|About this Recording
8.554009 - CASELLA, A.: Piano Music (Ballerini) - 9 Pieces, Op. 24 / 6 Studies, Op. 70 / 11 Children's Pieces, Op. 35
Born into a musical family in Turin in 1883, Alfredo Casella showed early ability as a pianist. His father, like his two uncles and his paternal grandfather and his god-father, 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 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 1901-11902, he attended the composition class of Gabriel Fauré, while from the beginning he had studied the piano with Louis Diémer 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 Trocadéro, 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 Mabler 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 Notte di Maggio, a setting for low voice and orchestra of poems by Giosua 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 Società Nazionale di Musica, which later became the Società Italiana 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 statted 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 sogno, 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 It is the second and third of these periods that are exemplified in the present recording.
The Nove Pezzi, Opus 24, (‘Nine Pieces’), come at the beginning of his second 'manner' and were written in 1914. The character of the pieces is indicated clearly in each title. The first of these, In modo funebre, is dedicated to Stravinsky. It makes use of dense, unarpeggiated chords, calling for a wide stretch of hand, and it is found necessary to notate the work sometimes on three or four staves. The mood is indicated both in the title and in the direction Con solennità. The second piece, In modo barbaro, is dedicated to Enrique van der Henst and suggests Bartók in its repetition of accompanying chords, coupled here with harsh discords. It is followed by In modo elegiaco, dedicated to Pizzetti and marked con duolo. There is a melancholy right-hand recitative, marked dolente, quasi parlando, moving forward to a passage of increased intensity, leading to a dynamic climax. After bass notes martellato, quasi timpani, the first melody returns, now in octaves, leading to the characteristic sustained chord of the ending. In modo burlesco, dedicated to Yvonne Lumley, is marked Presto vivace and is suitably capricious in its progress, including a discordant passage marked vivace e grottesco, leading to a final emphatic chord. The following piece, In modo esotico, is suitably dedicated to the composer Florent Schmitt, who had shown his own leaning towards the exotic in his treatment of the story of Salome and in other works. To be played una corda throughout, the piece starts with an unaccompanied and exotic melody, Lento improvissando. There is a central chordal section, gradually fading into the distance before the return of the first improvisatory melody, now accompanied. In modo di nenia, a berceuse, is dedicated to Ravel and maintains a mood of tranquillity in its gently rocking rhythm and plangent harmonies. The seventh piece, In modo di minuetto, is dedicated to Tina Dreyfus and follows the rhythm and pace of the classical minuet and is very typical of the period of its composition in its form and harmonies.
Dedicated to Yvonne Müller, Casella's pupil and, in 1921, his second wife, after the annulment of his earlier marriage, In modo di tango, marked Allegretto indolente e capriccioso, preserves the rhythmic form and mood of the dance, to which an air of mystery is attached. The last piece of the set is dedicated to Malipiero, whose visit to Paris in 1913 had brought friendship with Casella. Marked Allegro vivace, ritmico e robusto, it reflects at least some of Malipiero's contemporary musical interests. Its rough repeated rhythms relax momentarily into something gentler before the return of the original ostinato rhythms. Once again there is a passage of greater tranquillity, marked dolce, pastorale, before the piece comes to an end with bass notes quasi pizzicato and a rush down to a final bottom note.
