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8.553706 - CASELLA, A.: Paganiniana / Serenata / La Giara Suite (Radio Svizzera Italiana Orchestra, C. Benda)
English 

Alfredo Casella (1883-1947)

Paganiniana Op. 65
Serenata Op. 46bis
La Giara Op. 41bis

Born into a musical family in Turin, Alfredo Casella showed early ability as a pianist. His father, like his two uncles, paternal grandfather and godfather, Alfredo Piatti, was distinguished as a cellist, but it was from his mother that he had his early piano lessons. At the age of twelve, on the advice of the composer, pianist and conductor Giuseppe Martucci, director of the Liceo Musicale in Bologna and a family friend, and of the old violinist Antonio Bazzini, director of the Milan Conservatory, it was decided that he should study at the Paris Conservatoire. With the death of his father in 1896, after some years of illness, he and his mother moved to Paris, where, in November, he began his studies. There, in 1901-1902, he attended the composition class of Gabriel Fauré, while from the beginning he had studied the piano with Louis Diemer and harmony with Xavier Leroux. He remained in Paris for some nineteen years, associating with Ravel and with the Romanian George Enescu, admiring Debussy and the Russian Stravinsky, but above all at first influenced by Mahler and Richard Strauss, and by performances of Wagner he had first heard in Turin under Toscanini. After leaving the Conservatoire in 1902 he embarked on a career as a pianist and harpsichordist, primarily working in chamber music and as an accompanist. It was at this period that he wrote his first two symphonies. In 1911 he embarked on an intended series of popular symphony concerts at the Trocadero, conducting, as he had done intermittently over previous years, but the series had to be abandoned after the first five concerts. The general artistic atmosphere of Paris had its influence on him and the weightier influence of Mahler and Strauss was replaced by that of composers such as Stravinsky and Albeniz, all of which suggests a certain eclecticism.

Casella 's career in Paris reached a height of contemporary distinction with the 1914 performance of his song-cycle Nolle di Maggio, a setting for low voice and orchestra of poems by Giosue Carducci, a scholar and writer who had devoted his attention to a patriotic revival of interest in the Italian past. The work had a mixed reception. By 1915 Casella had realised that his future lay in Italy. In that year he settled in Rome, teaching the piano at the Liceo Musicale di Sta Cecilia until 1923 and thereafter, during the following decade, responsible for a master-class at the Liceo. It was here that he found himself a figure of importance in a circle of young Italian musicians who shared his ambition to bring a country that generally seemed musically provincial and backward into the mainstream of the European music with which he had been familiar in Paris.

In 1917 Casella established the Societa Nazionale di Musica, which later became the Societa ltaliana di Musica Moderna and then, in 1923, he set up, with rather different aims, the Corporazione delle Nuove Musiche, affiliated to the International Society for Contemporary Music, which had been founded in Salzburg in 1922. In the earlier society various composers found a place, including Respighi, Malipiero, Pizzetti, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the conductor and composer Vittorio Gui and Puccini's generally acknowledged successor Riccardo Zandonai. The Corporazione, however, aimed to introduce a wide international spectrum of contemporary music to Italian audiences. The new organization, which continued for the next five years, was established in conjunction with Malipiero and with the strong moral backing of Gabriele d'Annunzio and soon the very practical financial support of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The composers in the earlier society, which, over three years, had served its own limited purpose, were obviously divergent in their styles and aims and there were serious divisions, when, subsequently, more conservative composers such as Respighi, Pizzetti and Zandonai attacked the progressive tendencies of the 1930s, which continued in spite of this and in spite of the banning of Italy from the ISCM in 1939. Casella, however, remained a leading figure in the crusade to bring to the Italian public a wider awareness of contemporary musical trends abroad, something he was able in part to achieve by his own work as a concert pianist and as a conductor.

Not confining his interest to the promotion of contemporary music, Italian and from abroad, Casella also had a deep interest in earlier Italian music, demonstrated in his realisations and arrangements, as well as in his writing. He was a leading figure in Italian music in his time, director for some years of the Venice Festival of Contemporary Music and in 1939 playing an important part in establishing the Settimane Musicali Senesi for the performance of early Italian music, in conjunction with the activities of the Accademia Musicale Chigiana that Count Guido Chigi Saracini had started in Siena in 1932.

Casella's active career, during which he embraced to some extent the patriotic principles of Mussolini's fascism, finding an element of operatic inspiration in the Abyssinian campaign, continued until the onset of illness in 1944, something that still did not prevent him from continuing in performance until shortly before his death in 1947. The last of his seven operas, La rosa del sagno, based on his orchestral work Paganiniana of the year before, was staged in Rome in 1943, the year of his Harp Sonata and of his related Concerto for piano, percussion and strings.

