About this Recording
8.573130 - RESPIGHI, O.: Violin and Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 2 / PICK-MANGIAGALLI, R.: Violin and Piano Works (Complete) (Bernecoli, Bianchi)
English  Italian 

Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936): Complete Works for Violin and Piano • 2
Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli (1882–1949): Complete Works for Violin and Piano


Ottorino Respighi’s most famous works, his “Roman trilogy” of symphonic poems, Le fontane di Roma, I pini di Roma and Feste romane, have been part of the international orchestral repertoire ever since Toscanini first brought them to audiences’ notice. Less well-known, but equally deserving of attention, are some of his other orchestral works and, above all, his operas, from Belfagor to Maria Egiziaca and Lucrezia. As is true of all artistic endeavour, these masterpieces did not spring from the void, like flowers blooming in the wilderness, but were the result of long years of apprenticeship, study, and step-by-step learning. Looking back, therefore, at Respighi’s juvenile works, those first attempts at his art, will bring into sharper focus the music that forms the cornerstones of his production, providing a fascinating glimpse of the achievements to come, above and beyond their own intrinsic value.

Given his family background and musical education, it was entirely natural that Respighi’s first works, in addition to a few symphonic sketches and pieces for quartet and quintet, should be for violin and piano. He was born in Bologna in 1879 into a family of musicians (his grandfather was a violinist and organist, while his father Giuseppe, was a pianist and his first teacher) and as a boy studied violin with Federico Sarti at the Liceo musicale in Bologna, a “Wagnerian” city, in which musical debate raged and there was a high level of awareness of developments north of the Alps. He graduated in 1899 with a performance of Paganini’s Le streghe, among other works. He also studied composition at the Liceo, with Luigi Torchi and Giuseppe Martucci, both of whom were to exert a lasting influence on him. In 1901 and 1902 Respighi spent time in St Petersburg and Moscow respectively as principal viola in the orchestra of the Imperial Theatre, and from 1906 was the viola player in Bologna’s Mugellini Quintet. During his time in Russia, he had the opportunity of meeting and studying with no less a figure than Rimsky-Korsakov who, along with Torchi and Martucci, would have the greatest impact on his writing, helping him to become an undisputed master of orchestration, with a sophisticated gift for instrumentation that enabled him to make the most of his colouristic sensibilities. Indeed between his two stays in Russia, he also graduated from the Bologna Liceo in composition, with an orchestral Prelude, Chorale and Fugue written in St Petersburg under Rimsky-Korsakov’s guidance.

Respighi’s B minor Sonata, completed in 1917, a year after Le fontane di Roma, the symphonic poem that brought the composer international renown, and published shortly afterwards by Ricordi, was dedicated to pianist Ernesto Consolo and violinist Arrigo Serato and soon became a fixture in many performers’ repertoire. It is a work of considerable dimensions and scope, far more ambitious than his early D minor Sonata, although the musical results perhaps do not always quite match the level of ambition: it captures an explicit desire to move the chamber repertoire forward (a reminder of the fact that Respighi had encountered a range of different influences during his formative years—Italian, Russian and Germanic), but without abandoning the more straightforward Italian tradition, hence the cyclical thematic ideas between the movements, the rhythmic and metrical complexity, the occasionally unusual connections or harmonic relationships, and so on.

The twenty-year gap since Respighi’s previous work in the genre can clearly be felt in the B minor piece, even if it still demonstrates the sound architectural structure, anchored in the tonal tradition, and the rigour of phraseology that he had learned as a student and used in his earliest works. The instrumental writing, however, is far more “difficult”, not so much for the violin—although much of its part has to be played in very high positions, and certain passages, while still essentially melodic, are anything but free-flowing—as for the piano, whose part features a number of challenging figurations not to be found in his previous compositions.

Respighi creates a sense of expressive tension, at times almost overpowering in its intensity, by varying the tempo—often increasing it, as he does also the dynamics—and constantly adapting the metre. His harmonies, too, play a part in adding to the tension, with many chords of sevenths and ninths and, above all, the appearance of chromatic appoggiaturas or passing notes so long and powerful that they sometimes suggest a “polychordal” superimposition between the two instruments which is, in reality, simply the result of passing harmonies. The language is, however, quite complex at times (modulations into distant keys, direct transitions between minor triads, frequent modal-sounding interrupted cadences on the subdominant, etc.), even if, as stated above, its central pillars are built upon traditional bases: the second subject of the first movement, for example, is in the relative major (D), modulating in the recapitulation to B major; in many cases the “secondary” tonality is E minor (i.e. the fourth degree above), and so on. Sometimes, however, a different method of modulation is used, linear rather than harmonic, harking back to earlier, modal music—and this should come as no surprise considering Respighi’s love for and desire to revive Italy’s Renaissance and Baroque repertoires.

The Sonata is in three movements, with hints of a cyclical nature in its thematic writing. The first movement is a sonata-form Moderato, the second an Andante espressivo, the third an Allegro moderato ma energico in passacaglia form—these basic tempos, as mentioned, are then subjected to significant alterations. The most obvious feature of the Moderato—beyond its jagged and continually varied metre, 9/8–6/8–3/4–7/8–2/4, etc.—is its development section, in which the elements of the two themes set out in the exposition intertwine in various ways before being definitively superimposed upon one another in the coda.

