Throughout the nineteenth century, as well as in the early twentieth century, music in Italy was almost synonymous with opera. Of course, there were many other musical genres beside musical theatre, but most of them could be thought of as depending rather crucially on opera: the treatment of the voice in vocal chamber music was indebted to the style and themes of opera; marching bands played mostly opera favourites, and even many church organists used to perform operatic fantasies and potpourris during the worship services (and this malpractice would be stigmatized by the Pope himself in a motu proprio of 1903).
Opera not only touched deeply the musical sensitivity of the Italians; it also gave voice to their newly found national identity, representing the musical flag of a country which was unified only in 1861.
In such a context, the act of championing “pure” instrumental music could be seen as a heresy by audiences and critics alike, and only a few daring musicians took a stance against the hegemony of opera. Along with figures of the standing of Giuseppe Martucci and Giovanni Sgambati, Marco Enrico Bossi (1861-1925) was at the forefront in this effort to revive an Italian instrumental tradition.
If nearly all of the creative energies in the Italian musical field were focused on opera, the unavoidable consequence was, of course, that a genuinely “Italian” late-Romantic language for instrumental music had to be built from scratch; equally unavoidably, these musicians had the only option to look abroad for possible models from which to take inspiration. While Sgambati favoured Liszt’s style and personality, Bossi’s attention was particularly attracted by the music of Johannes Brahms.
As can be easily guessed, however, in a still “young” country whose musical standard-bearer was opera, those who practised and composed mostly instrumental music or oratorios, and who elected their mentors among the Germans, were an easy target for criticism, quite beyond the actual consideration of their musical merits and demerits.
This attitude marked also the life of Bossi himself. A great organ virtuoso and a gifted composer, he was very open to the international music scene of his time. At the age of eighteen, he travelled to London, where he performed on both the piano and the magnificent organs of the Crystal Palace and of St Paul’s; later, he went to Paris, where he met and had the opportunity to listen to some of the greatest organists of the era, among whom César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor.
Somewhat surprising, such a promising young organist decided not to graduate in Organ in his country: this seemingly odd choice represented a polemical stance, protesting against the insufficient quality of the organ of the Milan Conservatoire.
Notwithstanding this, Bossi was deeply involved in the musical life of his country, as a composer, as a performer and as a pedagogue (and even as a director of several important musical institutions, such as the Conservatories of Bologna and Venice). He created music societies and choral associations; he promoted the study and performance of Bach’s works in Italy; he played pieces by foreign and/or early composers, helping the dissemination of their music in the Peninsula.
He also contributed crucially to the creation of the study and examination programmes for the budding organists educated at the Italian Conservatories, fostering the restoration of ancient instruments and the building of new organs, and promoting the social recognition of the organist as a “chapel master”, on the model of what happened in many other European countries.
Indeed, it was precisely abroad that his music was appreciated most: one of the greatest British organists and composers, W. T. Best, was keen to perform his works, and Bossi’s one-act opera, Il viandante, which had obtained only a lukewarm success in Italy, was instead acclaimed in Mannheim, Dresden, Frankfurt and Lübeck. Similarly, his large-scale Scriptural cantata, Canticum canticorum op. 120, was both performed and published in Leipzig, the city where Bach had worked for years and where the likes of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner had lived in the previous years. In turn, Bossi’s Il paradiso perduto op. 125 was welcomed in Augsburg, and later it was performed as far as in Russia, Sweden and the USA. Indeed, it was precisely when coming back, on a steamer, from a very successful American tour, that Bossi found his premature death; and even though his passing was mourned officially by the Italian civil authorities as well as by the most important Italian musicians, his music still needs to be disseminated, performed and recorded in his home country.
Therefore, this recording of his two Violin Sonatas is a particularly welcome addition to the discography of this great Italian composer. His chamber music output is rather limited in quantity, but extremely refined in quality, and it includes, along with these Sonatas, two Piano Trios as well as beautiful songs on lyrics by the some of the greatest Italian poets of the era.
