About this Recording
9.70143 - MARTUCCI, G.: Cello Music (Armatys, Makita) - Cello Sonata / 2 Romances / 3 Pezzi

Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909)
Music for Cello and Piano


The figure of Giuseppe Martucci has recently undergone a steady though not systematic reappraisal and rediscovery. This process has not been easy because of the oblivion most of his works have fallen into and because of the musician’s versatility. His activities ranged, although involuntarily and not as part of an intended plan, from international concerts as a pianist, to orchestra conducting, composing, teaching and the direction of important teaching institutions. In all these fields Martucci left his significant mark, as demonstrated by the many acknowledgments received during his life. Considered at first a national glory, his figure soon suffered a necessary fading: his work was considered non-functional to the renewal project theorized by the musicians of the following generation—the so-called generation of the Eighties, among whom the influential Pizzetti—and was thus condemned to an oblivion from which it is only now emerging. And yet a curious and knowledgeable composer such as Malipiero had defined Martucci as a “genius in the true meaning of the word”. He found Martucci’s symphonic production (and the Second Symphony above all) to be the turning-point towards the rebirth of instrumental music in Italy. Amongst his chamber music—wrongfully ignored—many pieces are dedicated to the duo cello and piano: besides the pieces presented herein (the Sonata, Op. 52, the Three Pieces, Op. 69 and the Two Romances, Op. 72) the composer wrote for these instruments the Pensiero Musicale, Op. 36, No. 1, recently rediscovered, and two series of transcriptions of famous pieces. Martucci used the cello extensively, in his continuous research of its specific timbre, in many other chamber music compositions (the trios with piano, the quintet); and cellos open the great Andante of the Second Symphony. The reasons for this partiality are difficult to pin down. Surely of great significance was the opportunity Martucci had of performing with the famous cellist Alfredo Piatti, well known today for his Capricci. First cellist of the Italian Opera in London, Piatti was acquainted with the greatest musicians of the time, especially with Mendelssohn (composer of two cello sonatas himself); we can easily imagine what impact the sound of Piatti’s Stradivari had on Martucci’s fervid imagination. And living in Naples, Martucci met many skilful cellists belonging to what was the best cello school—besides Milan—in Italy at the time (among them Gaetano Ciandelli, student of Fenzi and Paganini, and his students). Following his father’s will, he withdrew from the Conservatory early on but broadened his knowledge of other European music by attending the elite circles and cultural salons frequented by aristocrats, entrepreneurs and members of Naples’ German-speaking community, which he had access to thanks to his Maestro Beniamino Cesi and to his own superior talent as a pianist. This is where he matured musically, in contact with stimulating musicians and connoisseurs who were always updated on the latest successful repertoires. One of the “amateurs” of this privileged circle of patrons was Paolo Rotondo, an olive oil merchant and a cello devotee, who  collected all the literature about this instrument published in Italy and Europe at the time. Martucci, being his friend, probably had access to all this classic and romantic chamber music literature (simply missing from the Conservatory’s library at the time) which was to contribute greatly to his “anomalous” education.

The only Cello and Piano Sonata of any importance written in Italy during the second half of the nineteenth century was Martucci’s Sonata in F sharp minor, dedicated to Paolo Rotondo. An extreme balance between the two instruments, a creative richness and a sure control over form appear from the first movement. The first theme, marked by a nervous rhythmic cell based on a dotted rhythm and leaps, leads to an airy and long second theme in D major, a phrase of great breadth which exploits the cello’s possibilities in all registers. The ample development uses elements of the first idea and of the bridge. The first movement is closed by a coda which recalls the beginning of the development. The second movement (Allegro, Trio-Allegretto, Allegro) is a typical Martucci scherzo and has many affinities with the Trio, Op. 59, and the Scherzi for piano, Op. 53; the distinguishing features are a great inventive freedom and a joyful sweetness. Echoes of Neapolitan melodies can be found in the trio, with a sort of piva in a moderate tempo. The Intermezzo (Andantino flebile) is very simple in structure and with a subdued, languid tone. Regular melodies are alternated and repeated by the two instruments and a remarkable anticipation of the last movement can be found in the final arpeggio. The Sonata ends with a Finale (Allegro), a sonata-rondo of ample extension, brilliant and varied in its choice of modulations and displaying Martucci’s brilliant piano playing and virtuosity. Towards the end, the first theme of the Allegro is recalled and the sonata then ends with a virtuoso cello performance.

Martucci had a preference for the Three Pieces, Op. 69 (composed in 1888): in 1907, twenty years after its composition, he brilliantly orchestrated the second piece. The first, in E minor, after a rhetorical opening only seemingly heroic, displays a self-contained melody based on highlighted intervals of diminished fifth. The second theme, in G major, is of blinding brightness. The intermediate section, in C major, is entrusted to the piano with a re-elaboration of the first theme, counterpointed by the cello in the low register. After a noticeably shortened recapitulation, the piece ends with a reconciliatory coda in the major. The second piece, in B flat major, is the most dreamlike of the three; the first long melody in 6/8 has the quality of a fading dance, with a few impulses which then recede. The intermediate section is taken by the piano with a very mobile combination of variously tied triplets. The very effective and masterfully composed recapitulation presents a theme played by the piano and counterpointed by a design of cello triplets drawn from the intermediate section. The piece then ends with a cathartic close. The third piece, in A minor, has a resolute and vigorous beginning that softens into a luminous section in F major. The central section, pervaded with Wagnerian chromaticism, turns into a elaboration of the main theme, here presented in a wider texture. An animated section brings us suddenly back to the recapitulation. A recall of the intermediate section and a short coda close the piece.

The Two Romances, Op.72,were published in 1891 by the Leipzig publisher Rather, as were the Sonata, Op. 52, and Three Pieces, Op. 69, by another Leipzig publisher, Kistner. In fact the publishers of that geographical area gave a fundamental contribution to the rebirth of chamber music in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first, the Romance in A minor, is an instrumental adaptation of the “Perché tristo è questo cuore” duet, from the oratorio Samuel that Martucci wrote but never wanted published; pervaded with a sweet sadness, it recalls certain Schumann gestures. The second, the Romance in A major, with its typical Martucci passion, confirms the singing character of these pieces. We must bear in mind that the analogy between the cello’s sound and human voice was current at the time and that some of the cellists that Martucci knew (Domenico Labocetta and Gaetano Braga among these) were professional singers.

Gianfranco Borrelli
Translated by Sara Triulzi

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