and hearts (Fiat)’)[Note 1]
The third part begins with insistent pounding major seconds on the double basses, to which the trombones soon add a sequence of dissonant chords. A powerful phrase emerges which is said to reflect the straightforward nature, muscular strength and tenacity of the farm labourer. Chromatic scales on high-pitched instruments and strings excite giddy sensations of feverish energy. Towards the end the multicoloured activity of the factory generates singing lines: the ‘muscular’ phrase is joined by the initial theme of the triptych in a final apotheosis.


Scherzo in stile classico  (‘Scherzo in classical style’, 1931)

When Pizzini was attending Respighi’s Advanced Composition course at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, one of his exercises was to compose a Symphony in C minor. To Respighi’s astonishment, not to say incredulity, Pizzini produced the Symphony in just two days! Respighi suggested that Pizzini include the third movement, this Scherzo ‘in classical style’, in a radio concert he had been invited to conduct, in Milan on 17 November 1931. It is easy to deduce from this music that young Pizzini was a devout admirer of composers of the romantic period, above all Beethoven and Schubert.


Il poema delle Dolomiti (‘The Poem of the Dolomites’, 1931)

The following note appears at the head of the orchestral score:

Risveglio nel sole (‘Awakening in the sun’)
At dawn the towering Dolomite mountain massif stands like a majestic cathedral, seeming to rise up from the shadow of darkness so that its lofty spires shine radiant in the glory of the sun. Praterie fiorite (‘Flower-filled meadows’) Peace is over everything: emerald-green pastures, shady and scented pinewoods; amid the calls of shepherds, the ardent song of life arises, before the magical quiet returns.

Il lago di Carezza (‘The lake of Carezza’)
The waters of the enchanted lake are sparkling. Is it the myriad jewels hidden in the depths, or the rainbow dissolved in the lake by the sorcerer of the Latemar? [Note 2] The highest pines are alive with goblins and sprites: the Carezza fairy sings.

Tofàne eroiche (‘The heroic Tofàne’)[Note 3]: warlike trumpet blasts and volleys of bullets as the combat rages. The crags seem to be bathed in the blood of heroes. Fanfares of victory rise above the roar of battle: the epic chorus of the sacrificed unites with the mountains’ hymn of hosannas to God.»

In the composer’s imagination, the spectacular natural beauty of the Dolomites mingles with memories of heroic Italian wartime exploits. So in the first part the sun’s exaltation of the summits is fused musically with an evocation of the trumpet blasts of a victorious army, and the transition to the second part has another fleeting allusion to war, hinting at the martial rhythms of a phalanx of soldiers. The serenely pastoral melody of the second part, introduced by the cor anglais, returns in the final part in a more violent, energetic and warlike form.

The third part, which has the character of a Scherzo, is inspired by the poetry of the landscape and the legends attributed to it in the popular imagination. It suggests the gigantic mountains and the rainbow-hued glittering of the waters in which they are mirrored; while a grotesque bassoon theme portrays the sorcerer of the Latemar. Legend has it that he conjured up a wonderful rainbow in a vain attempt to lure into his clutches the surpassingly beautiful nymph of the Carezza lake, and then, in fury at being spurned, hurled the rainbow into the watery depths.

Alongside the transformation of the cor anglais theme in the final part, another fundamental element of the composition is the basic theme of the opening part, first heard on the bass clarinet. This recurs in various guises, metamorphosed rhythmically and melodically, in the symphonic development of each of the other parts, matching itself to their expressive character – right up to the triumphal conclusion, a fortissimo peroration in E flat major. At the end of his young pupil’s score, Respighi scribbled ‘Bravo!’, adding: ‘They’ll say to you what they said to me at Carnegie Hall in New York after they played Pines of Rome: «Compliments to you and to the roof!»’ (because it had withstood the huge battery of sound).


Sarabanda per archi, ‘Omaggio a Corelli’  (Sarabande for strings, ‘Homage to Corelli’, 1930)

This piece originated as a Prelude in A minor for string quartet, to which Pizzini later added a part for double bass. There is also a transcription for organ by Ferruccio Vignanelli.


Grotte di Postumia (‘The Caves of Postojna’, 1941)

A divertimento for orchestra in the form of eleven variations on a theme: (1) The cathedral; (2) The ruined castle; (3) The fish; (4) Hell; (5) The mail-coach; (6) Field tent; (7) Madonna and Child; (8) Moslem cemetery; (9) The dwarf; (10) Ballroom; (11) Gothic cathedral.

Composed at the request of the conductor Angelo Questa, Grotte di Postumia was premièred by him with the Orchestra of the Accademia of Santa Cecilia in Rome on 28 December 1941. The work was inspired by a trip the composer made to the caves of Postumia north of the Istrian peninsula, when the region was part of Italy. By the Paris Treaty of 1947 Istria was included in Yugoslavia, and Postumia is now Postojna in Slovenia. Visitor access to the vast and fascinating cave system is by means of a little train, with seats in small open carriages. The train crosses various galleries where the stalactites and stalagmites have over the centuries created shapes that conjure up fabulous scenes and objects.

