About this Recording
8.572500 - CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 1 (West Australian Symphony, Penny)

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968):
Shakespeare Overtures • 1


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, born in Florence, Italy, studied composition and pianoforte at the Istituto Musicale Cherubini and later at the Liceo Musicale of Bologna. His mentors were Pizzetti and Casella, members of the influential and progressive Società Italiana di Musica, a group of composers (including Malipiero and Respighi), with whom Castelnuovo-Tedesco became closely associated.

In 1938, as a result of Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts, Castelnuovo-Tedesco decided to leave for the United States. From Switzerland he wrote to Toscanini and Heifetz who both promised him friendship, lodging and the possibility of further work in the film studios of MGM. On his arrival in New York in July 1939 he was met by Heifetz who also commissioned a violin concerto which was fulfilled straightaway. Toscanini performed the overture The Taming of The Shrew later that year “more admirably than I ever heard it before.” After settling in California Castelnuovo-Tedesco became a prolific writer of film music between 1940 and 1956, in the same period composing more than seventy concert works. As a member of the faculty of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, he numbered among his pupils Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn, and the composer John Williams. His works include operas, ballets, film scores, orchestral works, a quantity of choral pieces and songs, chamber music, piano compositions, and over a hundred pieces for guitar, ranging from concertos to many solos and duos.

The art of William Shakespeare was a recurring fascination for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In the early 1920s he set to music 33 songs from the plays as well as 35 sonnets. In addition to the six Overtures on this recording and the five on Volume 2 (Naxos 8.572501), he also wrote two Shakespearean operas, The Merchant of Venice (1956) and All’s Well That Ends Well (1957).

The eleven overtures¹ were composed in the following order:

La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew), Op. 61 (1930)
La dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), Op. 73 (1933)
Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice), Op. 76 (1933)
Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar), Op. 78 (1934)
Il racconto d’inverno (The Winter’s Tale), Op. 80 (1935)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 108 (1940)
King John, Op. 111 (1941)
Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134 (1947)
The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135 (1947)
Much Ado about Nothing, Op. 164 (1953)
As You Like It, Op. 166 (1953)

Throughout his eleven overtures Castelnuovo-Tedesco creates impressions of specific aspects of the drama rather than following closely the details of the plot. Direct quotations from the texts introduce musical ideas, continuing through the score to signify new sections or change of mood. The works are written for large orchestra, though the first, The Taming of the Shrew, being less ambitious, uses strings, double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, one trombone (no tuba), timpani, piano and harp, and a generous percussion section including xylophone and glockenspiel.

As the overtures grew in magnitude, orchestral specifications often employed triple woodwind; three flutes (one with piccolo), two oboes and cor anglais, two clarinets and bass clarinet, three bassoons, and (on one occasion) contra-bassoon. Brass requirements consist of four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba. Two harps are needed, sometimes with celesta and piano. Timpani is used alongside a percussion group of tubular bells, xylophone, glockenspiel, bass drum, side drum, cymbals, triangle and castanets. A large string section is required with frequent solos and regular use of divided parts.

The overture for Julius Caesar opens with Roman citizens on their way to make holiday to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph. A series of fanfares present a descending theme illustrating the Soothsayer’s cautionary Beware the Ides of March. Caesar’s Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight, in Act II, Scene 2, presages a brooding section where distant fanfares alternate with other declamatory moments. Calphurnia’s advice to her husband, Caesar, follows, Do not go forth to-day: call it my fear / That keeps you in the house, and not your own, recalling the Soothsayer’s earlier descending theme, which moves into a reprise of the fast section to depict The noise of battle hurtled in the air. The Soothsayer’s warning figure returns. In Act III, Scene 1, Caesar, surrounded by conspirators in the Capitol, is stabbed and dies uttering the words, Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar! A funeral march begins on bass clarinet, subsequently evoking the opening fanfares, as Antony, addresses the mob and argues I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. This builds to a mighty statement as Antony’s speech reaches its climax with Here was a Caesar! When comes such another? before the music fades to distant fanfares on three trumpets and the fall of the curtain.

The Taming of the Shrew reveals Castelnuovo-Tedesco at his most lyrical. Though no quotations from the play were included in the score, the main dramatis personae, Katharina, the Shrew, and Petruchio, a Gentleman of Verona, Suitor to Katharina, are announced early on. An opening figure on trumpets and xylophone, and a further rollicking theme, lead on to a delicate oboe interlude. A stronger version, superbly written for horns, throws the theme around the ensemble in an orchestral tour de force. A brief episode for solo violin and cello, marked Appassionato ma largamente, expresses the developing relationship with a light touch.

