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8.225205 - GIANNEO: Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3 / 6 Bagatelles
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Luis Gianneo (1897-1968)

Piano Works, Vol. 1

Luis Gianneo was born in Buenos Aires on 9th January 1897 into a musical family of Italian immigrants. Unsurprisingly he began his musical studies at an early age under the leading teachers of the time. He was a piano pupil of Luigi Romaniello and Ernesto Drangosch and studied composition with Constantino Gaito and Eduardo Fornarini. When Fornarini moved abroad, Gianneo relied on his own resources for further study.

During his earlier years Gianneo formed a violin and piano duo with his brother Miguel and also accompanied distinguished visiting violinists, while there were performances of his own first chamber and piano compositions. In 1921 he married the pianist and singer Josefina Ghidoni, a member of the Gianneo musical circle, and in 1923 he moved with his family to the northern city of San Miguel de Tucumán, invited to teach there by his brother-in-law, a well-known cellist, working first as a teacher at the Tucumán Instituto Musical, of which he later became director. Over a period of twenty years he continued in Tucumán as a teacher, pianist and orchestral conductor, helped by his wife in stimulating local musical life. Here he introduced practically all his compositions and performed a great deal of contemporary music by composers such as Stravinsky, Debussy and Respighi. He founded and directed the Philharmonic Association, presided from 1935 over the prestigious Sociedad Sarmiento, and collaborated with the Review of the institution, contributing, in the first issue, in April 1936, a long article on his much admired Stravinsky, whose neo-classical principles he followed and whose influence is clearly reflected in his orchestral Obertura para una Comedia Infantil (Overture to a Children’s Play), first performed in 1937 under his direction in a concert of the Tucumán Asociación Sinfónica.

In 1932 Gianneo joined the Grupo Renovación, founded in 1929 by the brothers Juan José and José Maria Castro, Jacobo Ficher and Juan Carlos Paz. Gianneo, however, was never able to identify himself completely with some of the principles of the group, especially with the ideas of Juan Carlos Paz, whose radical ideas and fixed absolutist attitudes he did not share. Their differences came to a head in 1952, when Paz published an article in the Buenos Aires Musical in which he denied the technical and creative ability of those who did not share his musical ideas, a proposition openly opposed by Gianneo.

The fame of Gianneo had already spread further afield, with acclaim in Buenos Aires for works such as El Tarco en Flor, Pampeanas and Turay-Turay, and important performances of his works in Buenos Aires and major cities of the interior. In addition to participation in a large number of concerts as pianist, conductor or composer, he also served as organist at the Church of St Francis. In these fruitful years in Tucumán he was greatly helped by his wife and his daughters, Celia, a fine pianist, and Brunilda, a talented violinist.

In 1938 Gianneo travelled to Europe with his family with an award from the National Cultural Commission, absorbing there the latest musical trends and visiting Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. In Florence he attended the International Music Congress and in Turin conducted the Orchestra of the Royal Conservatory in his symphonic poem Turay-Turay as part of a concert devoted to the work of Argentinian composers. In Paris he wrote his Cinco pequeñas piezas (Five Little Pieces) and the Sonatina for piano, the First Symphony and the Concertino-Serenata. At the beginning of 1939, some months before the outbreak of war, the family returned to Buenos Aires, where they finally established themselves in 1943.

In 1945 Gianneo founded the Argentinian Youth Orchestra for Radio El Mundo, and then, in 1954, the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Radio Nacional. He served as director of the National Conservatory and was a member of the Cultural Commission and the Academy of Fine Arts. Awards for his compositions included the Prize of the Free Library of Philadelphia for Latin-American Composers for his Concierto Aymara for violin and orchestra, first performed at the Teatro Colón in 1944, and the Municipal Prize of the City of Buenos Aires for his Transfiguración for baritone and orchestra. Commissioned works included the Variaciones sobre un tema de tango (Variations on a Tango Theme) for the Friends of Music Association, Piano Sonata No. 3 for the Association of Chamber Concerts, the symphony Antífona for Radio Nacional, the cantata Angor Dei for the Tucumán Musical September and the Obertura del Sesquicentenario, his last work, for the Organization of American States.

