Mario Totaro: Piano & Percussion Works


  • Artist(s): Trio Diaghilev
  • Composer(s): Mario Totaro
  • EAN Code: 7.93588766917
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Accordion, Clarinet, Percussion, Piano
  • Period: Contemporary
SKU: C00140 Category:

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In 1918 the great impresario Sergej Diaghilev asked Ottorino Respighi to rework some pieces of Rossini drawn from Péchés de vieillesse. The pieces were to be used for his new ballet La boutique fantasque, performed by the mythical Ballets Russes in 1919. It was not the first time that Diaghilev commissioned reworkings of music of the past for his performances, nor would it be the last: in 1917 he entrusted Vincenzo Tommasini with the task of orchestrating some sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti for the ballet Le donne di buon umore, and in 1919 Stravinsky with the music of Pulcinella, based on pieces by G. B. Pergolesi and other 18th century Italian musicians. The recovery of “old” personal styles in the music of the 20th century was certainly not an invention of Diaghilev: it was an aesthetic approach that had existed for two decades, but it developed especially in the period between the two world wars and was called “Neoclassicism” (while the music based on pre-existing work was called musica al quadrato). Created mainly as reaction to late-Romantic excesses, Neoclassicism took on markedly different characteristics: in the simplest cases (as for example in Le donne di buon umore by Tommasini) the composer limited himself to arranging the original music, generally respecting the musical characteristics and thus reducing the split with the past to a minimum; in the more complex and interesting cases (such as Pulcinella by Stravinski) the dialectic between past and present was accentuated and the pre-existing pieces were “recomposed” in parody form, up to estrangement and ironic-grotesque distortion. Going back to La boutique fantasque, the choice of the enigmatic, impertinent and detached Rossini pieces of his later years might have led to extremely interesting outcomes. Rossini appears to us today not only as the most illustrious anti Romantic of the 19th century, but even as a “pre-Neoclassic” composer in his ironic, desecrating and irreverent parodies of Nineteenth century personal styles and “icons”. It should also be remembered that in the Petite Messe Solennelle he paves the way for the twentieth century recovery of a glorious past, linking Bach to Stravinsky. Respighi, however, was not able or did not want to rise to the occasion: his masterly, magnificent orchestration of Rossini’s originals is closer to Tchaikovsky and Rimski-Korsakov than to twentieth century music. Here the split and the dialectical confrontation between tradition and modernity was eliminated, to the point where not only La boutique fantasque can’t be considered a Neoclassical work, but it can even be considered as anti-Neoclassical! After nearly eighty years from these occurrences, Caprice fantasque picks up again on Rossini’s music reworked by Respighi, proposing it in the same order chosen by the latter but with a very different intent. The reference to Respighi and to musica al quadrato is only a pretext in order to propose a true musica al cubo. The object of the parody is not so much the Péchés de vieillesse (in turn already a parody), but rather the entire season of historic Neoclassicism. The operation is carried out as a detached and light intellectual game. In some cases one is dealing with arrangements that lead to distortion of various types and kinds, but where the original theme is recognisable to the ear (this is the case with the Overture, the Romanza, the Tarantella, the Danza Cosacca and the Rondeau). The most interesting cases within this group of pieces are perhaps those where the elaboration highlights characteristics already present in Rossini’s pieces by exaggerating the same (as it happens for example in the Romanza, where the originality of the initial melody is revealed by simply dismembering its constituent parts). Then there is a group of pieces where the transformations are more incisive and the elaborations freer, while the initial model still remains fairly identifiable. One could define them “variations à la manière de…” and they are pieces that make a greater use of musical quotations, deriving mainly from elements already present in Rossini (the quotations in Caprice Fantasque at times concealed and at times highlighted to the extreme, are numerous and embrace a-century-and-a-half of musical history). This is the case of the Intermezzo I, with its Beethovian references; it is the case of the Mazurka, where the reference is aboveall to Liszt’s Mephisto waltz (with an allusion to the romanza named Caro nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto); and lastly the case of the Valzer triste, where the change of mode (from major to minor) and tempo turn the character of the original upside down, enabling the insertion of new melodic lines, quotations from Beethoven and Chopin and an authentic coup de théâtre in the finale. The Tango-Valzer Viennese and the Finale-Galop are two separate cases. The first aims at the maximum diversification of the original elements, obtained through differentiated treatments that gradually make the themes more or less identifiable; the second opposingly aims at the maximum integration between two different pieces (the last two of the Respighi ballet) ultimately merging them into a single unit. Lastly the ultimate group comprises pieces that use Rossini’s material to create something new; here the recognisability of the original is totally lost and references to the twentieth century abound, even though direct quotations are not made. This is the case of Intermezzo II (that could be defined as “expressionist”); of the Intermezzo III (that tips the wink at a certain Bartók); of Intermezzo IV (that with its “mirror” construction alludes to certain Berg-like structures and at its center, even offers a dodecaphonic theme). And lastly the case of the Notturno, where self quotation and sonoric setting of symbolic meanings appear. The work exists in two versions: one for a piano duo and the other for piano and percussion. The latter was created thanks to the much-valued cooperation of Ivan Gambini, who made numerous timbric choices, as well as introducing the quotations present in the percussion part.

