Italian Clarinet Music of the 19th and 20th Centuries
In the nineteenth century, Italian instrumental music faced a struggle to emerge from the long shadows cast by the dazzling splendours of opera, but its rebirth went through a particularly significant phase in the early twentieth century, reaching its apogee during the two decades of Fascist rule (1923–43): “This period witnessed an unquestionable and magnificent resurgence of interest on the part of the Italian public in symphonic music. New musical societies were established in even the smallest towns of our country, new initiatives were introduced to bring the most modern Italian works to audiences.” («Ufficio Concerti, Bollettino mensile», Anno VI, 15 marzo 1928, p. 1).
At Italy’s leading music schools, operatic paraphrases disappeared almost entirely and new works for clarinet began to emerge, written by young composers and instrumentalists. As well as the sonatas of Giacomo Setaccioli (1868–1925), Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) and Nino Rota (1911–79), which were unknown until a few decades ago and are now considered some of the finest in the international clarinet repertoire, many other musical gems date from this period, some of which are receiving their world première recordings on this delightful album full of surprises. These works are notable for their wealth of musical ideas, sophisticated harmonies and new and original use of the clarinet in the context of chamber music.
Giulio Bonnard (Rome, 1885–Rome, 1972)
Bonnard was one of the most highly regarded Italian composers of the early twentieth century because of the modernity of his music. From the 1930s onwards, he devoted himself more or less exclusively to writing scores for films directed by his brother, Mario Bonnard (1889–1965). He wrote three extraordinary works for clarinet and piano, Valzer da concerto, Notturno and Rondò, in 1937, all of which were performed several times at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome by pupils of Maestro Carlo Luberti (1885–after 1945), for whom they were probably composed.
Guglielmo Cappetti (Arezzo, 1875–Florence, 1918)
Cappetti studied at Florence’s Institute of Music, graduating in clarinet (1891) and organ (1896). An esteemed soloist and conductor, he also taught at the C. Pollini Music Institute in Padua (1899–1901) and was one of the first Italian clarinettists to play with his upper teeth resting on the instrument’s mouthpiece. He wrote a number of attractive works for the instrument in a late-Romantic style, including the dreamy Notturno and the original and virtuosic Suite, both of which feature on this recording.
Agostino Gabucci (Castelfranco di Sotto, Pisa, 1896–Rome, 1976)
Having graduated in clarinet from Milan’s G. Verdi Conservatory (1920), Gabucci played in the orchestras of La Scala, Milan and Italian Radio in Rome, as well as overseas (Egypt and Brazil). He also taught at the conservatories of Cagliari, Florence and Rome. He wrote a remarkable number of studies and other pieces for his instrument which were published throughout Europe and the Americas. Originally composed in 1935 for clarinet and piano, the Aria e Scherzo was reworked in 1968 to create a version for clarinet and string orchestra.
Ciro Stadio (Naples, 1882–after 1938)
One of the best Italian bassoonists of the early twentieth century, Stadio was principal bassoon in the orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples (1910–25), while at the same time performing as a soloist across Europe and the Americas. In the 1930s he was professor of bassoon at the Cagliari conservatory, where his Serenata and Burlesca were used as examination pieces.
Leonardo De Lorenzo (Viggiano, Potenza, 1875–Santa Barbara, USA, 1962)
Principally active in the United States, having emigrated at the age of sixteen, De Lorenzo was principal flute in the New York Philharmonic and Minneapolis and Los Angeles Symphony Orchestras. Also admired as a composer, he wrote the virtuosic Saltarello, Op. 27, for clarinet, clearly paying homage to the characteristic sounds of the traditional music of southern Italy.
Vincenzo Di Donato (Roma, 1887–Sassoferrato, Ancona, 1967)
Having studied under Ottorino Respighi, Di Donato later became conductor of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana (1923–25) and director of the Rassegna Dorica (1929–42), one of the leading musical journals of the Fascist era. His delicate Pastorale dates back to 1920 and is steeped in refined sonorities reminiscent of Debussy.
Gilfredo Cattolica (Civitanova Marche, Macerata, 1882–Bologna, 1962)
Cattolica studied with Mascagni, among others, and worked as a composer, teacher and director of the G. Frescobaldi music school in Ferrara (1910–51). One of the most outstanding works in his vast catalogue of instrumental music is the excellent Duo (1959); here too we find refined sonorities for the piano, above which soars the virtuosic and dazzling part for an instrument Cattolica knew well, having graduated in clarinet in 1904 from the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro.
Giovanni Bellone (fl. Genoa, 20th century)
Another clarinet graduate, this time from the Milan Conservatory (1930), Bellone taught at the music schools of Genoa (from c.1940) and Savona (c.1968). During the 1960s, he patented the “Weber” adjustable tuning barrel which allowed the instrument to be easily tuned during play “simply by turning in one direction or the other”. In 1939 he published the 6 Studi brillanti and the Serenata for clarinet and piano.
Anthony Louis (Antonio Luigi) Scarmolin (Schio, Vicenza, 1890–Union City, USA, 1969)
A hugely prolific Italian-American composer, Scarmolin was also active as a teacher in Union City for more than thirty years, having moved to New Jersey with his family as a child. In late-Romantic vein, the Nocturne and the Introduction and Tarantella represent delightful examples of Italian bel canto and virtuosity.
English translation by Susannah Howe