About this Recording
8.573430 - TOGNI, C.: Piano Music (Complete), Vol. 3 (Orvieto)
English  Italian 

Camillo Togni (1922–1993)
Complete Piano Music • 3


The works on this album can be grouped into three chronological periods that mirror three distinct phases in the stylistic development of Camillo Togni (Gussago, nr Brescia, 1922–Brescia, 1993).

1) 1941–45: the period of the Third, Sixth and Seventh Serenatas, works which although marking something of a return to diatonicism compared to the intensely chromatic idiom he had adopted in 1939–40, nonetheless reveal a gradual move back towards chromaticism and, ultimately, on to serialism; this is also the period of the Sonatina, Op. 26, which seems to attest to the completion of a process of stylistic re-thinking.

2) 1949–51: the period in which Togni fully adopted the twelve-tone technique, as seen in his piano four-hands reduction of the first movement of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and in Omaggio a Bach, Op. 32 for two pianos.

3) The 1960s: the period of the Tre fantasie scherzose, which are clearly atypical of the composer’s overall output, despite being works of great skill and refinement. Revealing a new side to Togni, they provide us with a fascinating insight into matters that had been close to his heart ever since his student days, when he had written a thesis entitled The aesthetic theory of B. Croce and the problem of musical performance (University of Pavia, 1948): performance, transcription, paraphrase, reduction and historical musical material as a source of inspiration (as also seen in the Omaggio a Bach).

During the first of these three periods, the young Togni was studying under Alfredo Casella, with whom he worked continuously until 1942, and thereafter increasingly intermittently, as the war in Italy intensified. Togni remained close to Casella until the latter’s death in 1947 (he had been referred to him in 1938 by his first composition teacher Franco Margola). On his teacher’s advice, he was focusing more on diatonic writing, but his enthusiasm for chromaticism soon resurfaced, having originally been sparked by a 1938 performance by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli of Schoenberg’s Opp. 11, 19, 25 and 33a at the Società dei Concerti in Brescia. The young Togni recognised Schoenberg as his spiritual guide and from that moment on read everything he could about the composer and his music, with the help of friends and his brother Giulio Bruno.

During the 1940s, therefore, in his Opp. 14b to 30, his style becomes dominated by chromaticism, before this was superseded by serialism: the chromatic aggregates are configured according to an ever more precise intervallic organisation, and definitively subsume internal tonal structures, which gradually become pseudo-tonal. This approach established itself with growing confidence in his Op. 31 (Morts sans sépulture di J.P. Sartre) and Op. 32 (Omaggio a Bach), which were both performed at Darmstadt, where Togni was a regular visitor between 1951 and 1957.

The Third Serenata, Op. 13, which dates from the beginning of this period, was written between 16th and 29th October 1941 and dedicated to another of Casella’s students, pianist Lya de Barberiis, who gave the first performance of many of Togni’s works during their sessions. The dedication is proof of the deep solidarity Togni felt with his teacher and his classmates.

Two aspects are of particular interest here: firstly, the process of variation in rhythm and articulation employed in the different sections and secondly, at the end, the clear emphasis on subjecting a three-note sequence to varying processes of inversion and augmentation, characterised by the use of seconds and sevenths, absorbed within a polytonal texture. Togni’s compression of both duration and materials, and his anti-Romantic rhythmic structure, reveal a drive towards clarification which only approaches the textural expansiveness found in the First Serenata towards the end, in the section marked Sempre … più … allargato.

This process continues in the Sixth and Seventh Serenatas, which employ aggregates that are ever closer to being series, and which are transposed along the twelve semitones and divided into groups of three, four or six notes. These act as motifs, woven into the kind of rigorously through-composed music with which Togni had become familiar through his earlier studies of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

In Serenata No. 6, Op. 19a (written between 8th September and 8th December 1943), we find a programmatic repetition of the octave on C, almost mockingly, with the result that it loses tonal value and becomes a provocative signature, rhythmically articulated, deployed across the full range of the keyboard during the opening presentation of the aggregate and reiterated at the start of each section. The aggregate, with its marked emphasis on bichords in fourths and fifths, unwinds continuously like a series that has to present all twelve notes. This is then systematically transposed, by shifting the pivot to different octaves. The final Allegretto placido, serenamente, concludes by presenting the second half of the series and then the first.

