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8.572991 - TOGNI, C.: Piano Music (Complete), Vol. 2 (Orvieto)
Camillo Togni (1922–1993)
Togni’s First Serenade for Piano, Op.10, composed in 1940, marks a decisive turning point in the eighteen-year-old composer’s artistic development. It was the beginning of an intense exploration of the works of Schoenberg, where the composer sought answers to increasingly pressing issues: “In the First Serenade for piano, Op. 10 (1940) I felt the need to withdraw into a most intimate solitude; everything I had enthusiastically embraced up to that point was examined in the most objective manner. The tormented subjectivism that I thought would uncover the truth hidden in the most painful recesses led me instead to a language that was completely twelve-tone; I believe this gradually broadened my sentimental horizon and clarified my expression.” ¹
Togni’s first encounter with Schoenberg’s music had been in February 1938, in Brecia, thanks to the nineteen-year-old Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli “who had the task of illustrating the pieces at the piano. My first hearing of Schoenberg’s Op. 11, Op. 15, Op. 33a and Suite, Op. 25 made a huge impression on me; I was fifteen and it was more ‘terror’ than attraction at that time. Casella guided me with his inborn generosity; his esteem and fondness were invaluable. He expressed concern about my dense, compact polyphonic textures and my powerful attraction to chromaticism, yet I could not dismiss these features as I saw them as part of my historical identity and my own personality. In spring 1940, when I wrote the First Serenade for piano, two facts became clear: a fundamental loss of interest in neoclassicism and deeply intensified inward expressiveness. Casella put it nicely: ‘a swing towards Vienna’.” ²
Mastery of the twelve-tone system came gradually. It was an intimate assimilation rather than a process of acceptance. “The entire piece is in highly chromatic language and based on motifs: the opening figure is varied continuously, giving rise to all the subsequent material. Over the years this was to become the twelve-tone series though here it was still conceived in a thematic sense.” ³
Togni scholar Daniela Cima comments on this work: “The piece is an extended Nocturne: short, richly dynamic episodes which remain fundamentally coherent. The rapturous opening Largamente continues through episodes marked mosso and agitato with some passages of recitative. The approach to form is subjective, references and echoes flow one over the other in a bright rich range of colours. The music toys uneasily with the Adagio of Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 106: a lunar opening leads to a funereal episode and, in a more rarefied section it goes on to become dreamy and phantasmagorical. This strategy is governed both by relentlessly dense counterpoint that only rarely manages to produce effective contrasts in register, and the tension in the broad intervals that are unhinged from their tonal centre. At the end of the piece, in the movement marked Larghissimo e tranquillo, the initial motif rings out in crystal clear accented notes in the upper register, the external intervals are permutated, while in the right hand a residue of intervals from the same motif cascades in triplets. Finally, a rising line from the bass sounds a twelve-note row which was becoming more and more his world.” 4
The Six Preludes, Op. 21, which Togni often played in recitals, are mentioned in a letter to Casella (3 April 1944) where he updates his teacher on his most recent compositions: “…in January I wrote my Seventh Serenade for piano, I finished a Missa Brevis for just three voices and I concluded a first series of Six Preludes for piano with which I am quite satisfied”. 5 These preludes illustrate Togni’s artistic progress up until 1944, revealing a brilliantly accomplished use of the newly adopted twelve-tone system and a solid command of piano technique that has surprisingly nineteenth century echoes, recalling Chopin in particular.
In a letter to Benedetti Michelangeli (20 December 1948), with whom he studied regularly between 1945 and 1948, Togni refers to “a piano transcription of four Bach organ chorales that make up a Partita or Suite which I think is of considerable pianistic effect”. 6 Soon there were five transcriptions and the work was entitled Prima Partita Corale, Op. 29. It was first performed the following year by the composer. This work shows how Togni had assimilated the techniques employed by Busoni in his Bach transcriptions; in the same letter he mentions that he had played the Busoni transcription of Bach’s C Major Toccata for his diploma in Parma (June 1946). His approach has several features in common with Busoni’s: he exploits the full range of the piano, emphasises some modulating passages and frequently doubles octaves in bass and soprano parts. However, he also takes his distance, in particular when he aims at illustrating the balance of voices in the counterpoint, the cantabile quality of the themes and the formal structure. A statement on his Secondo Partita Corale sent to S.I.A.E. in Rome (20 July 1993) though dealing with this later composition written in 1993, gives us some interpretative pointers that also apply to the Prima Partita Corale: in particular “the varied ritornelli; the reshaping of motifs, often restyling the original intervals; the protracted fermate with a consequent rhythmic shift in the ritornello sections thus changing the number of bars in the piece…” 7 Togni’s intention was to distance himself from a pedantic approach to Bach transcription while asserting the originality of “a process that has nothing to do with the practical issues of adapting a work to a different instrument, it is instead a frank homage in the form of a free re-elaboration”. 8
The first chorale, Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottes Sohn (BVW 601), is a work of uncertain attribution. Here, Togni amplifies the work’s original development by frequently doubling octaves, adding internal voices to the counterpoint and using marked variations in dynamics.
