In 2002 I received from the Turin Teatro Regio – under the artistic direction by Marco Tutino – a commission for a ballet for young adults. The performance placed the next spring at the small theatre below the great hall, usually used for the Opera. The score was written for ten instrumentalists and lasts about 1 hour, with choreography and stage direction by Giovanni Di Cicco. I was also the conductor of the ensemble for the recording used in fourteen scheduled performances and that is possible to listen into this recording.
I immediately looked for a subject, but I did not struggle too much. I recalled to my mind a well-known story, but incredibly almost unknown to musical theatre: the ancient legend of “The Pied Piper”, which became the title of my work. It was my father, when I was very young, to tell me this terrible story that had impressed me so much. Even today I have a vivid recollection of those narratives that he loved to enrich by imitating the Piper, intoning a fragment of a simple invented melody. That musical fragment, heard at an age when I never thought I would become a composer, became the first material for this work. So I dedicated the score to the memory of my father, who disappeared a few months before the performance.
The subject derives from a historical fact that took place in the city of Hamelin (today Hameln, Lower Saxony), in 1284: the disappearance of 130 children due to a piper with coloured clothes. The literature sources are much more recent: Goethe (1804), Arnim and Brentano (1805), the Grimm Brothers (1816), Robert Browning (1849), and through Cvetaeva and Brecht up to the present day (Michael Ende, 1993). The story provides plenty of symbols and connections, and each version (poetry or prose, long or short) has slight differences in the way they juggle through them.
I adapted the story musically and narratively: musically I structured the typical form of the classical narrative style ballet, with the alternation of solos, pas de deux, choral scenes, etc. (as happens in Petruška, for example), narratively I did a general elaboration of the story towards a form of fairy tales, with a peculiar morality at its end.
Here the story: mice infest and dominate the city, and they are partying in wild rave parties; processions of penitents evoke medieval superstition, and their desperation saturates the environment. The Piper is instead a solitary but positive character, who since his arrival in the city establishes a relationship of instinctive sympathy with Children, with whom he plays carelessly. As soon as the Daughter of the Burgomaster saw him, she falls in love. The Burgomaster and Halberds intrude to stop those innocent dances as if they were dangerous riots; two mice penetrate into the scene, but the Halberds can not catch them, despite all their efforts. The Pied Piper petrifies mice with the simple sound of his flute so that they are taken and locked in a barrel. The Burgomaster promises a fair reward if he manages to free the city, and the Pied Piper accepts (in spite of the not completely clear character of the Burgomaster).
The next scene is in the girl’s room, which falls asleep full of anxiety for the meeting of the day before. In a dream that is not without troubles, the Piper appears. Close to the river, the Piper is about to fulfil its commitment: like a dervish, with the sound of the flute, it forces rats into the water, where they will be drowned, or cause them to swirl to exhaustion and death. After the carnage the Piper would remain alone in the midst of all those corpses, upset by the power of his own magic. Finally freed from rats, the city is on celebration; various groups of revellers cross the stage but, as in other versions of the fairy tale, the Burgomaster denies the agreed reward to the Piper, and before disappearing to escape an attempt to arrest, he swears terrible revenge. But the vengeance will never take place, in fact at the foot of the mountain where the Piper has taken refuge, the children come, not recalled by any spell. They decided spontaneously to follow the Pied Piper and leave the city, perceiving the inevitable corruption and the unstoppable decadence.
The Piper cast now the last spell: at the sound of the flute the mountain opens up, showing a golden underground path, shining with light, which will lead them all over the mountain, towards a new city, a new life.
Finally comes even the Daughter of the Burgomaster who hugs the Piper and joins them. The Piper breaks the flute (he will never use the ambiguous power of magic), and when the whole group has disappeared in the blazing passage, the mountain close behind them. In the mysterious and sinister calm that follows, two mice stealthily cross the scene: for them, the reconquest of the city of Hamelin has just begun.
