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8.572828 - GHEDINI, G.F.: Violin and Piano Music (Complete) (Bernecoli, Bianchi)
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Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892–1965)
Complete Music for Violin and Piano


Giorgio Federico Ghedini was born on 11 July 1892 in Cuneo, his father, a civil engineer (and fervent admirer of Wagner), having moved there from Bologna. He began his musical studies at a very young age with Evasio Lovazzano, a highly respected teacher and organist. In 1905 he moved to Turin, where he studied the cello with Samuele Grossi at the Liceo Musicale, and composition and harmony privately with Giovanni Cravero. In 1911 he graduated in composition from the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, then under the directorship of Marco Enrico Bossi. Over the next few years Ghedini conducted opera seasons in various northern Italian cities and gained further experience as assistant conductor at Turin’s Teatro Regio, but he soon decided to devote himself to composing. His teaching career also began at this time, and in 1922 he joined the staff of the Liceo in Turin, where, over time, he was promoted to increasingly more prestigious positions. The Liceo had a vibrant, stimulating atmosphere, and some of the figures he met during his time there were to have a great influence on his work (Guido Maggiorino Gatti, Andrea Della Corte and Romualdo Giani, among others). He went on to teach composition at the conservatories of Parma (1938 to 1941) and Milan. He was appointed director of the Milan conservatory in 1951 and became the key architect of that institution’s rebirth after the dark years of the war. His pupils and colleagues there included some of the greatest names in Italian music of the last century: Berio, Castiglioni, Cantelli and Abbado were among the former, while Vidusso, Donatoni, Manzoni, Canino, Ballista and Giuranna were among the latter. In the meantime, Ghedini’s own fame as a composer was growing—his works were now regularly issued by Italy’s major publishers and performed at home and abroad by some of the greatest musicians of the day (such as De Sabata, Karajan, Celibidache, Giulini and Cantelli). His later years were overshadowed somewhat by his bitter disputes with the avant-garde and by his unhappiness with retirement in 1962. He died in Nervi, near Genoa, on 25 March 1965.

Ghedini never adhered to one particular school, remaining “in isolation” and jealously guarding his compositional liberty, although he was always aware of musical developments around him. The only elements he took from contemporary idioms were those which would coexist with his own poetics, unconnected to any “programme”: for him, exceptional technique was always to be deployed in the service of expression. Ghedini’s models were sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian composers (he created wonderful transcriptions of works by the two Gabrielis, Monteverdi and Frescobaldi), but also Bach and, his ultimate ideal, Beethoven. Given his proud independence, critical reception of his music has been somewhat mixed, swaying between praise and censure. At different points in time, Ghedini has been judged both a modernist and a conservative, and the ideological polarities of the mid-twentieth century certainly did him no favours. Today, however, his production, which took in all genres and is yet to be fully explored, is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. His reputation rests principally on the Concerto dell’Albatro of 1945 and a few other oft-cited but seldom performed works, such as the Partita (1926) and Architetture (1940) [Naxos 8.573006]. Much of his music, however, merits revival, including his stage works (Maria d’Alessandria, Re Hassan, La pulce d’oro, Le baccanti, Billy Budd and Lord Inferno), those of sacred or religious inspiration (Il pianto della Madonna presso la Croce, Cantico del sole, Concerto spirituale de l’Incarnazione del Verbo Divino, Concerto funebre per Duccio Galimberti, Credo di Perugia), the evocative, highly original revisitings of earlier instrumental models (the Olmeneta [Naxos 8.111325], Alderina and Belprato concertos and the formidable Contrappunti for string trio and orchestra [Naxos 8.573006]), and his consistently excellent chamber music. The latter comprises works for traditional ensembles (string quartets, wind quintets, various trio combinations, etc.) and for more unusual groupings, such as the Septet for winds, strings and harp, or the Double Quintet for winds, strings, harp and piano, with which he won a competition in 1922. Most of these compositions date from the period 1910–30, after which Ghedini turned his attention primarily to symphonic, choral and stage works, with a few significant exceptions: the Seven ricercares for violin, cello and piano (1943), the Second String Quartet (1959) and the Music for three instruments for flute, cello and piano (1963).

