About this Recording
9.70026 - BETTINELLI, B.: Guitar Music (Complete) (Ficco)

Bruno Bettinelli (1913–2004)
Complete Guitar Music


This is the first recording of the complete guitar music of Bruno Bettinelli, the eminent Italian composer of operas, symphonies and concertos, chamber and vocal works. Bettinelli’s guitar music is a delightful distillation of his wider compositional concepts, rooted in twentieth century modernism but full of lyrical insights, inventiveness, and sheer originality. His explorations of guitar sonorities take the listener into new and unexpected areas of contemporary expressiveness. Bettinelli’s scrupulous attention to detail and his fascination with every aspect of writing for plucked strings, offers a unique experience with novel perspectives on the development of the twentieth-century guitar repertoire.

Bruno Bettinelli, born in Milan, was one of the foremost progressive twentieth century Italian composers and teachers profoundly influenced by the music of Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Bartók, as well as by the previous generation of eminent fellow countrymen such as Malipiero (1882–1973), Casella (1883–1947), and Petrassi (1904–2003). Bettinelli graduated from the Milan Conservatory in 1931, began teaching there from 1938 and was  subsequently appointed professor of composition from 1957 to 1979. His pupils across a wide range of musical achievements included the conductors Abbado, Chailly, Muti, and Serembe, pianists, Bucci, Canino, and Pollini,  and composers Brusa and Nannini. His prolific output covers operas, orchestral works, a number of vocal pieces, and chamber and instrumental music.

Bettinelli’s early style owed much to the neo-classicism of Hindemith, but after the Second World War he moved away from tonality into atonal chromaticism and a close analysis of Webern’s compositional concepts. He also explored the possibilities of electronic music. Bettinelli’s orchestral output lists seven symphonies, four concertos for orchestra, and several other concertos.  His interest in writing for the guitar began during the 1970s at a time when the repertoire was attracting many composers who had not previously written for the instrument. Bettinelli was encouraged both by the Italian guitarist, composer, and editor, Angelo Gilardino, who in the 1970s initiated a new series for Bèrben in an attempt to widen the guitar’s contemporary expressiveness, and also by Ruggero Chiesa, the distinguished Milanese editor and teacher.

Apart from Quattro pezzi, published by Bèrben in 1973 and recorded several times since then, Bettinelli’s guitar music has been neglected by recitalists, especially when the focus of the repertoire subtly shifted in the late twentieth century away from avant-garde experimentation towards a greater emphasis on neo-romanticism. Guitarists may therefore be surprised by the quantity and substance of Bettinelli’s music. He is a composer with a distinctive voice and writes in an austere but often lyrical style which explores the instrument’s resources with integrity and thoroughness. The range of his guitar pieces covers twelve studies as well as sonatas, preludes, and shorter, more improvisatory movements. His music has no affinities to Spanish influences but approaches the problems of guitar composition in a uniquely contemporary manner, involved with placing the guitar within the context of progressive twentieth century modernism.

Come una cadenza (In the manner of a cadenza)(1983) poses the question of the nature of a ‘cadenza’ – usually signifying a virtuoso solo passage inserted near the end of a concerto movement. In the eighteenth century cadenzas were often improvised as indication of a performer’s brilliance, but later on it was the composer’s brilliance that the instrumentalist was representing when this episode was written out in full.

Bettinelli’s cadenza is somewhat more extended than most examples in concertos. It expresses a definite flavour of improvisation, opening with an angular detached sparseness before developing into more complex textures and moods. A variety of guitaristic techniques are deployed throughout such as staccato effects, the resonances of single sonorous notes, rapid arpeggiated figurations, harmonics, pizzicato, and strummed chords.

Notturno (Nocturne) (1985), dedicated to and edited by Guido Margaria, harks back atmospherically to preceding evocations of night in guitar music such as Goffredo Petrassi’s Suoni Notturni (1959) and Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70, (1964), rather than to the sophisticated tradition of Chopin’s great set of Nocturnes. As such it is a worthy addition to the expressive poetic nature of the guitar. Notturno opens in three-four time, marked calmo, with meditative single lines in the bass before broadening into melancholic chords and gentle bell-like harmonics. A second section develops the treble voice, supported by chords, moving into agitated accelerating semiquavers and strident octaves until, once again, calm is restored, liberamente,  with soothing harmonics. A final episode leads back to intimations of the opening bass line, with a concluding passage where serenity is established almost in terms of a tonal lullaby with gentle harp-like chords.