Three stylistic periods have generally been identified in Casella's career as a composer. The first of these spans the period until 1913, during which he was subject to various influences. From 1913 until 1920 he indulged in more experimental modernism, while the final period of his creative life brought together earlier elements, now in a style that was purely personal in its use of counterpoint and its drawing of inspiration from earlier Italian music.

Casella's grandfather, the cellist Pietro Casella, had been a close friend of Paganini and had taught the latter's son Achille. In 1942 Casella completed a Divertimento, under the title Poganiniana, making use of melodies taken from Paganini, while avoiding the melody so familiar for its use by Brahms, Rachmaninov and others. Paganiniana, Op. 65, was later to be re-used for La rosa del sogno (The Dream Rose) in 1943, for which Aurel von Milloss, director of ballet at the Rome Opera, provided choreography for which the original work is well suited. The Divertimento starts with a perpetuum mobile, followed by a little Polka, a more expressive Romanza and a final Tarantella. In all four movements there is something of Stravinsky in the instrumentation and the chromatic alterations in what still remains fundamentally diatonic harmony.

Something of the same idiom is apparent in Casella's Serenata, Op. 46, written in the space of six weeks in late 1927 and dedicated to his then friend, the composer and director of the Rome Conservatorio di Sta Cecilia, Giuseppe Mule. Originally scored for clarinet, trumpet, violin and cello, it was composed in response to an invitation that Casella discovered by chance among the papers on his desk for a chamber composition for between three and six instruments as an entry to a competition by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia. Having sent his entry before the end of the year, the closing date, Casella then forgot about it but was delighted when the Serenata, from among the 645 compositions submitted, shared the first prize with Bartók's Third String Quartet. He subsequently arranged the work for chamber orchestra. A lively march starts the Serenata, a movement that, very properly, has its own contrasting trio section. The second movement is a Notturno, introduced in ominous and dramatic tones, before the appearance of a mysterious night-melody, its underlying menace replaced by a characteristic folk-tune, Casella's only use of such a device in this work. The Gavotta, as often enough in Casella's work of his later period, suggests the idiom of Stravinsky's Pulcinella. It is followed by an expressive Cavatina, to be played with feeling but without exaggeration of this element. Its string textures provide a gentle contrast to what has gone before. Calm is dispelled by the final Neapolitan movement, a Tarantella.

Casella wrote his ballet, the choreographic comedy La Giara (The Jar) in 1924 at the suggestion of Erik Satie, with whom he had had no contact for some time. In a letter of 1918 to the musicologist Henry Prunières, Satie had expressed privately his agreement with the latter's dislike of Casella's music at the time, which Prunières had felt to be lacking in sincerity and shifting too easily from the style of Fauré to that of Stravinsky. Satie adds that Casella's music is always lacking in intelligence, dressing his Romans as Cossacks. This was, of course, a judgement of Casella's second period and it must be presumed that Satie had now changed his mind. He himself was at work on Reláche (Respite), an instantaneous ballet with a cinematographic entr'acte and Queue de chien by Rene Clair, to a libretto and decor by the surrealist Francis Picabia and choreography by Jean Borlin for the Swedish Ballet of Rolf de Mare. Casella later discovered the reason for Satie's action. It seemed he had quarrelled with Les Six and in particular with Poulenc, as Casella records in his autobiography, and was anxious to avoid an invitation for a composition being extended to any of that group. The Ballets Suedois had been established by de Mare in Paris in 1920 and he had seemed to share with Dyagilev the ability to make use of contemporary artistic trends to serve his purpose. He now wanted an Italian ballet, as Casella discovered when he arrived in Paris, something to compete with Manuel de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat, with its characteristically Spanish plot, decor and music. La Giara was completed in 45 days and staged on 19th November 1924 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées with choreography by Borlin and decor by Giorgio di Chirico. It was produced at the Rome Opera House in 1928 in tandem with Stravinsky's The Nightingale, the latter being coldly received. The score makes use of popular Sicilian tunes and combines the purely Italian element with the wider European, described by Castelnuovo-Tedesco as sharing equally rustic comedy and the old opera buffa. The suite derived from the score was dedicated to the conductor Willem Mengelberg, who was to serve on the Philadelphia jury that chose Casella's Serenata in 1928 and who conducted the first performance of the suite, which took place in New York.