His works for violin and piano include two unpublished sonatas—the A major of 1918 and the E flat major of 1922 (manuscripts of both of which are held by the Turin Conservatory)—and three short pieces—Bizzarria (1929) and Due poemi (Two Poems, 1930, pub. 1932 and 1934 respectively). All are works of great interest, not to mention significant additions to the early twentieth-century Italian violin/piano repertory. It is worth noting that Ghedini’s sonatas are contemporary to those of Respighi (1917), Pizzetti (1918–19) and Alfano (1923) and can certainly hold their own alongside any of these. At the time, the composer was still to achieve nationwide fame (this came with the Partita for orchestra of 1926 and the Concerto grosso of 1927) and his style had not yet fully incorporated the truly personal characteristics that were to derive from his love for early Italian instrumental music and a modern focus on timbre. Nonetheless, his violin and piano works do display a clear expressive individualism and a real sense of creative freedom, as if Ghedini were concerned only with unconstrained invention, and had put any question of schools or trends to one side. There are obvious Impressionistic touches, above all with regard to his chosen forms, which are never schematic but instead selected as part of the “ideal backdrop” which he always had in mind when composing and, along with the choice of instruments and tonal colour, governed the way he wrote. Despite there being only two instruments in these works, Ghedini comes up with a surprising number of solutions. Overall, the tone is meditative and intimate, mystical at times, but never ostentatious or showy—the prevailing sensation is that of “reading a story”, or a musical diary (not unlike the one the composer himself kept between 1926 and 1927 and in which he wrote down his hopes, dreams and artistic credo), punctuated by moments of excitement, sadness, tranquillity and joy. All in all, these are captivating works, admirable for their structural originality, beautiful harmonies and tonal and rhythmic invention, as well as for the perfect balance achieved between the two instruments.

Bizzarria is a short work dedicated to violinist Carlo Zino which, despite its title, is in no way strange or extravagant. Ghedini probably chose the title because he was keen to underline the formal freedom of this delicate, dreamy piece. At its heart is the beauty of the theme introduced and elegantly varied by the violin, beneath which the piano provides a rocking accompaniment and sustains the melody with carefully nuanced harmonies that may call to mind Debussy.

The Sonata in A major is cast in three movements. An arpeggio on the piano in the home key (Lentamente) simulates the raising of a curtain, before the (Tranquillo e sereno) violin plays the first theme twice. The piano then has an appealing passage to take us into the second theme, dolcissimo, it too played twice. The development set out by the piano, with pizzicato accompaniment from the violin, is harmonically complex and includes reworkings of various thematic elements, notably the demisemiquaver quadruplet from the opening theme, which is taken up by the two instruments in turn as a means of propelling the music forward every time it shows signs of lingering over colouristic evocation. A series of compact chromatic progressions leads to the agitated, dramatic central section, in which different thematic elements are interwoven. The recapitulation takes us back to the atmosphere created at the start and the movement ends on a pianissimo A major chord.

The second movement, Andante calmo e intensamente espressivo, is in ABA’ form. The recitative-like outer sections, in D flat major, again feature elaborate harmonies, while a cantabile theme, related to its main counterpart in the opening movement, is developed and varied. The contrasting central section, marked Vivace in uno, contains a wealth of rhythmic invention and is threaded through with an upward-climbing motif of irresistible impulse.

