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Hyperion Records

CDA67869 - Pizzetti & Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Violin Sonatas
Caryatid (1911) by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67869
Recording details: June 2010
Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel
Produced by Eric Wen
Engineered by Zvi Hirshler
Release date: May 2014
Total duration: 68 minutes 32 seconds

'You understand exactly why Pizzetti was deemed so important when you hear his Sonata in A (1919): one of the great works in the form and an austere meditation on the first world war, that uses plainchant-inflected themes in a demand for spiritual continuity in the aftermath of political trauma. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's 'Sonata quasi una fantasia' (1929) is an eclectic, sexy mix of impressionism and jazz. The Pizzetti demands something other than beauty in performance, and Shaham and Erez are uncompromising and abrasive with it. The Castelnuovo-Tedesco sounds gorgeous from start to finish' (The Guardian) » More

Pizzetti & Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Violin Sonatas
Tempestoso  [11'21]
Vivo e fresco  [9'07]
Affettuoso  [4'12]
Appassionato  [4'04]
Epilogo: Calmo  [7'08] FREE DOWNLOAD TRACK

Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez continue their exploration of the early twentieth-century violin repertoire, turning this time to Italy. These musicians are noted for their full-blooded performances: here they revel exuberantly in the music’s operatic passion.

Other recordings by Hagai Shaham

Pizzetti was at the height of his fame at a time when Italian music was all the rage; his pupil Castelnuovo-Tedesco eventually fled Italian anti-semitism to embark on a successful career in Hollywood.

Pizzetti’s Violin Sonata in A major was described by the late John C G Waterhouse, Britain’s leading authority on twentieth-century Italian music, as ‘much the most impressive sonata for violin and piano that has ever been written by an Italian’. His Tre canti were written in 1924, originally for cello and piano, then transcribed by the composer for violin.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata quasi una fantasia, Op 56, was composed in 1929, with a dedication to the Hungarian violinist Adila Fachiri (also the dedicatee of Bartók’s two violin sonatas). The Tre vocalizzi were originally written in 1928 as vocalises for wordless voice and piano. They were subsequently arranged for violin and piano by Mario Corti, who saw the potential in these pieces for transcriptions that used violin techniques to imaginative effect, with extensive use of double-stopping and harmonics, as well as a greatly expanded compass, using octave transpositions to exploit the instrument’s entire range.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In December 1921, Guido M Gatti declared in The Musical Times that ‘Ildebrando Pizzetti is doubtless the greatest musician in Italy today … This fine figure of an artist stands out clearly on the national horizon: and advances surely and steadily, full of study and love for his art.’

Gatti wrote this at a time when Italian music was achieving considerable international renown: Puccini was at the height of his fame; in 1918 Il Trittico had been given its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, and in 1920 he started composing Turandot. Respighi’s Fountains of Rome (the first of his Roman Trilogy) was completed in 1916 and La boutique fantasque (after Rossini) was given its premiere at London’s Alhambra Theatre by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1919. Given the widespread success of composers such as Puccini and Respighi in the years just after World War One—and the emergence of Malipiero and Casella—it is fascinating that Gatti chose Ildebrando Pizzetti as the finest of them all. Pizzetti’s most ambitious work from before World War One was the opera Fedra (with a libretto by Gabriele D’Annunzio) in which his declared aim was to reform Italian opera by learning from the examples of Monteverdi on the one hand, and of Wagner on the other. With a score of sometimes startling austerity, when Fedra was staged at La Scala in 1915 it was a failure, and was dropped from the repertoire after just four performances. Pizzetti’s long career included a number of other operatic projects, notably Débora e Jaéle and Assassinio nella cattedrale, based on an Italian version of T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (and introduced at La Scala in 1958). Pizzetti worked on Débora e Jaéle from 1915 until 1921—the time of the Violin Sonata recorded here—and it was first produced at La Scala on 16 December 1922, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Puccini was in the audience, and wrote about the opera to his friend Riccardo Schabl: ‘For me it doesn’t work, but surely (I want to listen to it again) there are things of the highest interest.’ What bothered Puccini was the lack of strong melodic content—something he felt was likely to doom the work to a short life in the theatre. But it was just this side of Pizzetti’s musical character—somewhat austere, ascetic, and rigorous—that had such a strong appeal for progressive commentators such as Gatti, and for younger composers.