For the new ballet Casella took a story by Pirandello that his friend Mario Labroca had once intended to use as the basis for a comic opera, Pirandello's story, set in Sicily, concerns the litigious Lollò Zirafa and a great jar he has ordered to contain the oil from an olive-harvest, a jar chest-high and well-rounded. The jar breaks in two and to mend it he engages a man from a neighbouring village who has perfected a wonder-glue that will stick anything. Lollò Zirafa demands that the jar also be given additional reinforcement and this can only be done from inside the jar. Needless to say, once the work is complete, Uncle Dima Licasi is trapped inside and can only get out by breaking the jar again. Since Lollò does not want the jar broken, he pays Dima Licasi in the jar but is presented by his lawyer with a series of possibilities, since, if he does not release the prisoner, he may be charged with kidnapping and have to pay compensation to Licasi. Dima Licasi could, of course, buy the broken jar, but a dispute arises about the price to be set on it, since it was, in any case, broken when Licasi arrived. For the moment, though, the latter is happy to remain in the jar, smoking and drinking with the cheerful peasants, to Lollò's anger. Eventually, at the end of his tether, Lollò pushes the jar over and it rolls into an olive-tree and breaks.

The score opens with an evocative Preludio that Prunières might unkindly have attributed to the influence of Fauré, veering more decidedly towards Stravinsky in the first vigorous interruption and still more in the echoes of the latter as the Danza popolare siciliana (Sicilian Folk-Dance) begins, although this idiom is intermittently softened as the dance continues.

La storia della fanciulla rapita dai pirati (The story of the girl seized by pirates) offers a vocal interlude, gently lilting, Danza di Nela (Nela's Dance) provides a chance for witty allusion, before the heavy-footed Entrata dei contadini (Entrance of the Villagers) and the celebratory Brindisi (Drinking-Song), strongly rhythmic Danza generale (General Dance) and lively Finale.

This recording was made in conjunction with RSI Radio Svizzera Italiana, RETE 2

Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
The Orchestra della Svizzera italiana has existed under its present name since 1991. It had earlier been established in Lugano in 1935 as the Orchestra of Italian Swiss Radio and Television, then an ensemble of some thirty players, based on a smaller group that had worked with the Italian Swiss Radio since its foundation in Lugano in 1933. Directed initially by Leopoldo Casella, who continued his association until 1968, the orchestra had Otmar Nussio, who was for many years head of the music section of Radio Svizzera italiana, as principal conductor from 1938 to 1968. The period brought a broadening of interest in contemporary music, developed further with Edwin Loehrer, chorus-master from 1937 to 1981. From 1969 to 1990 the permanent conductor was Marc Andreae, with a similar encouragement of contemporary music, particularly the work of Swiss composers. The orchestra has collaborated with musicians of the greatest distinction, including Mascagni, Honegger, Wolf-Ferrari, Milhaud, Hindemith, Frank Martin, Luciano Rerio, Hans Werner Henze and Stravinsky. It was for this orchestra that Richard Strauss, in 1947, wrote his Duet-Concertino in F major, Op. 147. The orchestra has also played under the direction of the greatest conductors of the century, including Ansermet, Stokowski, Ormandy, Markevitch, Monteux and many others. In addition to its work in the concert-hall and broadcasting studio at home, the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana has appeared at international festivals and in major musical centres throughout Europe.

Christian Benda
Christian Benda comes from a long-established family of Czech musicians and composers. With the support of Paul Tortelier, for whom he often conducted, he was launched on a musical career by Pierre Fournier. He has taken part in numerous international festivals, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Styriarte, the Steirischer Herbst, the Prague Spring, La Roque d'Antheron, the Schwetzingen, Luxemburg and Hong Kong Arts Festivals and has conducted performances with musicians of the calibre of Lazar Berman, Michel Beroff, Mikhail Rudy, Till Fellner, Boris Pergamenschikow, Josef Suk, Pierre Amoyal and Simon Estes. His collaboration with Barbara Hendricks started in 1995 when, at the invitation of Prague Castle, he conducted a concert with her and the Prague Chamber Orchestra for President Vaclav Havel in the baroque gilded Spanish Hall reserved for exceptional events. With Barbara Hendricks he then toured Latin America, Asia and Europe. Christian Benda makes a speciality of appearing as a soloist in concerts in which he also conducts major items of the symphonic repertoire. His many recordings include orchestral works by Malipiero, J.S. Bach's Musical Offering, the Hamburg Symphonies of C.P.E. Bach (Naxos 8.553285), the Cello Concertos of Carl Stamitz (Naxos 8.550865), the complete Violin Concertos of Haydn, the Cello Sonatas of Boccherini and the complete works for cello by Schumann and for cello and piano by Martinu. Of particular interest are recordings by Christian Benda's ancestor Jiři Antonín Benda, notably his symphonies (Naxos 8.553345-6) and melodramas (Naxos 8.553408-9).


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