The Allegro, risvegliato e giocoso finale is distinguished by its spring-like and strangely oriental atmosphere; note the play of staccato notes in the theme and the successions of fourths and fifths on the piano that sound as if they were being played on the blocks of an old xylophone. This motif, particularly its leaping opening, is reworked, developed and varied throughout the movement, which takes the form of a free fantasia in which a number of innovative instrumental solutions are used: fourths and fifths on the piano with violin pizzicato, bowed legati with parallel writing for the piano, repeated-note-effects, staccato notes alternating between the two instruments. The sonata runs out of speed at the hint of an Adagio which, venturing into A flat and B minor, very slowly and unconventionally brings the work to an end on a plagal cadence.

The first of the Due poemi is dedicated to violinist Ercole Rovere and is characterised by a recitative-like pace marked successively lentamente, quasi indugiando, poco animando trattenuto, calmo, and so on, with a dramatic eight-bar section two-thirds of the way through which Ghedini indicates to be played Agitando subito moltissimo. The piece then returns to its former tranquillity for the conclusion, marked Calmo (Primo Tempo). One oddity here: there are a good five repetitions of a theme reminiscent of the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, perhaps indicating some secret, sentimental programmatic content.

Poem No 2 is dedicated to Enrico Pierangeli, who taught violin at the Giuseppe Verdi Music School (later Conservatory) in Turin. This is a work of great expressive intensity in which a long melody grows organically—like a plant—over more than twenty bars, undergoing numerous changes of tempo in the process (splendid proof of Ghedini’s lyrical gifts) and again arriving at a “recitative”. In the more agitated central section the violin is silent: the piano takes up the theme in the left hand while the right provides an insistent pedal of repeated notes. The reappearance of the violin heralds a return to the tranquil mood of the opening and the psalm-like ending.

The Sonata in E flat major is an expansive work characterised by the virtuosic demands it makes on both performers. Compared to the A major, the writing here is more concise in style, with cleanly sculpted lines throughout. The first movement is marked Appassionato—quite a challenge for the soloists—and is a free interpretation of sonata form. The prevailing atmosphere is one of tension and anxiety, whipped up in the violin’s peremptory and squally first entrance (a three-octave ascending-descending motif) which is followed by a lament-like passage which will return several times in the development. At times the music conjures the sensations of an impending darkness, or anxiety-filled wandering. In depicting this mood, Ghedini uses highly effective means such as a frequent transition from the initial 9/8 to 3/4, the switch from triplets to quadruplets, the sudden appearance of eddies of parallel notes, ostinato effects, cascades of staccato notes, and so on. The violin intensifies the drama by going from lengthy phrases to almost fearful snatches, or by returning to the above mentioned lament, much of its music moving in semitones.

The middle movement, Doloroso, stays with the expressive mood of the first, but transmutes it into music filled with mystery: from passion we move to introspection, from forward movement to stasis. Indeed the music’s progress is laboured in the extreme: its difficult internal journey is echoed in a play of adjacent notes and semitones. At times the violin plays with the mute, creating an alienating effect of “suffocated” music until a crescendo is built into the slowed-down march pace that characterises the movement. This leads into a central section in which the music becomes more expansive and the drama more overt (the score includes the marking straziato—tortured). The ending is typical of Ghedini’s unextravagant ways: the music runs aground amid patches of colour and pianissimo chords.

The finale is marked Vigoroso e ritmico (in formal terms this is a highly elaborate passacaglia, mirroring that used by Respighi as the third movement of his B minor Sonata); it opens with a rhythmic cell—a technique traceable to Beethoven’s Fifth—and tension-laden pauses on the piano. These same elements are then suddenly taken up by the violin and only after twenty-six bars does the theme arrive. This is generated in part by that initial rhythmical phrase and is subject to interference from it as well, both blending with it and being set in opposition against it, as if in hand-to-hand combat. That conflict underpins the entire movement—the most contrapuntal of the three. The ending is surprising because after the recapitulation comes a lengthy sequence of chords from the piano: all the energy has been released, every possibility of combination has been exhausted, all that is left is surrender, and silence.

Flavio Menardi Noguera
Translation by Susannah Howe

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