In Totantango the distorsion, the irony, the alchemic procedure are already present in the title, based on a play on words (“Totar” and “Toten”) that would lead one to suppose an autobiographical and at the same time macabre connotation. Like the Caprice fantasque in this case one can speak of musica al cubo. The composition is in fact based on two arrangements (on a 1968 33 rpm) of two extremely famous tangos, arrangements that aren’t genuinely folk oriented and indeed that “use” the forms of this repertoire as material to be exploited for commercial ends, counterfeiting the same according to the dictates of an aesthetic approach that is decidedly kitsch. This is where the sense of “Totantango” lies; the idea is that by reiterating and bringing these “acts of violence” on the repertoire (and not just a folk repertoire) to extreme consequences, one inevitably attains the death and dissolution of the same. This assumption is underlined in the piece by a series of procedures that progressively denaturize the musical material that gradually becomes more and more automatic and mechanical, almost as if to symbolise the growing “dehumanisation” of the product. At the beginning they seem only to produce small, gratuitous, funny distortions but little-by-little one realises that it is the very development and natural proliferation of these “moles”

that leads to a “cancer” that will cause the death of the infected organism. The same tonal functions, already “attacked” in the first part of the work, progressively disappear from the second part, where the chords gradually turn into simple aggregations of intervals to be manipulated according to implacable iron rules. The proliferation of “cancer cells” soon leads to paroxysmal climax, followed by a huge explosion and hence a slow, inexorable dissolution; in the last part of the piece the material of the two tangos is crushed into tiny pieces, spun and dispersed up to attaining total extinction, silence, nothingness. The quotations present in the piece almost pass unnoticed (from Chopin to Rossini, from Rachmaninov to popular Italian folk “liscio” up to the Donatonian style in the finale), and their heterogeneous nature seems to allude to a situation in which the artistic products, evermore defiled by a system that mainly follows market rules, end up by totally losing their cultural identity.

Ex Oedipo is a “score for reciting voices and instruments”, a long melologue organized into separate pieces that offers a contemporary interpretation of the myth of Oedipus. The present suite brings together the most significant pieces of the work. The Favola (Tale) is a “Perpetual ricercar” for four voices that originally accompanied the account of the birth and infancy of Oedipus. The contrast with Predicatore (Preacher) couldn’t be stronger. The latter piece splits into two parts with totally different registers, underlining the ambiguity of the character represented. The awe-inspiring, hypnotic Cartomante (Fortune-teller) illustrates a practise of divining and appears to evoke the image of a crystal ball in continual, slow movement. A harsh chord suddenly introduces the dramatic Circense (Circus Man), a sort of halucinatory and inexorable “fairground music”, almost an insistent “Mephisto waltz”. The subsequent Poema del vento (Wind Poem) is in two parts, the first with a vaguely archaic flavour, the second describing the love orgasm between Oedipus and Giocasta. The last piece of the suite, Epilogo, is a paraphase of the initial Favola, similar and yet at the same time quite different.

