About this Recording
8.572330 - GHEDINI, G.F.: Piano Music (Complete), Vol. 2 (Bianchi)
English  Italian 

Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892–1965)
Complete Piano Music • 2

 

Giorgio Federico Ghedini was born on 11 July 1892 in Cuneo, his father, a civil engineer (and fervent admirer of Wagner), having moved there from Bologna. He began his musical studies at a very young age with Evasio Lovazzano, a highly respected teacher and organist. In 1905 he moved to Turin, where he studied the cello with Samuele Grossi at the Liceo Musicale, and composition and harmony privately with Giovanni Cravero. In 1911 he graduated in composition from the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, then under the directorship of Marco Enrico Bossi. Over the next few years Ghedini conducted opera seasons in various northern Italian cities and gained further experience as assistant conductor at Turin’s Teatro Regio, but he soon decided to devote himself to composing. His teaching career also began at this time, and in 1922 he joined the staff of the Liceo in Turin, where, over time, he was promoted to increasingly more prestigious positions. The Liceo had a vibrant, stimulating atmosphere, and some of the figures he met during his time there were to have a great influence on his work (Guido Maggiorino Gatti, Andrea Della Corte and Romualdo Giani, among others). He went on to teach composition at the conservatories of Parma (1938 to 1941) and Milan. He was appointed director of the Milan Conservatory in 1951 and became the key architect of that institution’s rebirth after the dark years of the war. His pupils and colleagues there included some of the greatest names in Italian music of the last century: Berio, Castiglioni, Cantelli and Abbado were among the former, while Vidusso, Donatoni, Manzoni, Canino, Ballista and Giuranna were among the latter. In the meantime Ghedini’s own fame as a composer was growing—his works were now regularly issued by Italy’s major publishers and performed at home and abroad by some of the greatest musicians of the day (such as De Sabata, Karajan, Celibidache, Giulini and Cantelli). His later years were overshadowed somewhat by his bitter disputes with the avant-garde and by his unhappiness with retirement in 1962. He died in Nervi, near Genoa, on 25 March 1965.

Ghedini never adhered to one particular school, remaining “in isolation” and jealously guarding his compositional liberty, although he was always aware of musical developments around him. The only elements he took from contemporary idioms were those which would coexist with his own poetics, unconnected to any “programme”: for him, exceptional technique was always to be deployed in the service of expression. Ghedini’s models were sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian composers (he created wonderful transcriptions of works by the two Gabrielis, Monteverdi and Frescobaldi), but also Bach and, his ultimate ideal, Beethoven. Given his proud independence, critical reception of his music has been somewhat mixed, swaying between praise and censure. At different points in time, Ghedini has been judged both a modernist and a conservative, and the ideological polarities of the mid-twentieth century certainly did him no favours. Today, however, his production, which took in all genres and is yet to be fully explored, is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. His reputation rests principally on the Concerto dell’Albatro of 1945 and a few other oft-cited but seldom performed works, such as the Partita (1926) and Architetture (1940). Much of his music, however, merits revival, including his stage works (Maria d’Alessandria, Re Hassan, La pulce d’oro, Le baccanti, Billy Budd and Lord Inferno), those of sacred or religious inspiration (Il pianto della Madonna presso la Croce, Cantico del sole, Concerto spirituale de l’Incarnazione del Verbo Divino, Concerto funebre per Duccio Galimberti, Credo di Perugia), the evocative, highly original revisitings of earlier instrumental models (the Olmeneta, Alderina and Belprato concertos and the formidable Contrappunti for string trio and orchestra), and his consistently excellent chamber music. The recent Naxos release “Ghedini conducts Ghedini” (Naxos Historical 8.111325) is a significant step in the right direction.