The first ten years back in Buenos Aires brought Gianneo increasing fame, with frequent performances of his music. His work as a teacher was as intensive as it had been in Tucumán, with pupils that included Rodolfo Arizaga and Virtú Maragno, and later the famous conductor Pedro Ignacio Calderón and Ariel Ramirez, the very distinguished pianist and composer of traditional Argentinian music. In 1949 Alberto Ginastera invited him to serve as Professor of Harmony, Instrumentation and Composition at the recently created Conservatory of Music and Drama of La Plata.

From 1955, after the coup d’état that ousted General Perón, Gianneo was appointed inspector of the National Conservatory. In the same year his wife died suddenly, after a short illness. Soon afterwards his two daughters moved to Europe for further study and he spent a number of years alone before marrying Inés Rosa Sayans in 1960. With her he travelled to Europe, sent by the Ministry of Education to study new methods of musical education in practice there.

Gianneo’s son Luis Alejandro was born in Rome in 1961. He dedicated his 1962 cantata Angor Dei to his wife and to his son the 1965 Poema de la Saeta. In the latter year he was elected President of the Argentinian Society for Music Education. In 1967 he undertook his third journey to Europe, making contact there with state broadcasting stations, academies and theatres, to promote the performance of music by Argentinian composers. He died eight months after his return to Buenos Aires, on 15th August 1968, while revising the score of Transfiguración for a coming performance.

Gianneo’s work can be divided into four periods of different duration. The first is a stage of development, between 1913 and 1923, under the European influences of the great German romantics and the French impressionists, principally in piano music. The second transitional stage occurs between 1923 and 1932, from his move to Tucumán to his collaboration with the Grupo Renovación. This stage brought together his formal European training and the folk elements through which he sought a national musical language. The third stage, one of maturity, is the twenty-year period from 1933 to 1953, during which the two principal tendencies derived from the use of folk-music and from neo-classicism combine into a unique musical language, refined over the years and ending, in the last piano works, in a wonderful simplicity and economy of resources. The fourth stage of full achievement covers the last fifteen years of his creative life, when he moved gradually towards his disciplined use of dodecaphony. During this stage, he only wrote four works for the piano, and after 1959 he no longer wrote for this instrument. In 1962, after a period of four years in which he wrote nothing, he composed the ballet El Retorno. Immediately afterwards he wrote the cantata Angor Dei, the Three Pieces for violin (1963), Antífona (1964), the Poema de la Saeta (1965) and the Overture for the 150th Anniversary (1966), the last of these composed two years before his death.

The most important of Gianneo’s piano compositions come from the third stage of his career, as he continued to refine his musical language. The acclaimed Suite of 1933 is in three movements and achieves a happy synthesis of vernacular elements in a contemporary musical framework, with national elements that are not merely exotic or picturesque additions but rather form the backbone that supports the musical discourse of the work. In the first movement, in A minor, he uses a range of contrapuntal techniques suggesting the form of the sonata. The thematic economy and the use and development of small motivic cells show the composer’s understanding of neo-classicism in a virtuoso movement of constant feverish rhythmic activity in quavers, surprising changes of timbres and registers and effective elaboration and placing of climaxes. The ternary second movement is based on a theme resembling a yaravi, a kind of sad song typical of the north-west of Argentina. As in the whole work, the last movement is firmly based on folk-music elements. Relatively free in form, three main sections can be identified, the central one of which, slightly slower, serves as melodic relief from the rapider music that frames it. The piece ends with a brilliant final section containing a virtuoso cadenza.