(Album Notes by Mario Totaro)


The TRIO DIAGHILEV “perform continual ‘coups de theatre’ to the point where they transform an apparently simple concert into truly remarkable performance... with infinitely more daring effects when compared with the orchestral versions”…. “the way in which the Trio succeeds in creating symphonic sounds is impressive, as is the dynamism of the two pianos and percussion…” - comments from the Munich "Süddeutsche Zeitung".
Each player’s stunning instrumental technique, the virtuosity of the pianists, the percussion’s impressive impact, their refined taste and respectful open-mindedness, together with their creativity and resulting emotional tension make the Trio Diaghilev's performances into an astonishing and exciting evening.
The Trio Diaghilev's repertoire includes some of the greatest 20th century musical masterpieces (including works by Bartok, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Satie, Holst, Ravel, Bernstein, Gershwin and Weill) as well as original compositions written especially for them.
The Trio has gained much critical acclaim and great enthusiasm from the public in Italy and abroad. They have performed in prestigious events and festivals (Galleria dei Suoni- Musica 2000- Cidim, Rome; I Concerti dell’Ateneo/UIC, Rome; Futuroma on the opening night for the celebrations of the centenary of the Futurist Movement, Rome; XLuna for the celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of the landing on the moon, Roma; Gioventù Musicale Italiana, Milano; Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna; Associazione Scarlatti, Napoli; ROF (Rossini Opera Festival), Pesaro; Ente Concerti also in Pesaro; Sagra Musicale Malatestiana, Rimini; Autunno Musicale, Como; Amici della Musica, Ancona; Cittadella Theatre, Lugano; Internationales Iffeldorfer Meisterkonzer, Ifferdorf; Moore Theatre, Seattle; Benaroya Hall, Seattle; Rialto Theatre, Tacoma).
They have also worked with some important dance companies (the Italian Ballet company directed by Carla Fracci and Beppe Menegatti, the Dance Theatre of Torino conducted by Matteo Levaggi and the Spectrum Dance Theatre of Seattle conducted by Donald Byrd). They have also taken part as invited ‘guests of honour’ in RAI (Italian Radio) broadcasts (“Radiotre Suite” in Roma, Salone del Lingotto in Torino). They have also performed with the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale-Bologna, the Filarmonica Toscanini-Parma, The Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale Rai of Torino, the Haydn Orchester of Bolzano and Trento conducted by Michele Mariotti in Bartok’s Concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra.
The Trio Diaghilev have recorded Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Petrushka, also Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin on the Taukay label, distributed worldwide by Eroica Classical Recordings.


Mario Totaro graduated in piano from the Conservatory “G. Rossini” in Pesaro with honours and in composition from the Conservatory “G. Verdi” in Milan with top marks. He studied piano with Franco Scala and composition with Mario Garuti. Mario Totaro initially devoted himself to piano and continued his studies at the "Mozarteum" in Salzburg under Carlo Zecchi and in Imola ("Incontri col Maestro") under Gyorgy Sandor, Alexander Lonquich, Aldo Ciccolini, Nikita Magaloff and Bruno Canino. At nineteen Totaro became a Professor at the Conservatory of Pesaro, where he’s still teaching. He has been awarded prizes in several piano competitions both national and international. Totaro has given several concerts in Italy and abroad where he presented programs based on improvisation and “contamination” between musical genres. In 1992, he was one of the founders of the Trio Diaghilev (two pianos and percussion). With the Trio Diaghilev Totaro proposed some of the most relevant 20th century masterpieces as well as his own original compositions in prestigious concerts seasons in Italy and abroad, some of which being the "Rossini Opera Festival", "Ente Concerti" - Pesaro, "Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti" and "Cidim - Musica Duemila" - Rome, "Sagra Musicale Malatestiana" - Rimini, "Associazione A. Scarlatti" - Naples, "Società Filarmonica" - Trento, "Autunno Musicale" - Como, Bologna Philarmonic Orchestra, Filarmonica A. Toscanini, Orchestra Nazionale RAI, Haydn Orchester, and in important radio programs. As a Professor Totaro has held courses of instrumental specialization and musical analysis based on original and innovative formulas, which exploit the connections between the brain, the Central Nervous System and the movements required in musical execution. Totaro has been awarded in international competitions for some of his works ("Ennio Porrino" - Cagliari) that have been broadcast on different occasions during RAI Radio productions (“Radiotre Suite”, “Il brivido della classica”, "Piazza Verdi"). He has been commissioned by important artistic institutions (“Rossini Opera Festival”, “Feste Musicali di Bologna”, "Sagra Musicale Malatestiana”,“Accademia Pianistica Incontri col Maestro”,"Rassegna Lirica Torelliana”, "Centro Astor Piazzolla" etc.). Totaro has directed the “Laboratory of 20th Century and Contemporary Music” at the Conservatory of Pesaro, whose aim is to study last-century masterpieces, to stimulate new musical proposals and to promote the music of the latest generations.

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