The Chorale Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (BWV 648) is one of the so-called Schübler Chorales, written for a two manual organ with pedal-board. These were in turn transcriptions from the cantatas (a unique case in Bach’s output), in this case a transcription of a duet for contralto and tenor, the fifth movement of Cantata X. This duality and the highly mystical theme, inspire Togni to explore the piano’s extremes, at times lingering in the bass, at others rising to “astral heights” (as indicated in the score). Togni later transcribed the same chorale for orchestra, the second movement of Due preludi corali per orchestra (1990).
The last three transcriptions are taken from the Chorale Preludes BWV 608, 683 and 706. The marking Vivo e marcato in Vater unser im Himmelreich highlights the triumphant virtuoso instrumental writing. In contrast, In dulci jubilo (on a chorale actually by Johann Michael Bach) is intimate in character, marked dolcemente mosso, and runs straight into the fifth and final transcription Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier. We can seen from the composer’s indication that it was conceived as “almost a coda of IV”. This final piece is constructed in a gradual crescendo preparing for the end of the cycle.
The Fourth Capriccio (Octaves) was written in 1969 at the request of pianist Antonio Ballista for his recital Cinquanta autori. It is a capriccio in the eighteenth century sense: a virtuoso piece both as a composition and in the technical demands it makes on the performer. The composer himself speaks extensively of this work: “thus my Fourth Capriccio, subtitled octaves, was born: I systematically rehabilitated an interval which is so peculiarly tonal that I had refrained from using it for about twenty years. This diabolus in our century’s atonal music, to which an instrument such as the piano is drawn by its very nature, could now be admitted again, as long as the devils were there in abundance, all present and fighting with each other—the devil should devour his own tail. In other words, continuous dense darting octaves which cancel each other out by their very presence.” 9 In an introductory note to this work Togni points out that “the Fourth Capriccio for piano shares fundamental material with the opera Blaubart, featuring two ‘circular’ forms of the series which govern note duration and intensity, caesurae, pre-entries, pedalling, the length of the four sections, quaver groups in the four sections and continuous movement across different octaves. The interval is treated systematically.” 10
Togni describes the occasion for which the Fifth Capriccio (Homage to Bellini) was composed: “I wrote the Fifth Capriccio for Piano thanks to an invitation from Giuseppina La Face Bianconi—secretary of the International Musicology Society of Bologna University. Sylvano Bussotti, Salvatore Sciarrino, Battistelli and I were asked to compose a modern collection of piano compositions based on a piece by Bellini (the second act finale from I Puritani, the duet Suoni la tromba e intrepido io pugnerà da forte) which had been used for a Hexameron a century earlier by Liszt, Thalber [sic], Pixis, Herz, Czerny and Chopin. With these four new pieces the collection would make up a Decameron. The modern group of pieces would ‘destabilise’ the earlier collection, or at least enrich a concert on 29 August 1997 for over a thousand musicologists attending the 14th International Congress of Musicology in Bologna (on Transmission and reception of forms of musical culture 30 August–4 September 1987).” 11
Togni uses the rhythm and first three notes of Bellini’s duet (E flat, A flat, B flat) to create complex relations which organise pitch, rhythm and dynamics. The piece has two symmetrical parts: an introduction followed by two episodes (each in three sections), and two episodes (again three sections each) followed by a Coda. The atmosphere is dramatic: the years after 1985 were tragic, for Togni had been deeply affected by his mother’s death. Structurally and emotionally the Fifth Capriccio is linked to Der Doppelgänger (a work from the same period for four guitars, clearly linked to Schubert’s homonymous Lied), as Togni himself explains: “The Fifth Capriccio was written during a tragic period and this work [i.e. Der Doppelgänger] is none other than a version of the same piece for four guitars.” 12
The Sixth Capriccio (Aphorism on the name of Sylvano Bussotti) is Togni’s last work for solo piano and was written in just three days (12–14 September 1991). A celebratory piece, “The Sixth Capriccio” as the composer writes in his introductory note “is a short piece for piano written in September 1991, a homage to Sylvano Bussotti for his 60th birthday. It is based on two notes, A and B flat, derived from Bussotti’s first name and surname: SylvAno Bussotti.” 13
Research at the Camillo Togni Archive (ACT) for the compilation of these notes was carried out with the collaboration of the Music Institute of the Giorgio Cini Foundation.
English version by Liam Mac Grabhann
¹ Daniela Cima, Camillo Togni: le opere, Suvini Zerboni, Milan 2004, p. 25.
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