The Andante espressivo, in E major, is in rondo rather than tripartite form (A–B–A’–C–A’’, a structure often employed by Respighi). It has a recurring 10/8 figure, from which there fluently emerges a polyrhythmic (4/4–10/8) interchange between the two instruments; also worthy of note, in particular in the violin cadenza that concludes the C section, is a clear return to the themes of the first movement.

The final Passacaglia is based on a ten-bar ground in 3/4 time with partial echoes of the Sonata’s first subject. Initially entrusted to the piano alone, this then forms the basis of twenty variations, with both dynamics and tempo increasing to a peak that occurs just after the halfway point of the movement. Variations 10 and 12 compress the theme, reducing it to five bars, while the last two extend it, doubling the number of bars (twenty in the penultimate variation and nineteen in the last, which functions as a coda). Each variation is distinguished by a particular rhythmic figuration—dotted notes, triplets, irregular groupings, etc.—while the “cyclical” reminders of the beginning of the Sonata are particularly obvious in the violin lines of Nos. 5 and 9. As for the overall structure, the course of the passacaglia gradually travels away from the original B minor of the ground, with some of the central variations set in the keys of E, A and D major, and even G minor: a divergence almost in the manner of a development, after which Variation No. 15, acting as a reprise, returns to the home key (in the major)—a B major that ultimately, however, in the rich sonorities of the finale, yields to the minor mode of the beginning.

The rest of this album is devoted to the chamber music of Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli, who was born in Strakonice, Bohemia in 1882, but was to all intents and purposes a Milanese composer: having moved to Milan as a small child, he studied at the city’s conservatory—piano with Appiani and composition with Ferroni—and succeeded Pizzetti to become its director in 1936, remaining in the post until his death in 1949. Like Respighi and Pizzetti, therefore, he too was a composer of the ‘generation of the 1880s’, which played such a key rôle in the resurgence in Italian instrumental music. Pick-Mangiagalli contributed to this revival as both composer and performer, having established a notable career for himself as a pianist (and duo partner of his violinist brother Roberto), in the years leading up to the First World War. It is not surprising, therefore, that among his early works, before his focus switched principally to stage and orchestral music, there should be compositions for piano and violin such as the Sonata and the other pieces recorded for this album.

The latter comprise three short works all dating from 1908, one of which was published by Carisch, the other two by Ricordi. Although brief in length, all three shed plenty of light on the compositional characteristics of Pick-Mangiagalli: balance of form and phrasing, concision of ideas, attractive melodies and a sound, clearly tonal idiom. These are particularly evident in the G major serenata A Coralline (To Coralline), similar to a Tosti-style romanza, with Puccinian accents and in A–B–C–A–B form. With the salon taste and spirit that characterize much of his production, this piece sees the violin find its freedom with pleasing sophistication above the sustaining piano figuration, which continues throughout. The Adagio, by contrast, is a simple transcription for violin and piano—perhaps commissioned by the publishers—of a work by Giovanbattista Grazioli (1746–1820), a Venetian-School organist and harpsichordist. Here, the interest lies in the violin part, which is written in its entirety for the fourth string, and requires the performer to climb as high as eighth position. The third piece, the most advanced musically and instrumentally, is Sirventese, a three-part allegretto in D major, which reflects the composer’s interest in the idiomatic “novelties” of neo-modality then current in French music—in this case, within a traditional tonal setting, the use of the “added sixth”, the chord on the third degree, and complex chords of elevenths and thirteenths.

Predating these works by two years is Pick- Mangagialli’s own Sonata in B minor, written in 1906 and published shortly afterwards by Universal Edition, Leipzig. It is an early but wide-ranging work and, despite a certain disjointedness, one of considerable interest, in part because it anticipates some of the characteristics to be found in Respighi’s 1917 Sonata, especially the contrast between metrical restlessness and solidity of form and phrasing, and the demanding level of the piano writing, at times fairly complex if not downright difficult (Pick himself was a talented pianist, after all!). Of greatest note in this Sonata is the relationship between the two instruments, full of subtle echoings, brief imitations and knowing “slips” in the phrasing that combine to create a fluid but unpredictable discourse.

The first of its three movements—Allegro moderato—is in rigorous sonata-form, with a second theme in D major and then, in the recapitulation, in B major (although the movement concludes in the minor). The composer overcomes the rigidity of the structure, however, by veiling its pillars, in Brahmsian fashion, in timely thematic and harmonic variations. As mentioned above, metrical complexity is a key characteristic of the Sonata—here it revolves around the alternation or combination of 3/4 and 6/8 passages; added to this we find frequent and deliberate indecision between B minor and D major, along with hints of bimodality (major-minor). The Intermezzo, marked Andante molto sostenuto e semplice, is a tripartite movement in E major in which the tempo varies, as does the metre, switching between 4/4 and 3/4. One striking moment in this movement is the brief canon that concludes the first section and leads into the central section, Vivace scherzando, in C sharp minor, where it is the violin’s turn to monopolize the conversation. The Finale, Non troppo allegro ma deciso e marcato, is toccata-like in spirit, and follows the formal pattern AB–A’B’–AB–coda. This is made more elaborate by means of further changes in tempo and metre, an alternation between B minor and major, modulations to distant keys (in the B section), and moments in which the two themes are developed (at the heart of the movement) and both thematic and formal elements are “revisited” (in the long coda section). All of this reveals Pick- Mangiagalli’s questing musicality, imbued with youthful enthusiasm and curiosity, and a technical and expressive dimension of genuine individuality.

Bruno Zanolini
English translation by Susannah Howe

Close the window