The organ is one of the most extraordinary musical instruments, for a number of reasons. Technologically, and at various moments in history, it has frequently represented the most advanced machine of its time. The complex interaction and the tight intertwining of manifold scientific and technological competences and knowledge contributed to its astonishing development.
It was an instrument for producing art, and also a work of art in itself; it frequently represented a considerable investment, and therefore the building of a new organ was normally a joint enterprise which involved entire communities. This was also connected with a religious dimension: in the Western culture, organs were ordinarily found in churches. Their sound thus started to acquire a symbolic association with the sphere of the sacred; and it was significant that the summit of an epoch’s technological expertise, an artistic work used to make art, and a conspicuous financial investment all converged in a single religious artefact.
Of course, organs also represented a community’s prestige; their powerful sound and their imposing visual appearance bore witness to the city or town’s wealth, to their citizens’ religiosity, and to their love for the beautiful and the artistic.
Last but not least, and by definition, the organ was the only individual instrument which could embody, represent and sometimes reproduce the variety of timbre and dynamics which normally only an orchestra could provide. Since organs were played at religious ceremonies and worship services open to all people, even those who could not afford an opera or concert ticket could experience an awe-inspiring, moving and exciting feeling of the power of music and of the majestic sound of a large instrumental body.
On the other hand, the organist could frequently be the only musically literate person in a small rural community; thus, the case was relatively common of musically gifted children who received their first instruction from the local organist and then progressed to become famous composers or performers. Among the musicians whose first interest in the discipline was sparked by the local organist is Giuseppe Verdi, the acknowledged standard-bearer of the Italian operatic tradition.
This may seem surprising at first; today, we are used to consider liturgical music and musical theatre as two fundamentally opposed forms of music-making: on the one hand there is sacred music, solemn, reverent, expressing a collective religious feeling and aiming at the congregation’s uplifting; on the other is opera, with its more subjective quality, its love-stories, the entertainment it provides.
However, this opposition is much more modern than we might imagine. Indeed, transcriptions from operatic music were very frequently played on the organ in various socio-geographical contexts, and nineteenth-century Italy was certainly one of them. In fact, it has been argued that the success of many operatic composers was due at least in equal parts to the performance of their transcribed works in the Italian churches as to the originals sung in the operatic theatres.
Many of the most beloved, acclaimed and popular tunes found their way into the Italian churches; and though this phenomenon could have been frowned upon by ecclesiastical authorities, it was by no means perceived as scandalous. Indeed, even some churchmen wrote such transcriptions: among them, Padre Davide da Bergamo left organ transcriptions of comic operas, while organ transcriptions of Rossini’s operas were written by Giovanni Morandi (1777-1856), a composer who had married a famous opera singer. His transcriptions were dedicated to one of his pupils, a nun, sister Maria Benedetta Venturina, the convent organist at the monastery of St. Cristina. Similarly, the operatic transcriptions by Carlo Fumagalli, published by Giovanni Canti in Milan, were dedicated to his uncle, who was a priest, while Giacomo Puccini used to play Parigi, o cara, from Verdi’s Traviata, on the organ, instead of the Tantum ergo (the liturgical hymn for the veneration of the Holy Sacrament); and the Italian literature corroborates with a number of testimonies the feeling that this was indeed a widespread practice. The most famous example is found in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). At the Prince’s arrival in Donnafugata, the whole family enters the Cathedral Church: “As the little procession entered the church, Don Ciccio Tumeo [the organist], who had arrived panting but in time, broke impetuously into the strains of Verdi’s Amami, Alfredo”. In another lesser-known work by Renato Fucini, La scampagnata (1882), during a Sunday Mass, at the most sacred moment of the Elevation, “all the people knelt in solemn concentration, and the organ – slowing down the tempo – dressed up the Allegro from Il Trovatore, ‘Di quella pira l’orrendo fuoco’, as an Adagio Maestoso”. Such practices were finally condemned by Pope Pius X, in the twentieth century, with a famous motu proprio published in 1903 (“Inter pastoralis officii sollicitudines”), which explicitly condemns the “theatrical style” which, “by its very nature” is entirely at odds with the “most important law of all good sacred music”.
If the Pope’s concerns were theologically and pastorally justified, on the musical plane it was undeniable that the organ’s sustained tones and its timbral variety were particularly well suited to recreate on a single instrument the variety of a vocal composition and its most memorable features. The only limit to the faithful recreation of a wordless opera scene on the organ was represented by the organist’s ten fingers and two feet, since the great organs’ manuals and pedal-boards and their stops could provide virtually infinite combinations.
