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8.557676 - DALLAPICCOLA, L.: Sonatina canonica / Tartiniana seconda / 2 Studi / Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (Ceccanti, Prosseda)
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Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975):
Complete Works for Violin and Piano, and for Piano

The centenary of the birth of Luigi Dallapiccola prompted something of a reassessment of the Italian composer whose reputation, in the three decades since his death, has been accorded passive respect rather than active promotion. The relatively limited extent of his output, some four dozen works, is belied by its diversity of expression, though following such powerful wartime works as Canti di prigionia (1941) and the opera Il prigioniero (1948), Dallapiccola’s music tends to the contemplative and philosophic, qualities for which his magnum opus, the opera Ulisse, was roundly criticized at its Berlin première in 1968. Yet his questing approach to composition meant that there are few, if any, unimportant or minor pieces, and, while his instrumental works are neither especially numerous nor large-scale in design or ambition, they do provide an illuminating perspective on his musical thinking as a whole.

Although his earliest extant compositions date from his eighteenth year, Dallapiccola was a relatively slow developer who published nothing substantial until the Partita of 1932. Perhaps not surprisingly for a composer from Southern Europe (his formative years were directly affected by being born in the disputed region which, initially part of the Austrian Empire, was absorbed by Italy in 1918), vocal music dominated his creativity from the beginning. His earliest published instrumental piece is the three-part cycle Inni, written in 1935. Subtitled ‘Musica per tre pianoforti’, which indicates its highly unusual scoring (though modern technology allows the work, as here, to be recorded and then multi-tracked by a single pianist), it opens with something akin to a stylized Baroque prelude such as Ravel might have essayed, proceeding to a sombre piece whose funereal manner is checked by a constantly shifting rhythmic emphasis and a gradually accumulating momentum. The final movement pursues an intensive if understated dialogue between the three instruments, culminating in a decisive final gesture.

Dallapiccola did not essay a work for solo piano until 1942-3, when he composed the Sonata canonica after solo violin Caprices by Nicolò Paganini, thereby paying homage both to an earlier age of Italian music, and also the contrapuntal techniques of the Renaissance and Baroque eras which exerted a profound influence on his later compositions. The first movement begins as a gently intricate study, before a livelier music emerges in contrast, with the initial material briefly returning as before. The second movement frames a dance-like idea with overtly rhetorical flourishes, while the third is a pensive and harmonically subtle treatment of one of Paganini’s most winsome melodies. The march-like fourth movement then rounds off the work in a goodhumoured and appropriately capricious fashion.

At the same time he composed the above work, Dallapiccola was also engaged on a ballet score for Venice. Marsia, to a scenario by Aurel Miloss, draws on the Greek legend in which the satyr and flautist Marsyas challenges Apollo to a contest of skill. He is outwitted then flayed alive by the god, while the tears of the mourners become a river bearing Marsyas’s name. The success of its first performance at La Fenice in September 1948 prompted the composer to arrange portions of the ballet for concert use – hence the Frammenti sinfonici for orchestra of 1948, and the Tre episodi for piano of 1949. The latter is so compiled as to make an effective slow-fast-slow format away from the ballet’s directly descriptive concerns. It begins with Angoscioso, a moody study whose undemonstrative virtuosity infers the more impressionist piano writing of Debussy and Ravel, building to a brief but strident climax before the sombre close. Ostinato, dominated by rapid repeated-note sequences, suggests early Prokofiev in its scintillating brilliance and dynamic range. Sereno, by turns stark and lyrical, and shot through with an acute poignancy, brings the sequence to a quiet though not necessarily calm conclusion.

The protracted composition of Il prigioniero gave rise to several smaller works, not the least of which is Due studi for violin and piano. Its genesis lies in music for a documentary by Luigi Magnani on the life of Piero della Francesca which never materialised, and which Dallapiccola then reworked directly to fulfil a commission from the Basle branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1947 (the pieces were themselves revised as Due pezzi for orchestra the same year). Not that the original subject-matter was discounted: the chaste and ruminative Sarabanda draws on the white shadings dominant in the painting of the Queen of Sheba’s procession, while the fierce and angular Fanfara e Fuga evokes the red colouring in the depiction of the death of Cosroe, King of Persia.

In 1952 Dallapiccola wrote what is perhaps the most purely attractive of his instrumental works. Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (orchestrated two years later as Variazioni) is dedicated to the composer’s daughter on the occasion of her eighth birthday, her name being a consequence of having being born in the wake of Florence’s liberation from German occupation. The relaxed and engaging nature of the music belies its very strict technical apparatus, one embodying both the twelve-note serial thinking that the composer had absorbed over the preceding decade, and a direct homage to Bach. A transcription of his initials, B flat – A – C – B natural, is given at the opening of the first piece, Simbolo, in which serial and tonal elements combine in a prelude of thoughtful anticipation, perhaps the nearest Dallapiccola came to evoking the spare late manner of Busoni. The brusque manner of Accenti leads directly into the elegant canon of Contrapunctus primus, then the limpid melodic flow of Linee similarly precedes the playful Contrapunctus secundus. Fregi has the feel of a nocturne, while Andantino amoroso e Contrapunctus tertius has a melodic line played forwards as well as backwards. The playful Ritmi is followed by the sensuous Colore, then the stark Ombre, before Quartina rounds off the suite expressively much as it began.

The latest work here underlines Dallapiccola’s involvement with the Italian baroque, specifically the composer Giuseppe Tartini, with whom he shared a fascination for contrapuntal techniques such as the present work brings out in full measure. Having produced the divertissement Tartiniana, derived from movements of unpublished violin concertos, in 1951, Dallapiccola wrote a Tartiniana seconda during 1955-6. First heard in violin and piano scoring, it was promptly orchestrated, with the addition of a brief Intermezzo. Both pieces differ from the Baroque and Classical realisations of the previous Italian generation in avoiding pastiche, as Dallapiccola was concerned not with evoking a past era, but in what relevance its music had for the present. The work opens with a keenly expressive Pastorale which evokes a mood of graceful yearning, and is followed by the rhythmically muscular Tempo di Bourrée, then the airily virtuosic Presto; leggerissimo. The final, longest movement was also the first to be written (as an ‘Improvisation after Tartini’), Variazioni unfolding as a sequence of contrasted variants on the commanding theme announced at the outset.

Richard Whitehouse

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