At just over seventeen minutes, Antony and Cleopatra is the longest of the overtures. The protagonists, following Julius Caesar’s assassination and the battle of Philippi, are Octavius Caesar and Mark Antony, the latter infatuated with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. The first part, entitled On the Nile, depicting Antony and Cleopatra together, begins with a flute theme over the harp’s accompanying octaves. The second episode, A Rock Near Actium, starts with quiet fanfares from afar. Antony has returned to Rome and the themes pile up, one against another. A strong ascending chromatic idea emerges resulting in a further reprise of the main theme. The cor anglais plays meditatively while the darker cellos and violas with bass clarinet ponder the complexities of Antony’s desertion of his wife, Octavia, for Cleopatra. Finally, in A Mausoleum in Alexandria, Antony, on hearing false reports of the queen’s death, attempts suicide, before dying in Cleopatra’s arms. She then kills herself by means of a poisonous snake. The composer added two quotations to the score for this scene, Cleopatra’s words to the Clown (who has brought the asp in a basket to her), in Act V, Scene 2, Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, / That kills and pains not? followed by Octavius Caesar’s concluding elegy, She shall be buried by her Antony: / No grave upon the earth shall clip in it / A pair so famous. This distillation of the plot into a musical representation demonstrates Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s style to perfection. His use of the intervals of fourths in an emphatic re-statement of a theme or contrasting harmonizations of a repeated leitmotif, are some of his most characteristic compositional devices. The more grandiloquent moments anticipate the epic sweep of Miklós Rózsa’s film scores for Ben Hur or Quo Vadis of the 1950s, though Castelnuovo-Tedesco never claimed to be the first practitioner in this genre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, less than seven minutes in duration, opens with repeated chords on woodwind and horns, recalling Mendelssohn’s tribute to this play, to which all pay homage. A theme on muted strings and a cello solo give way to the impish Puck and mischievous fairies. This evocation of the woodland does not venture far into the plot in its treatment of disunited lovers or the mocking of the rude mechanicals. There is no braying ass and little of sinister Oberon in this most atmospheric of works.

The overture to Coriolanus, without a dedication or quotations, takes as its single theme a leitmotif for Coriolanus. Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a Roman general who aspires to be elected as Consul, but having won support in the Senate, he loses the popular vote, commenting in Act III, Scene 1, that for ‘the rabble’ to have any influence is to bring in the crows / To peck the eagles. Coriolanus is subsequently condemned as a traitor and banished. Exiled, he decides to march on Rome but instead concludes a peace treaty with his enemies. Conspirators, however, taking revenge for his betrayal, kill him as a traitor. The treatment of this single theme, with varying moods, is intensely dramatic. The single leitmotif is deployed almost with excessive repetition but various compositional devices, such as canon and counterpoint, present a brilliant display of orchestral colour in an imaginative enactment of the fall of Coriolanus.

The title page to Twelfth Night features the immortal words spoken by Orsino, Duke of Illyria, If music be the food of love, play on, followed by his request, in Act II, Scene 4, to Viola (disguised as the boy, Cesario), Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song, / That old and antique song we heard last night. The music begins with a cor anglais solo marked Andantino malinconico. A quicker section entitled Malvolio (vivo e burlesco) with prominent bassoons, has trumpets in three parts, representing the popular song Three merry men be we, referred to by Sir Toby Belch (Act II, Scene 3), in the lines, My lady’s a Cataian, we are politicians, Malvolio’s a Peg-a-Ramsey, and ‘Three merry men be we’. The cor anglais tune returns for the last song, When that I was and a little tiny boy… For the rain it raineth every day. This is taken up in the major key by unison strings, counterpointing the Malvolio music. A Gagliardo is incorporated, its witty ending evoking the comedy’s final words, But that’s all one, our play is done / And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Andrew Penny and Graham Wade

With grateful acknowledgement to Vi King Lim, National Music Library Manager at Symphony Services Australia Ltd, for extra research into the dedications and quotations on the scores of four of these overtures.


¹ The five Overtures with Italian titles—La bisbetica domata, La dodicesima notte, Il mercante di Venezia, Giulio Cesare and Il racconto d’inverno—were engraved by Casa Ricordi in Italy. The remaining overtures were titled in English and for this recording the manuscripts were sent to the library of the ABC in Sydney and copied there. A Midsummer Night’s Dream also appears in some Ricordi catalogues under its Italian title Sogno di una notte di mezza estate.

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