About this Recording
8.573142 - FUGA, S.: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-3 (Tortorelli, Milani, Lamberto, G. Fuga)
English  Italian 

Sandro Fuga (1906–1994)
Sonatas for Violin and Piano


Sandro Fuga was born on 26 November 1906 in Mogliano Veneto. From his mother, a member of the eminent and artistic Venetian Nono family (other members include the sculptor Urbano and artist Luigi, uncle and grandfather respectively of the composer Luigi Nono), he inherited a passion for art and music. His father, who was a country doctor, died in 1917 and his mother later married a distinguished Piedmontese musician who gave piano lessons. The family then moved to Turin, where Fuga, who had already begun his musical studies in Treviso and Venice, continued his education at the city’s Liceo Musicale. His teachers included Luigi Gallino (piano), Dino Sincero and Ulisse Matthey (organ), Giorgio Federico Ghedini (harmony and counterpoint), and Luigi Perrachio and Franco Alfano (composition). Fuga later remembered Ghedini as a “brilliant musician, a composer of great merit and an excellent teacher”, Perrachio as “against any form of pedantry” and Alfano as a “non-conformist”. Having obtained three diplomas between 1924 and 1928, Fuga also cultivated some significant friendships in Turin’s musical circles, with fellow students Fernando Previtali and Giulio Gedda, for example, and with musicologist and critic Andrea della Corte, whose counsel he valued greatly. Fuga in turn became a leading figure in the city’s musical life, as president of the Artists’ Circle, and later as a promoter of competitions and concerts. He began his career as a pianist, in Italy and abroad, and made a number of radio broadcasts in this rôle before deciding in 1944 to devote himself exclusively to composing. A decade earlier (1933) he had become professor of piano at the Liceo, which became the Turin Conservatory in 1936. He held the post until 1956, when he took over the chair of composition; in 1966 he was appointed director, a rôle he remained in for a further ten years. His life was not always easy and he experienced times of grief and pain (in particular at the loss of his beloved brother Iginio, who had also been his librettist, just a year after the death of their mother in 1960), yet he always retained a sense of optimism. A member of Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Florence’s Accademia Nazionale Luigi Cherubini, he was awarded numerous prizes and other accolades at national and international competitions, and saw his music issued by the biggest publishing houses in Italy. Fuga died in Turin in 1994, and in the following year his family established an association to promote awareness of his music (see www.sandrofuga.it).

As well as his compositions, Fuga also wrote two prose works, Lettera ai giovani compositori (Letter to Young Composers, 1965) and his autobiography Sandro Fuga visto da se stesso (Sandro Fuga seen through his own eyes, 1990), which provide many clues to his artistic sensibilities and in which he declares himself quite simply to be a “Romantic survivor”, a composer who believes that music is the expression of emotions. For Fuga, the act of creation always stemmed from a feeling, some fantastical stimulus, or a literary source, and then required a patient process of construction, to which he applied rigorous self-censorship (or “rethinking”). Like his teacher Ghedini, therefore, he had no hesitation in entering into debate with the radical avant-garde and its reliance on engineered sound or extra-musical effects and expedients, used, in his view, primarily to shock audiences with experimental tonal or instrumental atmospheres. Fuga went so far as to accuse his avant-garde colleagues of “musical clownery” and of wanting to impose their own, new conventions on the art. He was not rejecting modernity, as such, and it did find its way, if in tempered form, into his compositions, but he did question its more ephemeral aspects. In his eyes, music—in which nothing is “to be understood”—could only be judged in terms of individual taste and sensibilities. Feeling himself to be part of the long musical tradition, for him a fundamental term of reference and means of comparison, he could not accept a break with the past that might lead to chaos, and instead retained an unshakeable faith in the possibilities of the tonal system. That was his way of safeguarding the sincerity of the creative act, and it enabled him to succeed in the difficult undertaking, as Paolo Isotta emphasizes, of writing excellent and truly inspired pieces of music in an idiom and spirit that one might have felt to have exhausted their own historical function.

Fuga’s catalogue takes in all genres: from piano works (two volumes of Canzoni per la gioventù, studies, preludes, three sonatas and the remarkable Variazioni sul tema della Passacaglia per organo di J. S. Bach) to chamber music (three sonatas for violin and piano and three for cello and piano, six string quartets, a piano quartet and a piano quintet); from vocal chamber works (most of which were published in the 1930s and 40s) to compositions for soloist and orchestra (concertos for piano; piano, strings and timpani; cello; horn and strings; and a concertino for oboe); and from orchestral works (including one symphony and a significant series of five “sacred concertos” for chorus, with or without soloists, and orchestra, written between 1938 and 1978) to stage works (La croce deserta, 1948–49; Otto Schnaffs, 1948; Confessione, 1959; L’imperatore Jones, 1975; and La pesca, unpublished, 1977).