Dodici Studi (Twelve Studies) (1977) will irresistibly remind guitarists, at least as far as the title is concerned, of the famous Douze Études for guitar of Heitor Villa-Lobos, composed in 1929 for Segovia. But whereas the great Brazilian composer’s studies were the product of a natural romantic, Bettinelli’s ambitious set of studies project a defiantly contemporary identity, appropriate and timely after the half century of musical development which the guitar had passed through. Thus, in thoroughly modern idioms, the composer explores the separate techniques of the guitar, including monody, rhythm, melody with supporting arpeggio, chords, alternate registers, repeated notes, spaced intervals, polyphony, melody in the bass, multiple textures, expressive calmness, and finally, the intricacies of the Passacaglia (reminiscent of Britten’s Passacaglia towards the end of Nocturnal). Bettinelli’s achievement here is an effective compendium of the demands placed on performers in the context of contemporary music.

Mutazioni su tre temi noti (Mutations on three well-known themes) (1994) takes for its themes, Mozart’s Là ci darem la mano (Give me your hand)from Don Giovanni, Chopin’s famous Nocturne in E flat, Op. 9, No. 2, and Stravinsky’s Little Waltz from Petrushka. Each Mutation begins with a statement of the melody followed by a new look at the material from the composer’s perspective and a further glimpse of the original theme.

With Cinque Preludi (Five Preludes) (1971) the title once again may well remind us of Villa-Lobos’s famous Five Preludes written during the 1940s. But the Italian composer invariably offers his own unique musical language even while ironically reminding us of guitaristic precedents. A chaste clarity of outline is characteristic of these pieces, each being short and to the point. In some ways they are also reminiscent of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Impromptus (1968) in that these brief contrasting statements establish structures within which a composer could explore guitar textures for the first time. Cinque Preludi are dedicated to Ruggero Chiesa.

Sonata breve (1976), dedicated to Aldo Minella, is a three movement work like many sonatas. But it is full of surprises and unexpected colours, and the listener is perhaps implicitly invited to place expectations of conventional musical form against the more episodic, fragmented moods of Bettinelli’s creation. The first movement begins with a plaintive single line after which comes a more rhythmic dance style. This is followed by a tender Aria, with gentler tonal elements developing a quasi-romantic melancholy of great sensitivity. But this is rapidly dispersed by the more strident opening of the third movement which introduces mandolin-like strumming and then moves on to more introspective aspects. The sonata returns to its initial frolics, only briefly dwelling on its own meditation before concluding with bold detachment and vigour.

Improvvisazione (1970) was Bettinelli’s first composition for guitar. The piece opens with the marking a piacere, con molta elasticità (as you please, with much elasticity) before progressing to a tempo, and a more impulsive forward motion. The separate sections build up into a complex collage of textures comprising monodic lines, chordal groupings, tapping effects, and even moments which suggest influences from the jazz guitar.

In Quattro Pezzi (Four Pieces) (1972), Bettinelli turned his attention to the ancient form of the ‘suite’, and transforms it into his own contemporary expressiveness. The composition has been authoritatively described by Angelo Gilardino, the work’s dedicatee and editor, and the first guitarist to record the four pieces: These movements are atonal in character but are not tied to any compositional dogma; they use strong elements of invention and form in developing elegant rhythmic, dynamic and expressive contrasts. The Introduzione is thoughtful and somewhat introverted, the Toccata passes like a swift and buzzing chimera, the Notturno is lyrical and atmospheric, whilst the final Ritmico is fierce and assertive. Bettinelli, well-known for his attention to detail, gives here a further demonstration of his style, combining very fluent invention and painstaking accuracy with craftsmanship.

Graham Wade

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