Pizzetti’s Violin Sonata in A major was started in September 1918 and completed a year later. Gatti certainly wasn’t alone in considering it a major addition to the Italian chamber music repertoire, and Pizzetti’s pupil Castelnuovo-Tedesco devoted a long article to it in the Turin journal Il Pianoforte (July 1920, pp.1–5). However, at least one contemporary critic was less convinced. In The New Age (21 October 1920) Ezra Pound reviewed the first London performance of the work, given at the Aeolian Hall on 1 October 1920 by Kathleen Parlow and Charlton Keith. Pound wrote:

Pizzetti … has attained a style, or at least a personal idiosyncrasy—something to bind his various works together … in Pizzetti’s case it often causes one to wonder just why, if he is so anti-classical, he retains certain classical phrasings, on what grounds he accepts, on what grounds he rejects this or that part of the tradition. Here he has joined piano and violin so that the combination is not annoying, but he has hardly discovered a unified musical dialect. The second movement did not retain one’s attention; the third demonstrated Pizzetti’s capacity for dance tune.

Reporting on the same concert, The Times was rather more enthusiastic:

There is a severe reliance on the plain statement of ideas which shows the matured mind. The emotional sequence of the three movements is described by headings, ‘Tempestoso’, ‘Preghiera per gl’innocenti’ and ‘Vivo e fresco’, and, though a more detailed programme has been put forward connecting it with the war, it is as music and not as musical description that the hearer is asked to perceive its impressions … The influences of ecclesiastical plainchant are felt in several themes of the first two movements, and the lilt of a folksong rhythm is strong in the finale… . His most interesting moments are generally found in the entries of the violin, the first one of all, for example, where its long-drawn notes and the rise of a semitone make a remarkable contrast with the reiterated rhythm which the piano has been developing.

The Sonata was published by the British firm of J & W Chester and it was welcomed enthusiastically by Ferruccio Bonavia in The Musical Times (May 1921):

Pizzetti’s Sonata has had already an exceptionally favourable reception. Time alone will prove whether its qualities are enduring—they are undoubtedly striking … Pizzetti seems to have drawn his inspiration and his strength from the popular national form—opera. There is nothing ‘theatrical’ in the usual sense, yet he does give us the atmosphere of the drama of the theatre, but with the power, freedom and art that are essentially of the classicist.

These early reviews allude to three significant aspects of the work: its programme, specifically its link with the war; its dramatic, almost vocal style of writing in places; and Pizzetti’s individual amalgam of earlier music (particularly plainchant) with a more progressive harmonic language—all within a classical framework. The first movement is marked Tempestoso and begins with a terse piano theme, characterized by falling fourths; this rises to a climax before the first entry of the violin which plays a long phrase marked by rising and falling semitones, over the obsessive, agitated piano writing. Throughout this opening section, the violin and piano stick strictly to their own musical ideas. Following the introduction of a more solemn, chant-like melody in the piano’s lower register, the violin again answers with contrasting material: only later in the movement does it take up the piano theme. As this long, motivically rich movement draws to a close, fragments of the falling fourth idea from the start, and the violin’s plangent falling semitones push the music towards a strong close in A minor.

The second movement is the emotional heart of the work, a ‘Prayer for the Innocents’. In an article about Pizzetti for Musical Quarterly in 1923, Gatti described its programmatic outline in poetic terms: ‘Here the tempest is stilled; man again finds his faith, and clings to it with every fibre of his being; that peace which his fellow men are unable or unwilling to grant him, he humbly implores of God, while from his lips fall the tenderest, the simplest, the most heartfelt words that he has spoken since childhood.’ In a form that feels spontaneous and fluid, Pizzetti’s music in this ‘Prayer’ is sometimes declamatory, but always intensely melodic. There’s an explicitly song-like character to the aristocratic opening theme in C major: Gatti noted that the composer imagined this melody being sung to the words ‘O Signor Iddio nostro, o Signore, abbi pietà di tutti gli innocenti che non sanno perchè si deve soffrire’ (‘O Lord our God, O Lord, have pity on all the innocent ones who know not why they have to suffer’). The same theme makes an intense and passionate return later in the movement (now in E major, and on the violin).

The finale brings with it a sense of optimism and renewal, though in purely musical terms it is not perhaps as imaginative and resourceful as the first two movements. But it bristles with dance-like vitality, leading to a broad and noble close.