The method described above is even more evident in the Seventh Serenata, Op. 20 (written between 10th December 1943 and 11th February 1944), but the refined and purified atmosphere of this latest work brings us closer still to that of the First Serenata. The presence of a series is clearer here, although groups of three or four notes are drawn from it to form chords that are superimposed and juxtaposed in polytonal style. Within the Scorrevole ben ritmato section a new derived series appears (explained by notes in the composer’s own hand), and imitative processes between the first and second semi-series can be identified. The coda, Lento e desolato, ends with a G minor/major chord that originates from the harmonic superimposition of the entire series, effected in the preceding bars.

The Sonatina, Op. 26 (written in Gussago between the spring and October of 1945) is dedicated to pianist Carla Mazzola¹ “in devoted and fond friendship, 1946”. The rich textures of chords and counterpoint, reminiscent to a certain extent of Scriabin, reveal a composer exploring his options as he seeks out his own path. If not without some difficulty, Togni here abandons Brahmsian motivic development in favour of a Neo-classical approach, in a context of extended tonality. All the Classical conventions are in place: a sonata-form first movement complete with first and second subjects, an extended development and varied recapitulation—far removed from the free nocturne form employed in the Serenatas. This is a first attempt at reviving a Classical pattern, a process he was to fully accomplish, following in Schoenberg’s footsteps, in the Sonata for flute and piano (1953).

The first movement features the accentuated motivic development of groups of four semiquavers; the first Intermezzo also makes marked use of four-note cells contrapuntally treated, in which the notes are structured on diatonic intervals linked to the semitone or its inversion. Octaves are emphatically highlighted as are tonal aspects in general (the piece ends on a C major chord). The rhythmic pace of the second Intermezzo recalls a Prokofievlike scherzo. As well as the four-note groups that run like a continuous undercurrent throughout the work, however, there are also groups of six notes, gradually transposed, where the intervals 1, 2 and 3² prevail, with imitation used, again, to treat them as motifs subject to variation.

As previously mentioned, Togni and Alfredo Casella remained close. Their correspondence tells of research into “forbidden” works, piano readings and transcriptions made out of a desire to grasp a particular work, private collections generously put at the young man’s disposal… Togni’s transcription of Verklärte Nacht dates from summer 1941, as he was becoming ever more deeply absorbed by pushing chromaticism and variation to their limits. That same year, in Siena, he met Roman Vlad (another of Casella’s students)—an encounter that was to prove hugely influential, because Vlad was in the unusual position of both knowing the works of Schoenberg and Webern and being able to translate their texts, having learned German from his Viennese mother. Together, Togni and Vlad played the two-piano transcriptions that Schoenberg himself had made of his music, with a view to private performances.

These and later experiences enable us to place the work that Togni did on the first movement of the Lyric Suite by Alban Berg (a composer who was to leave a powerful mark on Togni’s stage compositions) in its context as a further exploration of twelve-tone technique (this is in 1949). The term “reduction” and a comparison with the original suggest a detailed, anatomical study, as literal a translation as possible, unelaborated, and carried out in order to get to the heart of a twelve-tone masterpiece.

Work on the Omaggio a Bach, Op. 32 for two pianos, also from the second period covered here, commenced in 1950, the bicentenary of J.S. Bach’s death. The third movement was completed during 1951 and dedicated to the memories of three figures who had died within months of each other: the composer’s father, Arnold Schoenberg and André Gide.

The intense interest in Bach’s music at this time is evident from the large number of compositions written in his honour and the many articles written and discussions held about the importance of polyphony in dodecaphonic music. A few years earlier, Togni had transcribed five Bach chorales for piano to create his Prima partita corale. On this occasion he used a theme from The Art of Fugue, namely the third subject of the final, unfinished fugue: the four notes B flat, A natural, C natural and B natural (which spell BACH in German musical nomenclature), which cover the minor third between A natural and C natural, followed by two conclusive notes, C sharp and D natural, which extend the interval to a perfect fourth. By adding to these the other six notes obtainable by transposition to the augmented fourth, the composer creates the series that appears at the start of the opening movement and underpins the composition as a whole, rigorously generating the entire formal structure. The Omaggio tells the story of this motif which, having been set out overtly at the start, is submerged in the musical texture during the second movement before re-emerging at the end of the work.