(Album notes by Federico Biscione)
Translation by Theresa Williams
Federico Biscione: In his work, which goes beyond the avant-garde, Federico Biscione seeks to interact with the audience: his musical language moves in a free-tonal environment, accommodating, and appealing to contemporaneity and tradition in equal measure. Federico Biscione was born in Tivoli in 1965. He graduates the Tivoli Humanities High School in 1983, and obtains shortly after, at the "A. Casella" Academy of Music in L'Aquila diplomas in Piano, Composition and Orchestral Conducting. His first performed composition (Sonatina Giocattolo for trumpet and piano) was later published on two CDs (Beat Records Company and Nar Records, Japan). Under the guidance of Vieri Tosatti and his pupil Alessandro Cusatelli, he acquires the fundamental skills of composing, and some of his compositions begin to be performed in Italy and broadcast on the radio. These works include Jabberwocky for soprano and nine instruments, Dell'intimità for clarinet, cello and harp, Tredicesimo Canto for vocalist and classic/rock ensemble and the chamber opera Mamma Laser, commissioned by the Fondazione Arena in Verona, as well as the television programmes for RAI 1, which air Biscione’s performances of a selection of his piano pieces. From 1997 to 1999, he focuses particularly on studying and practicing orchestral conduction. He occasionally teaches Composition and Harmony at the Academy of Music and, in 1999, wins the national competition for professorship in Italian music academies, in the field of Fugue and Composition. From 2001 to 2005 he lives in Milan, where he composes music performed at the Regio Teatro in Turin (the ballet The Pied Piper, which is conducted by the composer) and the Parco della Musica in Rome (Passacaglia and Symphony with Sarcasm for strings). He writes works for the Pomeriggi Musicali Orchestra of Milan (Dalla soffitta for orchestra), the Milano Classica chamber orchestra (Tropic of Scorpio for marimba and strings, Alter Ego for strings, conducted by Massimiliano Caldi), the Milan State University Orchestra (Hanno for piano and strings performed by Davide Cabassi and conducted by Christopher Franklin, Aus Rilkes Bildern for soprano and strings), as well as Forse Lontano and B-612 for orchestra performed in Romania and conducted by Federico Longo. He has also transcribed and adapted several pieces by other composers, including a reduction for seven instruments of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (staged at the Regio Theatre of Turin in 2006). Between 2005 and 2007, Biscione lives in Leipzig, where he composes various pieces which are performed there (Myricae for three voices and five instruments; Verkündigung for soprano and trio performed in the Thomaskirche; Mozart. Eine Biographie, Windmühlen – these last two in Chemnitz, commissioned by the Robert Schumann-Philharmonie). The German public radio station Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) devotes an hour-long programme to Biscione, with interviews and extracts from some of his work. In April 2007, he becomes Head of Musical Services of the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, where he is responsible for the coordination of the orchestral and choral masses. At the end of 2009, Biscione moves to Milan and becomes tenured teacher of Composition at the "Niccolò Piccinni" Academy of Music in Bari. Some of his most recent work includes: Evocations and Songs for string orchestra (first performed in Mikkeli, Finland), Divertimento on Popular Christmas Themes for piano and string orchestra (commissioned by the Silesian Chamber Orchestra in Katowice, Poland), Catering for trio, Concertino sul nome Bach for two pianos and wind-orchestra, Bravo Niccolò! for piano and orchestra, Britten Diversion for small orchestra. Available on CD, besides the aforementioned works, Serenata Breve for woodwind quartet (also on Beat Records), cadences for the sonatas and the concertos for piano and orchestra by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, recorded by pianist Ana-Marija Markovina for the Leipzig-based label Genuin Classics, Constellations favorables for soprano-sax and piano (Preludio Records); Preludio, Notturno e Finale for Clarinet, cello and piano, Sarabanda e Giga performed by Giuseppe Chiaramonte and Microsuite for piano performed by Annie Corrado (Da Vinci Classics).