The late John C G Waterhouse, Britain’s leading authority on twentieth-century Italian music, was in no doubt about the quality of Pizzetti’s Violin Sonata, describing it as ‘much the most impressive sonata for violin and piano that has ever been written by an Italian’. It was regularly played abroad, and the composer himself included it in a concert of his chamber music at the Library of Congress in Washington DC on 5 March 1930, during his first visit to the United States. He was already a familiar name to American concert audiences: announcing the 1930 visit, Time magazine described Pizzetti as ‘the famed Italian composer’ and hailed his stay as ‘a major musical event’—its patrons included Pizzetti’s friend Toscanini, the Director of the Metropolitan Opera Giulio Gatti-Casazza, Helen Astor, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had commissioned Pizzetti’s Piano Trio in 1925 and would later commission his Second String Quartet. Yehudi Menuhin recorded the Violin Sonata with his sister Hephzibah in May 1938—a remarkable but well-deserved vote of confidence from a British record company in a modern Italian instrumental work lasting almost half an hour.

Pizzetti’s Tre canti were written in 1924, originally for cello and piano, then transcribed by the composer for violin. This is much less ambitious music, conceived on a smaller scale and at a lower emotional temperature than the Violin Sonata, but exuding considerable charm in the first two pieces, and becoming more dramatic in the third.

Among Pizzetti’s pupils, the most distinguished was Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, scion of a Jewish banking family in Florence. The Sonata quasi una fantasia, Op 56, was composed in 1929, with a dedication to the Hungarian violinist Adila Fachiri (who was also the dedicatee of Bartók’s two violin sonatas). The autograph manuscript formerly in Adila Fachiri’s collection is dated 30 October 1929, and it appears that she played the piece shortly afterwards: an announcement in The Times (18 November 1929) stated that on Saturday (23 November), ‘Miss Adila Fachiri will give a violin recital (Wigmore Hall) at which she will play a new sonata by Castelnuovo-Tedesco’. However, it is likely that this didn’t take place as planned, since a subequent announcement appeared on 24 February 1930, promising the same ‘new sonata by Castelnuovo-Tedesco’ in Fachiri’s forthcoming Wigmore Hall concert on 1 March. This performance—possibly the work’s first—was reported by the Italian periodical Musica d’oggi: ‘Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata quasi una fantasia has recently been played in London with excellent results by Adila Fachiri and the pianist Maurice Cole.’ Even though the sonata was published by Ricordi in 1930, it seems to have attracted little interest from performers. But after Castelnuovo-Tedesco was forced by rising anti-Semitism to flee Italy for the United States, he found this very piece being ridiculed in the journal Modern Music as ‘a variegated assortment of left-over impressionisms, chord streams, lush moods, chinoiseries, and “motives”, thrown together in a half-baked manner’. This was an extraordinarily harsh verdict on a work that is both harmonically alluring and quite concise, lasting just over quarter of an hour.

The three linked movements are a Prologo marked Moderato e pensoso (ending with a magnificent flourish, with rising violin semiquavers and a double glissando in the piano), leading to the second movement, a lively Intermezzo, Vivace e danzante, with a slower central section, and finally an Epilogo, Calmo and marked cupo e grave (‘dark and serious’), which later returns to the tempo of the Prologo before a delicately coloured coda (with a fleeting reference to the Intermezzo) brings the work to a peaceful close.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Tre vocalizzi were originally written in 1928 as vocalises for wordless voice and piano. They were subsequently arranged in 1930 for violin and piano by Mario Corti, a distinguished Italian violinist, and one of the most devoted early advocates of the violin sonatas by Pizzetti and Respighi. Corti saw the potential in these pieces for transcriptions that used violin techniques to imaginative effect, with extensive use of double-stopping and harmonics, as well as a greatly expanded compass, using octave transpositions to exploit the instrument’s entire range. Each of the vocalises has a subtitle. The first is a rhapsodic Andantino entitled Pan ed Eco; the second is solemn and melancholy, Come una nenia marinaresca (‘like a maritime lament’); and the third, marked Tempo di Fox Trot is subtitled American Music—something Castelnuovo-Tedesco was to experience at first hand a decade later, when he embarked on a successful career in Hollywood.

Nigel Simeone © 2014

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