Although idiomatically very much of their time, Ghedini’s piano works cannot easily be pigeonholed into any particular nineteenth-century trend—even limiting our comparisons to the music of his Italian near-contemporaries, we cannot, for example, align them with Respighi or Malipiero’s advanced impressionism, Casella’s neo-classicism or modernism, or Pizzetti’s modal writing. The truth is that these works exhibit characteristics of remarkable originality, such as a predilection for using counterpoint as a structural basis, a quest for personal rhythmic solutions and an attention to timbre and colour. These elements are all present, to varying degrees, in even the earliest works, and a high level of stylistic coherence is a feature not only of the published works of the 1940s (Divertimento contrappuntistico, Capriccio and Ricercare super Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum”), but also of some of the compositions of the 1920s, such as the Sonata and the striking Fantasia (both recorded here for the first time, using the autograph scores held by the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin), as well as the delightful Puerilia pieces, despite their deliberate economy of means (the title translates literally as “childish things”). The first piece on this, the second of a two-volume set bringing together Ghedini’s complete piano music (Volume I: Naxos 8.572329), is the Sonatina in D major, whose manuscript is held by the Ricordi Historical Archive in Milan (in a beautifully written-out version that may have been a fair copy prepared for an unrealised publication). Although the work dates back to 1913, its writing bears testament to two particular features of the twenty-one-year-old composer’s writing: his admirable sense of control and his gift for melody. A feeling of freshness emanates from the Sonatina thanks to themes that display a Schubertian lightheartedness, only momentarily overshadowed by melancholy in the brief development and towards the end of the opening Allegretto grazioso. The second movement is an intimate tripartite Larghetto espressivo with a Vivo coda, while the Finale is a rondo whose ritornello, constructed on repeated notes and semiquaver arpeggios, is animated by a rhythmic energy that seems to subside a little after the third repetition during a section of modal character, only to gather pace again and continue in the same vein to the coda.

The next work on this CD, Puerilia. 4 little pieces on 5 notes (1922), is dedicated to Ghedini’s daughters, Grazia and Fernanda. These four miniatures are incredibly concentrated and vividly descriptive with their amazing concentration and figurative power (the hands have to operate within the space of a fifth and to work hard to develop independence and balance). They paint extraordinarily lifelike portraits of four different animals: an ant, a cat, a cuckoo and a cockerel—inspired by movement in the case of the first two and song in the case of the latter two. Adjacent notes within the span of a fourth are sufficient for Ghedini to render the tenacity and obstinacy of the little insect, while the reverberation of a number of chords (the score is marked “Mosso e misterioso”) and a series of sinuous quadruplets depict a typical feline: sudden bounds alternating with equally unexpected moments of immobility. The cuckoo, meanwhile, is represented by the characteristic descending minor third of its call, which rings out above a delicate, almost “plantlike” interwoven two-part texture. This natural scene anticipates a later depiction of a cuckoo, it too bringing with it a sense of nostalgia, in the finale of the Concerto detto “l’Alderina”. Finally we hear the cockerel, a bird already immortalised by Ghedini in a minuet of 1912, whose somewhat neurotic crowing and hesitant gait are amusingly brought to life through the use of dissonance.

Ghedini’s largest-scale work for solo piano, the Sonata in A flat major, also dates from 1922. On the frontispiece of the autograph is a line from François Villon’s famous Ballade (“des dames du temps jadis”): “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”. This hints at a nostalgic atmosphere, which indeed can be heard in the central movement, although the two that frame it are entirely sunny in nature. The first is marked Sereno con giubilo and is based on a theme which is contrapuntally developed and repeatedly varied. The discourse unfolds with great freedom and the music avoids the tensions and contrasts typical of sonata form, eventually arriving, via ever calmer tempos, at a contemplative finale. It is from this climate of serenity that the tripartite second movement, Raccolto e grave, takes its cue. This is an intimate, harmonically complex piece, emphasising pianistic colour and savouring the “halo” effects of the chords, while the melodic line takes on a recitative-like freedom. The autograph includes the markings soave, dolce, teneramente and the recommendation to broaden the tempo and decrease the dynamics to pianissimo. Towards the end, the music all but dissolves into nothingness. The final movement, Vivo e fresco, is a rondo whose theme is never repeated in identical form, while its strophes are animated with frequent passages in double notes, alternating double notes and rapid scales.

The Fantasia of 1927, dedicated to the pianist Nino Rossi, is a genuine find: a dazzling and highly impressive virtuoso showpiece. The introductory section, Sostenuto ma non troppo, e pesante, moves in impulsive octave passages before we hear the exposition of a descending theme (reminiscent of that of Liszt’s Sonata, also in B minor), out of which there suddenly emerges a fugato. The Fantasia alternates these two elements, re-elaborating, varying and intertwining the introductory octave passages, which generate troubled, stormy sections (there are a number of agitato markings in the autograph), and the theme, which gives rise to constantly new and changing contrapuntal writing to create more “meditative” sections. This continues until the two elements merge and the theme is presented in octaves and in chords. What is so wonderful about the Fantasia is that here freedom and the solidity of the overall structure become one.