Several of Fuga’s works testify to his engagement with concerns beyond the world of music: the Trio for piano, violin and cello inspired by the invasion of Poland (1941); the Ode in memoria di un caduto in Grecia (1946)—the first in a triptych that also includes the Ode alla pace and Ode alla libertà; the intensely moving Ultime lettere da Stalingrado for speaker and orchestra (1957); the above-mentioned Confessione (about members of the French resistance); the Cantata da camera su di un frammento del Diario di Anna Frank (1977); Ai Martiri delle Fosse Ardeatine for mixed chorus, horn and string quartet (1980); and, finally, the Requiem per El Alamein for baritone/bass and orchestra.

The First Sonata for violin and piano, written between 1938 and 1939 and dedicated to his brother Iginio, is original in form: the fast movement is placed in second position, flanked by two slow movements of great emotional intensity. In the opening Molto tranquillo, con semplicità ed espressione, a melancholy melody entrusted to the violin evocatively expands, intensifies, reaches a peak and subsides again, a pattern that is repeated a number of times. Meanwhile the piano weaves a fragile fabric of alternating arpeggios and chords in the manner of a chorale. The sophisticated harmonic writing has echoes of a mature, modern Impressionism, entirely in keeping with its composer’s aesthetics. The middle movement is a dramatic, agitated Molto allegro which develops an impassioned theme lying somewhere between Grieg and Debussy. The two instruments interact with virtuosity thanks to the highly effective interlocking style of writing which, richly chromatic, creates a series of sections, each distinguishable by its colour—a triumph of instrumentation. The Sonata ends with a return to the climax of the first movement. The theme set out by the piano is hymn-like, reminiscent of a sorrowing prayer, especially when the violin joins in as well. The instruments establish an almost responsorial dialogue, passing the theme to and fro in an atmosphere that is both calm and contained, thanks to its modally tinged harmonies. Their conversation gradually fades away, and after the violin has lingered in the upper register throughout a conclusive rallentando e morendo, repeated notes on the piano bring about a final stillness.

The Second Sonata of 1972, dedicated to the composer’s friends Enrico and Amalia Pierangeli, is less dramatic and more elegiac in nature than the First. It too begins in an intensely expressive atmosphere, Moderatamente mosso, ma tranquillo: its gentle theme spirals expansively above repeated piano chords that alternate with passages of liquid triplets. The next section is marked Recitativo a piacere (with no barlines), and leads into an Allegro vivo contrapuntal passage presented by the piano. The final section, more agitated, dissolves into a recapitulation of the theme above a series of weighty repeated chords until the movement fades away as the flowing triplets return. The second movement, Molto adagio, is introduced by a mournful descending figure on the piano and is based on the undulating movement of triplets played first by the piano then taken up by the violin, giving an effect of perpetual motion that disappears only at the conclusion—as if into the fog—heralding the attacca subito of the third movement that follows without a break. This is marked Presto con slancio and the tight-knit cut and thrust of its virtuosic dialogue only relaxes momentarily in the central section, while its 6/8 ostinato rhythm recalls a wild and somewhat dark-hued tarantella. Built upon the emphatic, pounding motion of the instruments as they pass the theme between each other—intermingling it with sequences of double stopping for the violin and chordal figures for the piano—the movement comes to a spectacular and unambiguous ending.

Unlike its predecessors, the Third Sonata of 1989, dedicated to Sergio Lamberto, is cast in four movements and as often happens in late works (Fuga was by this time 83), seems to eschew strong contrasts in favour of a more evenly balanced sound. The movements are linked by subtle thematic connections and the work achieves a level of homogeneity such that the individual voices of the instruments meld into a greater whole. The theme of the first movement, Mosso amabile, is dreamy and melancholy—redolent of late, mournful Bartók—and is set in a graceful, floral surround, filled with autumnal light. The following Andantino is a gently rocking Berceuse, built on a wearily advancing piano line. The violin has the melody, lifting it gradually and with great delicacy up to the highest register, while the piano sustains it with arpeggios. This is a genuinely moving piece of writing, with echoes of the motionless, spellbound landscapes of certain Impressionist works (Koechlin). With its rhythmic energy and clear, luminous harmonies, the third movement, Vivo—in 3/4 and ternary form—is also very beautiful. Here again, the influence of the French School can be heard, in a central section that crackles with staccato notes and revolves around rhythm and colour, within the extremely clean-lined design of this movement. As in some of his other works, Fuga chooses to end the Third Sonata in a way far removed from any empty display of virtuosity. The Assai lento is meditative and focussed on the deep meaning of the melody, which is characterized by mournful chromaticisms and in the first (molto espressivo) section is given to the violin and “commented on” by the chordal writing for the piano (like a modern chorale). In the central section, the piano sustains the pathos with a long sequence of thirds and sixths, creating a magical impressionistic halo effect. Like the First Sonata, this work ends by elegantly fading into silence.

Flavio Menardi Noguera
English translation: Susannah Howe

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