Togni once wrote a piece about the great excitement he experienced on discovering the huge potential of this material³:

“… I remember what an impact it made on me when I realised that in Bach’s final theme … he both posited and resolved problems which would be part of musical debate at least 150 years later … ; it is astounding, to say the least, to recognise that Bach had already set down the conditions and sensed the most systematic solution way back in the mid-eighteenth century!

“If the six-note Bachian theme is repeated with a transposition to the augmented fourth, you create a twelve-note series; moreover, each of the two groups of six notes can be substituted with the inversion of its intervals, without altering the panchromatic saturation.

“By this time, I had been researching serial music for over a decade, but I still remember the pure thrill of understanding how forward-thinking Bach had been here and in so many other ways.

“It was with this sense of awe that I wrote the first movement of my Omaggio. It is a fantasia, both serious and “commemorative” in character, which quotes and develops Bach’s material in several contrapuntal episodes.”

Though the Omaggio is not a fully serialist work, it does exhibit a coherent deployment of rhythmic and dynamic components, including the use of the retrograde. The second movement is a canon by inversion between the two pianos, in which the Bachian subject again appears in the theme, to be followed by a transposition to the diminished fifth. The third movement is a theme and variations. The countersubject that emerges on the second piano is formed of four five-note phrases; it is based on complementary segments of the series and plays an important role in the six variations. In the sixth and final variation, above broad broken chords, the original six-note Bachian theme re-appears, in its original rhythm, in the central-high register on the first piano and with a conclusive fortissimo on the second.

Dating from the third period featured here, the Tre fantasie scherzose (Three playful fantasias) were written in 1967 and dedicated to Togni’s friend Angelo Passinetti (a few years later, in 1975, the composer dedicated Rondine garrula, the first of his Five Pieces for Flute and Guitar, to Passinetti’s young daughter Sara). Expertly composed and technically very challenging, the three pieces hark back to nineteenth-century paraphrases based on well-known tunes and offer occasional nods to Liszt, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. The composer clearly delights in playing with his melodies, classics of their genre, taking pleasure in disguising them in arpeggios that reveal them one moment and conceal them the next, especially in No. 3, in which we can hear a tendency he went on to develop in his later writing, that of using his borrowings as raw material rather than as themes in the more traditional manner.4

This recording paints a portrait of a musician whose multifaceted nature makes him impossible to pigeonhole. Togni the pure serialist might have preferred, for reasons of modesty, to draw a veil over certain parts of his career, in particular the period between the First Serenata, Op. 10 (1940) and the Variations for piano and orchestra, Op. 27 (1945/46). He had spent those five years searching for new ways to escape from the chromatic tunnel into which he felt he had been driven and to avoid a path that would have led to what he himself called “existential suicide”. Alfredo Casella, who truly understood him, offered him advice as he explored different possibilities, but this in no way prevented Togni from finding his own direction. It was serialism that ultimately provided the light at the end of his tunnel, and although that meant following a lonely path in Italy at the time (his only fellow traveller being Luigi Dallapiccola), a genuine sense of vocation sustained him along the way.

Daniela Cima
English version by Liam Mac Gabhann, edited Naxos

¹ Carla Mazzola di Zoppola Panciera, who died on 11th March 2014, was a co-founder of the Gioventù Musicale Association, and its president from 1975 to 1980.

² Intervals 1, 2 and 3 refer to 1 semitone, 2 semitones and 3 semitones—this was how Togni preferred to indicate them.

³ cf. manuscript entitled Introductory notes to be read before the concert in Taormina, 7th August 1975.

4 First Fantasy: La musica è finita. Music by U. Bindi, lyrics by F. Calofano and N. Salerno. Second Fantasy: Smile (1936). The music, composed by Charlie Chaplin, was used as the main theme for the 1938 film Modern Times, written and directed by Chaplin himself. The lyrics were written almost twenty years later, in 1954, by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons who gave the song its title. Smile was sung for the first time by Nat King Cole in the same year. Third Fantasy: Concerto d’autunno (1957). Music by C. Bargoni, lyrics by Danpa (D. Panzauti).

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