Casella's Undici Pezzi Infantili, Opus 35, (‘Eleven Children's Pieces’) were written in 1920 and dedicated to the composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The Preludio, marked Allegretto moderato ed innocente, offers the simplest of right-hand melodies against a continued accompaniment of alternating fourths, with the right hand eventually taking its melody to a register below this. It is followed by Valse diatonique, on the white notes of the keyboard, its outer sections, with a right-hand melody based more or less on a five-finger exercise, frame a middle section that might seem a reminiscence of Albéniz. The third piece is a canon, Canone, on the black notes only, with their unavoidable pentatonic outline. Here the left hand follows the right in imitation at the octave. A lively Bolero follows, marked, for good measure, Allegro spagnuolo, leading to Omaggio a Clementi (‘Homage to Clementi’), a real five-finger exercise. The sixth piece is a lilting Siciliana, marked Allegretto dolcemente mosso and with the same classical simplicity of texture. The Giga has the direction Tempo di giga inglese and is melodically and rhythmically appropriate, fading into the distance only to return with renewed vigour. The eighth piece, Minuetto, recalls Ravel in its gentle nostalgia. It is paired with a Musette, with its repeated bass pattern, to be followed by the return of the Minuetto Carillon follows, with the direction cristallino for the right-hand high-register melody of the bells set against a repeated accompanying pattern. The Berceuse starts with an opening accompaniment of alternating fifths, marked quasi celeste. This initial section frames a central passage marked un poco dolente. The whole work ends with a cheerful Galop Final in characteristic rhythm and melodic contour, leading, as so many of the pieces had, to a final sustained chord, now including all seven white notes of the diatonic scale.
In basing compositions on the name of Bach, Casella followed an established tradition. By a lucky chance the letters of Bach's name give, in German letter notation, the notes B flat – A – C – B natural (= H). This cryptogram was used by Johann Sebastian Bach himself and later by Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Busoni and others. Casella's Due Ricercari sul name B-A-C-H, Opus 52, (‘Two Ricercari on the Name B-A-C-H’) was written in 1932 and dedicated to the pianist Walter Gieseking. The chromatic notes of Bach's name are heard at the opening of the first Ricercare, Funebre, written in 1932 to mark the first anniversary of his mother's death, and form the basis of what follows, heard in transposition and in different parts of the contrapuntal texture. At the end the four notes are played together, held in a long sustained final chord. In the second Ricercare, Ostinato, it is, inevitably, the chromatic notes of the BACH motif that is repeated, in one way or another, throughout a piece of rising excitement and acceleration.
The Sei Studi, Opus 70, (‘Six Studies’), were written between 1942 and 1944 and intended both as a musical approach to problems of piano technique and as homage to Chopin, an important pioneer in the musical exploration of technique, and to Ravel. The first of the studies, Sulle terze maggiori (‘On Major Thirds’) is dedicated to the Italian pianist and conductor Carlo Zecchi. There are thirds for the right hand throughout the study, which relaxes briefly into a passage recalling Ravel's La valse. The second study, Sulle settime maggiori e minori (‘On Major and Minor Sevenths’) is dedicated to Armando Renzi. Alternating major and minor sevenths provide an ostinato accompanying figure to a busy texture that twice briefly relaxes into Ravellian reminisceuce. This is followed by Di legato sulle quarte (‘Legato on Fourths’), dedicated to Maria Luisa Faini. Here right-hand fourths, in triplets, are set in cross-rhythm against a left-hand part marked fluido e vaporoso. The harmonies, more than ever, suggest Ravel in an evocative piece. The following study, Sulle note ribattute (‘On Repeated Notes’) is dedicated to Marcella Barzetti and is marked Allegro molto vivace ed agitato, an apt summary of its character. The fifth study Sulle quinte (‘On Fifths’) is described as Omaggio a Chopin No. 2 (‘Homage to Chopin No. 2’). It bears the direction Tempo del "Preludio in La magg." di Chopin (‘In the Tempo of the Prelude in A major of Chopin’). The fifth, are chiefly in the right hand in a piece that again inevitably recalls Ravel in its harmonies. It is dedicated to Lya de Barberiis. The last study, Perpetuum mobile (‘Toccata’), is dedicated to Casella's former pupil, the pianist Pietro Scarpini, a composition pupil of Hindemith. It is, as its title suggests, a study in velocity, taking its headlong course towards what now must seem a characteristic ending, a sustained chord that includes six of the seven notes of the diatonic scale.
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