The First Sonata, op. 82 in E minor, was printed by Breitkopf & Härtel, one of the most important publishers of the time, and is dedicated to Teresina Tua, an extremely gifted Italian violinist. Its first movement, Allegro con energia, opens on an energetic exploration of the triad by the violin, accompanied by powerful chords of the piano: it is a rather heroic beginning, which corresponds to what we know about Tua’s mesmerizing musical personality.
Broad phrases, whose generous dynamic indications correspond to equally daring itineraries throughout the violin’s pitch range, build up a sequence of tense and calmer moments, which sustain the Sonata’s first pages with waves of musical intensity. The demanding technical challenges offered to both instrumentalists are always in the service of musical needs; indeed, many difficulties are purposefully hidden in their mechanical complexity, in order to reveal the musical thought behind them. Playful moments in spirited staccatos are followed by expressive themes sung by the violin in its highest register; quiet passages, almost cadenza-like, are framed by passionate and touching perorations; throughout the movement, Bossi’s masterful polyphonic writing constantly sustains the dialogue between the two instruments. A spectacular Coda, which follows a genuine Cadenza, closes the movement in a frenzy of arpeggios and chords.
The second movement, Andante sostenuto con vaghezza, is entirely different in character from what preceded it; yet, remarkably, Bossi achieves a notable unity at the compositional level by employing, once more, a melodic and harmonic material mostly derived from the triad. The violin’s entrance is fascinatingly enshrined in eerie sonorities produced by the concomitant use of the fourth string and of the sordina, while the piano doubles it, filling the melody with refined harmonies. After this intimate beginning, a Molto sostenuto sempre andante follows in which the violin becomes “espansivo”, expansive, over the piano’s rich arpeggios. A third section follows, of a yet different character and tempo (Vivace, gaio, quasi Canzone), on a bouncing and lively dance-rhythm, constituting the central part of the movement; after that, the preceding sections are recapitulated in reverse order.
The third movement, Allegro focoso, opens with a rather large section played by the solo piano, on an idiosyncratic rhythm and thematic material; though constantly varied and juxtaposed to other elements, it constitutes a recurring and almost obsessive feature of this movement. Small fragments (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic) of this theme are found, in fact, in almost all of the musical materials employed here; however, the composer’s fervid imagination manages to combine this noteworthy unity with a great variety of tempi, keys, dynamics and moods. The Sonata closes on an exhilarating Poco più presto, whose already frantic pace is further increased in the last lines of this brilliant movement.
The Second Sonata, in C major, op. 117, was published once more in Leipzig, but this time by Kistner, in 1899. The seemingly simple key of C major is immediately belied by Bossi, who begins the opening Moderato with ingenious harmonies and elegant chromaticism. Once more, the climax is gradually built, and seems to arise effortlessly and yet powerfully from a deceivingly childlike melody. Here too a variety of styles is found, ranging from the heroic to the graceful, and contrasting a purposeful determination with a delicate lightness. The second movement, Scherzoso, maintains what it promises: it is a fantastic dance on tiptoe, occasionally broken by calmer and more lyrical moments. The third movement, Adagio elegiaco, is a touching contemplation full of melancholy and sadness, in which both the passionate plea and the tender delicacy find their way. The fourth movement, Allegro con fuoco, is a pressing chase in which the two instruments are constantly engaged, except for short moments of respite and sweetness, or of lyrical passion; it closes on a magnificent heroic Coda.
These two Sonatas, therefore, are more than worthy to become milestones in the chamber music repertoire, due to their variety of character, masterful construction and enthralling musicality; it is hoped that their rediscovery will also contribute to a greater posthumous appreciation of their composer.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Antonio Pulleghini was born in Mantua (Italy) in 1956. He had his musical education, under the guide of Rinaldo Rossi, in the Conservatory of Verona where he graduated cum laude in 1975. During this period he won the National Piano Competitons in Carpi, La Spezia (twice), Osimo (twice) and Cesena. In the following years, while he was attending to his post-graduate studies, first as a student of Carlo Pestalozza, then of Aloys Kontarsky he gained prizes in the International Piano Competitons in Vercelli, Finale Ligure and Bardolino and achieved a new chapter of successful performances in the Chamber Music International Competitions in Stresa, Moncalieri and "F. Schubert" (Piano duet). In the Eighties RAI invited him, with Paolo Rodda (Violin) and Giovanni Maria Cecchin (Cello), for several recordings of contemporary Composers' Trios. In his musical career he gave solo recitals and chamber music concerts (Piano four-hands, two Pianos, Violin and Piano, Classic Trio) in many European and Asian Countries, getting enthusiastic reactions by the public and convinced praises by the critics.