The theme, introduced by the bass clarinet and taken up by the cellos and bassoon, evokes the enchanted domain of the caves, and it is then elaborated rhythmically and timbrally in a series of variations depicting the different sights. The theme becomes ceremonial in the first variation, ‘The cathedral’; slow in the second, ‘The ruined castle’; and barcarole-like in the third, ‘The fish’. ‘Hell’, the fourth variation, is highly dramatic; while the trotting rhythm of the fifth, ‘The mail-coach’, is pointed up by the horses’ harness bells and the call of the post-horn. The mood turns military in the sixth variation, ‘Field tent’; pastoral in the seventh, ‘Madonna and Child’; and oriental in the eighth, ‘Moslem cemetery’, with ornate decorations on oboe and clarinet. After the scurrying ‘Dwarf’ of the ninth variation, the alto saxophone leads a waltz in the ‘Ballroom’; before in the eleventh and final variation the theme attains the majestic solemnity of the ‘Gothic cathedral’.


Strapaese – Impressioni dal vero (1932)

This is an impression of the feast-day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 15 August, in the province of Lazio – to be precise, the small town of Gerano not far inland from Rome, near the larger and better-known Subiaco.

At dawn on the day of the festival – in a ‘joyous Allegro’ – a drummer does the rounds, beating the traditional reveille. The villagers gather, awaiting the return of those who have made the pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin. When the procession of pilgrims reaches the main square, it is welcomed by the village band and everyone joins in the celebration, with joyful songs, fireworks and dancing the saltarello.[Note 4]

The music translates vivid visual impressions of the festival in an almost photographically descriptive way, drawing kaleidoscopic new timbres from the orchestra. Pizzini even featured an accordion – probably the first Italian composer to do so in a purely orchestral work.[Note 5]

He also experimented, boldly but level-headedly, with the idea of superimposing music in different keys, feeling that traditional tonality was too limited, but that the terrain of atonality (from which he always kept his distance) offered too bumpy a ride.

A curious fact: Respighi was particularly fond of this short piece (after hearing it for the first time he said to Pizzini, “Call it Strapaese!”)[Note 6], so much so that he cut short a visit to Toscanini near Siena in order to be at the first performance, given by Rome Radio on 30 June 1933.


Claudio Pizzini
Translated and edited by David Gallagher

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[Notes]
[1] ‘Macchine’ in fact means both cars and machines, which makes it ideally suited to refer to the famous car manufacturer Fiat – Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (the Italian Automobile Factory of Turin, the chief city of Piedmont). The name Fiat itself has a double connotation – it means ‘So be it’ in Latin.
[2] A group of peaks in the Dolomites, famously seen reflected in the waters of the Carezza lake.
[3] The Tofàne are another group of Dolomite peaks, above the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo; during the First World War they saw intense fighting between the Italian and Austrian armies (1915–18).
[4] An energetic folk-dance in triple time.
[5] The only Italian precedent seems to be Umberto Giordano’s opera Fedora, completed in 1898, whose third act introduces a Swiss shepherd boy with an (onstage) accordion.
[6] ‘Strapaese’ (‘Ultra-localism’) was a cultural movement associated with Italian fascism in the 1930s: it extolled Catholicism and the rural way of life as ‘traditional Italian values’ – rejecting new ideas, especially ones from outside Italy, which were embraced by the opposing ‘Stracittà’ (‘Ultra-urbanness’) movement.

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Al Piemonte (To Piedmont) – Trittico sinfonico (1940)*
Recorded 22 September 1956

Scherzo in stile classico per orchestra (Scherzo in classical style) (1931)***
Recorded 16 June 1955

Il poema delle Dolomiti (The Poem of the Dolomites) – Poema sinfonico (1931)**
Recorded 16 June 1955

Sarabanda per archi, ‘Omaggio a Corelli’ (Sarabande for strings, ‘Homage to Corelli’) (1930)*
Recorded 22 September 1956

Grotte di Postumia (The Caves of Postojna) – Divertimento per orchestra in forma di tema con variazioni (1941)**
Recorded 22 September 1956

Strapaese – Impressioni dal vero (‘Impression of the feast-day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary’) (1932)
Recorded 16 June 1955

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Munich Philharmonic Orchestra • Carlo Alberto Pizzini
All recordings made in the Studios of Bavarian Radio, Munich, Germany

Edizioni Pizzini Roma *
Edizioni BMG-Ricordi **
Edizioni Sonzogno ***
Edizioni Nuova Carisch †


Bavarian Radio mono recordings released by courtesy of Bayerischer Rundfunk. All photographs from the collection of Claudio Pizzini. Special thanks to Claudio Pizzini • Release editor: Peter Bromley


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