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8.570931 - MARTUCCI, G.: Orchestral Music (Complete), Vol. 3 (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) - Piano Concerto No. 1 / La canzone dei ricordi
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Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909): Complete Orchestral Music • 3
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 40 • La canzone dei ricordi


Giuseppe Martucci was born in Capua on 6 January 1856 and had initial piano lessons from his father. He gave recitals with his sister before he was nine and was a full-time student at the Real Collegio in Naples from 1868, studying the piano with Beniamino Cesi and composition with Paolo Serrao, whose advocacy of the Austro-German repertoire, unusual in Italy for that time, had a decisive influence on Martucci. Returning to the concert platform in 1874, he gave his first Milan recital the next year and subsequently toured to London and Dublin. 1878 saw him in Paris, where his abilities as pianist and composer were warmly applauded, but more significant had been his appointment the previous year as principal conductor of the newly formed Orchestra Napoletana, which gave its first public concert in January 1881 and by 1884 was widely considered the best in Italy.

In 1886 Martucci was appointed to three major posts in Bologna, notably the directorship of the Liceo Musicale, which enabled him to develop further as an academic and conductor, championing a broad range of nineteenth-century orchestral music and appearing as a guest-conductor in cultural centres throughout Western Europe, while also acting as mentor to many younger Italian composers. In 1902 he returned to Naples to take up the directorship of the Conservatorio (formerly the Real Collegio), in which city he continued his programming of new or unfamiliar orchestral and operatic repertoire, though his health was by now declining and he died in Naples on 1 June 1909.

From the start of his career as a pianist Martucci extended the repertoire, with Bach, Rameau and Scarlatti all prominent in his recitals. As a conductor, he helped to make Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms (the Italian première of whose Second Symphony he gave in 1882), familiar to Italian audiences, while his championing of Wagner saw the Italian première of Tristan und Isolde in 1888 and Neapolitan première of Götterdämmerung less than a year before his death. British music was also well represented (he programmed Stanford’s Irish Symphony on several occasions), while his interest in French music saw him advocate Franck, d’Indy and latterly Debussy.

Although the piano dominates Martucci’s output (notably his earlier years), he wrote several major chamber works, including a Piano Quintet, two Piano Trios and sonatas for violin and cello, with orchestral music represented by various transcriptions as well as two symphonies and two piano concertos. These latter enjoyed only limited success in Italy, but his standing as the foremost Italian orchestral composer in the later nineteenth century was widely acknowledged.

Completed while he was staying in Paris, the First Piano Concerto (1878) was probably intended as a vehicle for Martucci’s own pianism, but he seems to have been disappointed by his effort and never performed it, the manuscript remaining at Naples Conservatory until publication 95 years later. While the work is indebted to composers of an earlier generation, not least Mendelssohn and Chopin, it yet possesses a formal solidity as well as an expressive immediacy that are hardly without merit in an era when the vast majority of pianist-composers produced concertos as vehicles for their own playing.

An ominous horn-call sets the first movement in motion, with the initial orchestral theme building to a climax which is followed by more reflective music then a poetic theme on strings. The mood again darkens, then after a brief passage for strings the soloist enters with a stormy rendering of the opening theme. Piano and orchestra expand on this, before the former takes up the strings’ theme and develops its expressive qualities accordingly. This grows in ardour, leading to a lengthy transition (which effectively takes the place of a development) that sees the intensified return of the opening in a heated dialogue. The strings’ theme follows, now with a fervency that uncannily anticipates Rachmaninov, but the opening theme is pervasive in a coda bringing the movement to a restive end. Ushered in by the strings, the slow movement centres on a lyrical theme in which the soloist provides both melody and accompaniment, albeit one that is underpinned by often lush string textures. By contrast, the central section commences with some impetuous piano writing, though woodwind allusions back to the initial theme effect a brief climax which, on being cut short, paves the way for its resumption; woodwind now joining with strings as the movement rises to a fervent emotional plateau before concluding in pensive calm. Anticipatory gestures on woodwind and strings build to a crescendo which duly launches the finale, its rapid main theme expounded by piano and complemented by a more relaxed melody which is introduced by the strings and taken up capriciously by the soloist. The main theme then provokes alternately stormy and poetic exchanges, climaxing in a forceful reiteration of the first theme before the wistful return of its successor. It remains for the main theme to see the whole work through to its decisive close.

Martucci wrote no operas, while an early setting of the Mass and an oratorio were never performed. The only major vocal work from his maturity is thus the song-cycle La canzone dei ricordi (The Song of Remembrance), composed with piano accompaniment in 1887 and orchestrated eleven years later. Setting poems by Rocco Emanuele Pagliara, the piece is significant in that orchestral song-cycles were then all but unknown in Italy, although Martucci probably knew Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, while the subtle continuity of mood and thematic links between songs anticipate such works from the decades to come.

The first song sets the tone of the overall work with its recollection of a past happiness such as can never be recaptured. The second song then intensifies this in its evocation of spring as a time for hope and anticipation, with the shimmering accompaniment evoking ‘forest murmurs’ of a decidedly Italianate sensuousness. The third song alternates deftly between past and present as the words of an old serenade are recalled with a wistful regret such as intensifies markedly towards the close. The fourth song is the shortest and the simplest, its description of a boat at sea conjuring forth images of joy and freedom that are both mirrored in the liveliness of the orchestration. The fifth song is the most intense, the revisiting of a place where love once blossomed has become a source of lament now that it can offer no comfort. The sixth song is the climax of the cycle and also unusual in that its plangent opening section is merely an introduction to the fonder recollections of time and place that follow, with the initial music returning in an orchestral postlude. The seventh song functions as an epilogue to the cycle as a whole: extracts from the first song return in a setting where the voice is made secondary to the orchestra’s allusions to earlier themes, as the work draws slowly to its close in a mood of rapt serenity.

Richard Whitehouse

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