After this gem of a piece, Ghedini wrote no more piano music until the 1940s. Then, despite the dramatic circumstances of the Second World War, he created a series of orchestral and chamber masterpieces, including the following three works.

His use of counterpoint as a compositional building block is heard to greatest effect in the Divertimento contrappuntistico, written in 1940 and dedicated to the famous Chilean-born pianist Carlo Vidusso. The term “divertimento” points to the playful spirit of the challenge the composer has set both himself (in writing a piece to exhaust all the combinatory possibilities of a simple original nucleus) and soloists (who will have to draw on every last drop of technical skill to sustain a performance of music driven by an irrepressible energy). The counterpoint in this piece does not proceed by combining multiple lines of melody, as in Bach, but by the creation of blocs of sound, based on the same spatial conception underpinning Ghedini’s orchestral masterpiece of the same year, Architetture. The Divertimento continues without a break and when, for a moment, the discourse appears to pause over a series of arpeggios, the almost organic germination of the music sets the whole thing in motion again. This is where Ghedini’s piano writing comes into closest contact with that of composers such as Prokofiev and Bartók, all the while retaining its own individual character and appearance.

The Capriccio, dedicated to Luigi Dallapiccola, is also characterised by its percussive and modern idiom. Dated July 1943, the score is divided into three sections: an Allegro molto sostenuto (preceded by a three-bar Adagio) with a finely sculpted theme, enunciated by parallel movement and developed by means of monumental chords (Quasi tromboni is what the composer prescribes for the left hand); a central Largo in which gently dissonant chords are the driving force, left to resound in a poco espressiva atmosphere of desolation, as the dynamics are reduced as far as pppp (this is one of Ghedini’s famous “white”, cold and metaphysical works; other indications on the score include senza colore and più chiaro); and a closing Allegro moderato which begins with a fugato, virtuosically varied in dense chordal passages around which snake whiplike arpeggios.

The following year saw the creation of the Ricercare super “Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum” (“As the hart panteth after the water brooks”, Psalm 42) in which the impact of the war years is unmistakable. In a letter of 11 December 1944 to his pupil Attila Poggi, the composer wrote, “I have been working on a fine Gregorian theme and have liberally adorned it using the form and content of a ricercare. And here’s the piece ready in just two days…imbued throughout with Biblical austerity, it seems good to me. In it can be heard the arcane voices of ancient times, a judgement both stern and gentle, and a atmosphere which at times feels rarefied, immaterial.” This work too was dedicated to Nino Rossi. Some years later, in 1956, the composer revised it (this is the version recorded here), and rededicated it, to Marcello Abbado. In the Ricercare obvious virtuosic display is renounced in favour of spare, lean writing that requires the pianist to focus on timbre and touch, making subtle dynamic differentiations between the hands. The music sets off on its course, as if with difficulty, amid broad, virtually static zones of colour and encircling arpeggios that echo the sense of sorrowful and contemplative mystery that characterises the Concerto dell’Albatro (indeed the Ricercare appears to occupy the same expressive sphere as Ghedini’s best-known work). The essence of the Gregorian subject is presented, as a symbol of fragile hope (?) or unattainable purity, while the elaboration to which it is then subjected displays extreme restraint and concentration.

The final piece on this album is the Allegretto of 1957, written for an anthology of music by contemporary composers designed as examination pieces for intermediate-level students. Here again, rhythm and counterpoint form the basis for the construction of a short, playful but perfectly rounded piano work.

Flavio Menardi Noguera
Translation by Susannah Howe

 

“As I listened to these pieces being played by Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi, I was reminded of something my father once said: “This is my credo: music is not a passing fashion, it is everlasting…As society becomes ever more technical, there is a great need for genuine sentiment, which is why music too must be animated, at its core, by a dramatic, romantic impulse… only thus can all its magic be conveyed.”

Maria Grazia Ghedini


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