Paolo Ghidoni was born in Mantova, Italy in 1964 and graduated at the young age of 17 under the guidance of Ferruccio Sangiorgi. Following this instruction, he attended chamber music courses at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole with the Trio di Trieste and at the Accademia Chigiana di Siena where, for three years (1983-85) he worked towards the completion of the distinguished violin diploma from the class of Maestro Franco Gulli. In addition to his studies with M. Gulli, Paolo Ghidoni has also studied with Ivri Gitlis at the Accademie de Sion, Franco Claudio Ferrari in Mantova and with Salvatore Accardo in Cremona. As a soloist and chamber musician, Ghidoni has performed more than 1500 concerts. He is a founding member of the prestigious Trio Matisse (1983), which won the "Vittorio Gui" prize in Florence when Ghidoni was only 19 years old. He has widely performed in Europe, the United States, Australia, Israel, China and South America. Paolo Ghidoni has collaborated with various musicians such as: Mario Brunello, Enrico Dindo, il Trio d'Archi della Scala with Franco Petracchi, Giuliano Carmignola, and Danilo Rossi. In addition, he has collaborated with hornists: Ifor James, Hermann Baumann and Jonathan Williams and also with various pianists, one of which being Bruno Canino.
Marco Enrico Bossi (b Salò, Lake Garda, 25 April 1861; d Atlantic Ocean, 20 Feb 1925). Italian composer, organist and pianist. Born into a family of organists, he studied with his father, Pietro Bossi (1834–96), then at the Liceo Musicale, Bologna (1871–3), and at the Milan Conservatory (1873–81), where his teachers included Ponchielli. In 1881 he was appointed organist at Como Cathedral, and in due course he won worldwide renown as one of the finest organists of the day. He moved to Naples in 1890 as teacher of harmony and the organ at the conservatory, later becoming director of the Licei Musicali in Venice (1895–1902) and Bologna (1902–11) and of the Liceo (Conservatorio from 1919) di S Cecilia, Rome (1916–23). He died at sea while returning from New York.
Bossi’s few completed operas had little success; but he won lasting respect, mainly in Italy, for his instrumental and choral compositions. Internationally he is remembered largely for his organ pieces, the best of which (e.g. the widely performed G minor Scherzo op.49 no.2) are still very effective. However, the Canticum canticorum was particularly highly praised in its time, in Germany as well as Italy. Today the work perhaps impresses more by sincerity and solid craftsmanship than originality, but the opening pages of Il paradiso perduto – a representation of chaos, with pulseless rhythms, bare 5ths and flattened 7ths – show that Bossi was capable of vivid poetic evocation, while Giovanna d’Arco, the most dramatic of his choral works, suggests that he had more sense of the theatre than his operas revealed. Among his orchestral pieces, a vigorous if slightly academic Organ Concerto and the elegant rather Wolf-Ferrari-like Intermezzi goldoniani have continued to be revived occasionally in Italy; and of the chamber compositions, the two violin sonatas have proved especially worthy of renewed attention: the profoundly expressive, subtle-textured slow movement of the second is one of Bossi's most inspired utterances.
With Martucci and Sgambati, Bossi led the revival of Italian non-operatic music at the turn of the century, and, like them, he turned to northern Europe for the main sources of his style: there are signs of the influences – not always fully assimilated – of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Franck, Brahms and (in more adventurously chromatic pieces such as the Konzertstück op.130) Reger. In his last years he showed little sympathy with the radical young; but such new departures as the very refined chromaticism of the Five Pieces for piano op.137 (1914), or the ladders of perfect 4ths in Santa Caterina da Siena, reveal that he was not wholly unreceptive to the new sounds of the 20th century.