About this Recording
8.574049 - SALVIUCCI, G.: Chamber Works - Serenade / String Quartet / Chamber Symphony (S. von Walther, Ensemble Überbrettl, Maurizzi)
English  Italian 

Giovanni Salviucci (1907–1937)
Serenade for 9 Instruments • Salmo di David • String Quartet in C major • Pieces for Violin and Piano • Pensiero nostalgico • Chamber Symphony for 17 Instruments


In the interwar period, three men were unanimously recognised by the critics as Italy’s most talented composers: Luigi Dallapiccola and Goffredo Petrassi, both born in 1904, and Giovanni Salviucci, born in Rome in 1907. Fate had a very uncomfortable role in store for them: that of reaching adulthood and becoming leaders in new Italian music just as the ideas of ‘new’ and ‘avant-garde’ were being appropriated by the Fascist dictatorship—and without the support of the regime, it was impossible to establish oneself in stable fashion on Italy’s music scene.

Dallapiccola and Petrassi both had an opportunity in later life to move beyond and ‘rewrite’ the dramatic years of the dictatorship and the Second World War, becoming popular and leading figures of Italian 20thcentury music. That opportunity was denied Salviucci, who died from tuberculous meningitis in 1937, shortly before his 30th birthday. Although for traditionalists his use of tonality and counterpoint seemed almost too modernist, Salviucci could certainly not be defined as an avant-garde composer. His death therefore condemned him to the same fate that befell many Italian composers who suffered long years of neglect after 1945—composers who were, broadly speaking, progressive but whose music remained within the bounds of tonality, who, after being persecuted by the regime for racial, political or aesthetic reasons, were hurriedly filed away by a post-war narrative focused almost exclusively on the developments and implications of atonality and serialism.

The Salviucci family had no background in music, but did have close ties to Rome’s clerical circles. Because of these, the young Giovanni enjoyed private music lessons with Ernesto Boezi, director of the Cappella Giulia at St Peter’s and a leading Palestrina scholar, who passed on to Salviucci the exceptional awareness and mastery of counterpoint which became the main identifying feature of his compositional style. This period of training, initially at least, kept Salviucci at a distance from the musical upheavals of the new century. After graduating in composition in 1931, he enrolled in the advanced course taught by Respighi at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Equally important, however, was his meeting with Iditta Parpagliolo, a fellow composer and student of Respighi’s. She later became Salviucci’s wife and opened his eyes to the world of new music, introducing him to Alfredo Casella and Goffredo Petrassi, among others.

From 1932 onwards, Salviucci’s career began to take off, as a number of his orchestral works were performed with increasing success in Italy¹ and abroad, the finest among them perhaps being the Introduzione, Passacaglia e Finale (1934). His sudden death sadly prevented him from hearing his last two compositions performed, works judged by Fedele D’Amico and other critics to be his masterpieces: Alcesti (for chorus and orchestra) and the Serenata per 9 strumenti. When he died Salviucci also left three children, including a nine-month-old baby, Giovanna, now famous in Italy and beyond as folksinger and composer Giovanna Marini. Her support was instrumental in the making of this recording.

The album features all the chamber works published by Salviucci from 1930 onwards, as well as the Quartetto per archi of 1932 which remained unpublished. Many of these are world premiere recordings.

Pezzi per violino e pianoforte (‘Pieces for Violin and Piano’), published in 1930, dates from the composer’s youth. It comprises six short pieces designed for liturgical use and which combine the Catholicism in which he grew up and the rigorous teaching of Ernesto Boezi in sober, restrained writing, which nonetheless reveals his mastery of a counterpoint that already flowed from his pen with the utmost naturalness. The atmosphere is predominantly elegiac, with significant moments of tenderness and melodic freedom (No. 2. Elegia; No. 3. Preghiera; No. 5. Meditatione), which offer glimpses of the distinctive feature in Salviucci’s music noticed early on by Malipiero and confirmed by D’Amico: an inherent power of expression that was initially curbed by formal contrapuntal discipline but which gradually liberated itself, allowing his creativity free rein.

Pensiero nostalgico. Adagio per violoncello (o violino) e pianoforte (‘Nostalgic thought: Adagio for Cello (or Violin) and Piano’) is rooted in the same emotional atmosphere as the six Pezzi. Published in 1931, this concise Charakterstück has echoes of the late-19th century, and is energised by a vibrant, generous melody.