In this CD, even this only limitation is overcome, thanks to the unusual organ duet performing a series of beautiful transcriptions mostly excerpted from Rossini’s instrumental works and occasionally from pieces originally intended for singing. The two organists play on a four-manual organ with an extended pedal-board: in consequence, the timbral resources at their disposal are truly comparable with those of a symphonic orchestra.
The Sinfonias (as Rossini used to label the Overtures from his operas) had been published in four-hand piano transcriptions by Giulio Ricordi in the nineteenth century. Such transcriptions allowed the bourgeoise to play, in a domestic setting, the beloved tunes they had heard at the opera theatre. The organ transcriptions performed here are inspired by these piano arrangements which have been compared with the orchestral instrumentation in order to enhance the overall effect.
Among the Sinfonias in this recording, those for La gazza ladra and Il barbiere di Siviglia are among the best-known examples of Rossini’s exquisite fantasy and creative imagination, blending unforgettable tunes with hilarious, brilliant and humorous moments, while those for Semiramide and Tancredi mirror more closely the serious character of the operas they introduce.
Other pieces had been transcribed or written for four-hand piano by Rossini himself: of these, the Marche du Sultan Abdul Medjid, the Pas redoublé and the Petite fanfare have been arranged for the organ, again taking into account the rich palette available on the organ. Also in the case of the Cavatina from Ermione, the performers have taken inspiration from a nineteenth-century transcription and have adapted it for performance on the organ. Here, the need to set the “singer’s” voice against the “orchestra” background has encouraged the interpreters to employ a particular registration which achieves a result which in fact exceeds the possibilities of the orchestra instruments.
On the one hand, thus, it can be said that the pieces recorded in this CD have undergone a double process of transcription: from the orchestra to the piano, and from the piano to the organ (and this could easily become a triple process, if one takes into account the piano sketches which the composer frequently made before orchestrating his own works). On the other hand, possibly the last stage of this process is one of the most creative, since the quest for the “right” sound (which has to take into account consideration of timbre, volume, balance and sound quality, along with technical and practical issues) is an activity which engages in full the artistry of the performers, who are called to re-enact the composer’s path to a complete orchestral sound.
The overall result, therefore, is a fascinating itinerary which, from the one side, brings us to a culture and society different from our own, similar to a time capsule which allows us to hear opera tunes on the “sacred” instrument par excellence; from the other, it is an entirely new and modern creative enterprise, which involves the fantasy and mastery of today’s musicians in dialogue with the music and practice of the past.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Giuliana Maccaroni teaches at the High School of Music G. Verdi of Torino. She is the titular organist of Christ the King Church, Pesaro. In this church she is the artistic director of the international organ festival “Vespri d’organo a Cristo Re”. Giuliana Maccaroni has a busy curriculum, both as a soloist and in ensemble playing at important Italian and foreign places Festivals: Belgium, Germany, Austria, France, Czech Republic, United States of America, Russia, Switzerland, England, Finland, Norway, Republic of Andorra, Polland, Malta. Particularly interested in organ compositions opera style, it deepens the repertoire and performing both original pages and transcriptions. Significant is her activity as a duo for organ duet with organist Martino Pòrcile, with which offers programs ranging from early music to contemporary, with particular reference to the Italian operatic tradition. Her interest in this repertoire has led her to make recordings, world premieres, much appreciated by critics and audiences. She also published, for Armelin Music, the second volume of the Opera omnia of keyboard sonatas by Baldassare Galuppi, a critical edition.
Martino Pòrcile is the titular organist of the Pesaro Cathedral, where he conduct the main choir. Graduated from the G. Tartini Conservatorio he also attended Choral music and Composition. Martino Pòrcile has taken courses on organ methodology and execution and interpretation in Italy and abroad with well-known Masters. Martino Pòrcile played at important Italian and foreign Festivals both as a soloist and in ensemble. With his italian collegue Giuliana Maccaroni has a duo for organ for four hands. They participated in important international organ festivals in Italy and abroad (Germany, France, Switzerland, United States of America, Republic of Andorra, Norway, Belgium, Russia, Malta). He taught music and he is very interested in promotion and valorisation of the musical patrimony of his own region.
Gioacchino Rossini: (b Pesaro, 29 Feb 1792; d Passy, 13 Nov 1868). Italian composer. No composer in the first half of the 19th century enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini. His contemporaries recognized him as the greatest Italian composer of his time. His achievements cast into oblivion the operatic world of Cimarosa and Paisiello, creating new standards against which other composers were to be judged. That both Bellini and Donizetti carved out personal styles is undeniable; but they worked under Rossini’s shadow, and their artistic personalities emerged in confrontation with his operas. Not until the advent of Verdi was Rossini replaced at the centre of Italian operatic life.