The Sonatina of 1938, completed in Paris, is in three movements and is written in a limpid and balanced neo-classical language, with a generous use of counterpoint. The thematic material is derived from the rhythms and melodies of Argentinian folk-music, in writing that recalls baroque textures in its use of counterpoint and the constant rhythmic semiquaver activity. The first movement is based on a single modal syncopated theme, stated in the first eight bars, derived from the candombe rhythm, a dance of Afro-American origin from the River Plate region. The second movement is a minuet in ternary form with a coda, fresh and diaphanous in its writing, with a full use of parallel fourths that, with a series of arpeggiated chords, suggests the sound of the guitar. The last movement is broadly in classical rondo-sonata form. Its principal theme, in A natural minor and suggesting something of the Dorian mode, is based on the rhythm of the chacarera, a dance from north-west Argentina. The central section, marked Più lento, offers four successive entries of the theme in a fugato.

Gianneo’s Sonata No. 2 of 1943 is, with the Suite, perhaps the most ambitious work of the time. It has three movements and is written in a neo-classical style, but has as its basis themes of folk origin in both the first and last movements. The first movement is a delicate contrapuntal framework dominated by a single theme that recalls the rhythm of the chacarera, worked in distinctive colours and tempi, in different registers of the piano, either in imitations or in virtuosic passages full of scales, arpeggios and fortissimo chords. The second movement, Romanza, is a lyrical song articulated over two themes, barely a little more complex than the cradle-songs of his children’s pieces. The third movement, marked Allegro molto, sets off furiously in the chacarera rhythm, above which the first theme is developed. After a short transition, strong chords diminish until the introduction of the second theme, slower, cantabile, strongly modal in character. The central part offers some short new themes over undulating scale passages, in the midst of a strong rhythm that recalls the theme of the opening. The recapitulation brings back the first theme in exact form and joins it with the second in a difficult scintillating passage of rapid scales. The closing section, brilliant and providing great pianistic display, brings a grandiose repetition of the second theme.

Gianneo’s Improvisación was written in 1948 and seems to be an elegy, perhaps in memory of his friend, the violinist Enrique Mario Casella, who died in that year. The work is an expression of nostalgia for the countryside of Tucumán, with the first and final sections marked by a constant quaver rhythm, with the immediate repetition of the first and second phrase. The four-bar descending bass ostinato contributes to the dark, funereal mood, with the same melodic phrase used to end each phrase in the right hand. The central section is, on the other hand, more luminous and passionate. The limpid harmonies touch, from time to time, on the Phrygian and Lydian modes.

Written in 1956, in the fourth period of his career, Gianneo’s three-movement Sonata No. 3 is cyclical in structure, heart-rending and harsh, seeming to reflect his sorrow at the death of his wife and also the turbulent and unfortunate political situation of the country. The first movement introduces the motifs to be developed throughout the sonata, always showing major-minor duality. The short second theme has a folk character. In the development the generative motifs are transformed to become opposing elements and the second theme appears fleetingly to add a tinge of sadness to the vivid drama. The second movement is in three sections, worked together in a filigree pattern of contrapuntal motifs. There is a slow and lonely sad song of the pampas, amid the dissonances of the counter-theme. In the middle section there is a distant sound of a tango rhythm, accompanying a slight modification of the opening theme, extended to be juxtaposed with the motifs of the first movement in a wild climax. The third part is a fugato. The third movement Rondo, in the clear rhythm of a malambo, takes up again the harmonic idea and motifs of the first movement. At this point appears a quotation of Arrorró Indígena (Indian Lullaby), one of the movements of his work Música para Niños (Music for Children) written in 1941, followed by the motif of the first bar of the first movement, but with its rhythm somewhat changed, to state again thereafter the initial basic malambo.

The Seis Bagatelas (Six Bagatelles), written between 1957 and 1959, in manuscript like Sonata No. 3 and Improvisación of 1948, complete the cycle of piano compositions. Here Gianneo avoids any overt nationalism, except for the slightly tango-type rhythm of the fourth Bagatelle. The sixth, too, makes a slight allusion to the fifth of the Cinco Pequeñas Piezas (Five Little Pieces) of 1938, the moto perpetuo. These six micro-structures are in strict counterpoint, with the third Bagatelle a clearly modal canon in two parts at the minor seventh. The harmony is worked out within these parameters, with a great economy of resources, suggesting two-part inventions, as much as anything else.

Dora De Marinis

(Translated and abridged by Keith Anderson)

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