Continuing chronologically, we come to the crucial year of 1932, in which Salviucci composed his Quartetto per archi in do maggiore (‘String Quartet in C major’)—given the richness and power of its writing, the fact that it was never published remains a mystery. Both the opening Allegro moderato and the Allegro vivace finale have a drive that unquestionably resonates with the pounding rhythms that were such a strong element of Italian musical production during the Fascist period. Salviucci, however, makes this very much his own, with counterpoint that avoids stereotypes and is shaped with extreme flexibility, offering a wealth of unexpected possibilities. There are occasional reminiscences of Respighi, in the powerful unisons and some of the violin’s high timbres, but there are no hints of archaicism here as we see how Salviucci’s strict Palestrinian apprenticeship had developed into the freest of creative tools. The heart of the Quartet is the Adagio molto, a movement of extraordinary emotional impact, which begins with a luminous contrapuntal flowering whose scope distances it from contemporary works in the same genre by any of his compatriots. With its impassioned flow of dense chromaticisms, fiery outbursts and moments of ecstatic abandon, this movement stands out as a true gem of Italian interwar music.

A significant amount of Salviucci’s early production was of religious or liturgical inspiration. This included vocal as well as instrumental music, such as his final work of this type, the Salmo di David (‘Psalm of David’, 1933) for voice and piano, later transcribed for voice and chamber orchestra. The writing is fascinating—evocative and looking to the past with, at its heart, a clear melodic-harmonic polarity on the notes E flat, F sharp, A and C. It reveals some familiarity with certain European octatonic experiments of the period (those of Ravel, for example) and perhaps also reflects the debate on musical idiom that by then was raging in Italy as well.

The Sinfonia da camera per 17 strumenti (‘Chamber Symphony for 17 Instruments’, 1933) and the Serenata per 9 strumenti (‘Serenade for 9 Instruments’, 1937) are two of the composer’s most successful works. Structurally and stylistically both lean towards neo- Classicism, but thanks to Salviucci’s individuality and imagination all generic clichés are avoided in writing that has the sense of a narrative with its skilfully managed flow of ideas and use of surprising contrasts. In both cases, Salviucci’s choice of an ensemble smaller than an orchestra but larger than a conventional chamber grouping enables him to fully develop the two competing poles of his inspiration: a passion for polyphony on the one hand, and a delight in melody on the other. The Sinfonia da camera, premiered by Casella in Rome in 1934, is cast in four movements and is written for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, horn, six violins, two violas, two cellos and double bass. As early as the opening Allegro, perhaps inspired by Casella’s Concerto for String Quartet, Op. 40, a certain neo-Baroque homorhythmic pulse—typical of Casella—expands into a much more agile and refined colouristic and rhythmical texture, with an abundance of solo episodes and, above all, a luminosity that pervades the entire work, from the gentle euphony of the Adagio, to the lively string dialogues of the Allegretto vivace, and the electrifying rhythmical counterpoint of the closing Allegro.

The Serenata, for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and string quartet, was dedicated to the conductor Nino Sanzogno. Compared to the serenity of the Sinfonia, the contrapuntal writing, chromaticisms and unexpected motivic entries create a bolder, more agitated texture. This was Salviucci’s last work. Those of his contemporaries who heard the first performance, conducted by its dedicatee at the Venice Festival on 8 September 1937, four days after the composer’s death, all recognised the absolute originality achieved by the composer. He had become a kind of ‘new Malipiero’, impossible to pigeonhole, looking towards a future that was now not to be. The Serenade has three movements, of which the first, Allegro molto, has a certain febrile energy (D’Amico), dominated as it is by torrential contrapuntal writing studded with sudden contrasts. In the second movement, Canzone (Andantino), in which filigree solo lines for oboe, violin, bassoon and cello are interwoven, we once again hear the magic of Salviucci’s more lyrical side. The Allegro finale sounds like the unconventional paradigm of a counterpoint that has turned into a seismograph of individual creativity, wandering in carefree fashion between tonality and chromaticism, one moment rhythmically restless, the next tender and cantabile.

We shall never know how much Salviucci, the most Italian of composers, knew about the wider European music of his day, but there is certainly something in the air here that comes from the north of the Alps.

Giordano Montecchi Translation: Susannah Howe

¹ All Saviucci’s orchestral compositions were first performed at the Teatro Augusteo, Rome, which was demolished in 1936 on the orders of Mussolini.

Close the window