When we picture the daily life of our ancestors to ourselves, we realize that many tasks and activities were much more complicated in the past, and that today’s media and transports (to cite but two) have considerably facilitated communication, travel and mobility. What we may sometimes forget is that, notwithstanding the lack of cars, trains, airplanes, internet, telephone and the likes, some of our forefathers used to travel much more than many of our contemporaries do, and that their lives had a really international dimension.
This was the case with Federigo Fiorillo (1755-a.1823). Despite his Italian name, indeed, he was born hundreds of kilometers to the North of Naples, his father’s hometown. Ignazio (Federigo’s father) had in fact left the sunny shores of Southern Italy and moved to the city of Brunswick, in Germany, in the region of the Lower Saxony. The change was radical: a different climate, a different country, a new language, and also a different religious confession. However, Ignazio seemed glad for the opportunity of settling in such a different context, particularly because he had been drawn to Germany by a flattering invitation: indeed, he had been appointed conductor at a prestigious theatre, the local Court Opera House.
Though this fact bears witness to Ignazio’s gifts as a concertmaster, his favourite musical instrument (according to the sources) was one which did not appear very frequently on the concert scenes, and is rather seldom played in the “cultivated” contexts even nowadays, i.e. the mandolin. And this is a pity, since the mandolin is a fascinating instrument, capable to sustain a tune with its warm and vibrating tone, equaling that of the bowed instruments, but also suited to play complex harmonic structures and joyful rhythms. Federigo, Ignazio’s son, was in turn educated by his father to play this instrument, and became an acknowledged virtuoso of the mandolin.
Notwithstanding his accomplishment, however, it was very difficult for him to earn a living by playing the mandolin (just as it would be difficult nowadays). At first, Federigo toured the aristocratic courts, playing his instrument and conquering the refined taste of the great rulers of the era. Later, however, he decided that the mandolin could not suffice him, also because of the structural limitations of an instrument which still needed to be perfected, and on which it would have been difficult for him to express his musicianship to the highest degree. Thus he devoted himself to other string instruments, and particularly to bowed instruments such as the violin and the viola, acquiring full mastery of their technique. Indeed, so skilled was Fiorillo in the bravura style on the violin, that he composed a series of thirty-six Capriccios (also known as Etudes) which stand on a par with those by Rode and Kreutzer, and which are still profitably employed by countless violin teachers worldwide, for the technical and also for the musical improvement of their students.
Having thus demonstrated both his virtuosity and his genius, Fiorillo obtained a role of responsibility at an important city, which was however still farther from the sun of Naples: after a journey to Poland in 1780, and a stay in St. Petersburg, in 1783 Fiorillo was invited to conduct the orchestra of Riga (present-day Latvia) where he remained for two years.
In 1785, at age thirty, Federigo decided to return to the West of Europe, moving to Paris. Here, he participated in one of the most fascinating musical initiatives of the French capital, i.e. the Concerts Spirituels, a form of spiritual, artistic and religious entertainment which was really epoch-making, and which would be imitated by countless musicians in the following decades.
The concerts were organized by a family of musicians, by the name of Philidor; one of their members, and possibly the most gifted of them, was François-André Philidor (1726-1795), who was a composer in turn, and who had published, among others, a series of six Quartets for flute and strings. This was possibly the spark which ignited Fiorillo’s imagination when he decided to try his hand in this relatively new musical genre; by that time, however, Mozart had already composed his own set of three Flute Quartets (KV 285-285a-285b), which had probably been written between 1777 and 1782.
These composers’ interest in this ensemble is unsurprising, though; as concerns the tessitura, the flute quartet does not differ too dramatically from the string quartet; however, the flute quartet has the added value of an even more varied timbral quality, which lends itself both to the close cooperation of the four instruments, and to the more concertante style in which the flute acts the soloist to the miniature string orchestra created by the other instruments.
The brilliant solo style of Fiorillo’s flute part shines clearly in several of his Six quatuors concertants, published as his op. 4 in Paris; the first three Quartets comprise just two movements, without a slow movement, while the remaining three resemble more closely the Classical Sonata form (with a relatively slower movement framed by two quicker pieces, though this rule is not always respected by Fiorillo).
The first Quartet, in C major, opens with a cheerful and rather operatic tune proposed by the flute, which later on begins a series of shining coloraturas; its second movement, a Rondò vivace, has a jaunty and humorous style, which however does not exclude a sweeter (“dolce”) section at its heart.
The second Quartet, in D major, opens with a gay and light Allegro non troppo, whose elegance is tempered by a playful quality. By way of contrast, the Rondò. Allegro is more pronouncedly brilliant and virtuosic, with long strings of pearly scales.
The following piece is a Quartet in G major, whose opening theme is full of self-confidence, being built on the notes of the triad and expanding itself over a rather wide melodic range. It is also full of dynamic contrasts, with sudden alternations of pianissimo and sforzando: the Classical era (represented so perfectly by the balanced and square themes carved by Fiorillo) is already being touched by a hint of Sturm und Drang. Its second movement, Allegretto, is a lyrical and cantabile piece, whose broad legato phrases are later enlivened by several brilliant passages.
The fourth Quartet, in F major, opens with an Allegro spiritoso which maintains what its title promises: the frequent use of repeated notes and echo effects lends it a mocking spirit, full of effervescence and buoyancy. The second movement, Romanza, is one of the most enchanting moments in Fiorillo’s op. 4; the flute is turned into a solo singer, adorning its own broad melody with beautiful ornamentation in the classical style. The third movement, a Menuet with two alternative sections, is much simpler and it briefly resumes the nonchalant style of the first movement.
In the fifth Quintet, in D major, the opening Allegro assai is taken at a truly brisk pace; Fiorillo here employs appoggiaturas very frequently, thus adding an expressive touch to an otherwise light tune. The following Larghetto brings this tendency to a new and higher degree: here the appoggiaturas truly become sighs – as happened so often in the musical vocabulary of the era – and the frequent interruptions in the melodic flow increase the expressive intensity of the piece. On the other hand, the closing Minuetto accurately eschews this particular device almost throughout its entire duration; its optimistic style is increased by the constant use of arpeggios and triads.
Uniquely for this opus, the Sixth Quartet opens with a calm Adagio, whose initial tune is structured in turn on the degrees of the triad; these are later turned into arpeggios proper, and the flute’s tone creates garlands of sextuplets with a truly fascinating effect. The following Allegro is made almost entirely of scales, thus once more contrasting these two basics of the musical language. The closing Finale, Allegretto, employs a rich palette of effects, most notably a gruppetto-like figuration and octaves in the melody, followed by repeated notes. It closes not only this particular Quartet, but the entire series, on a graceful and elegant note, in which both a sparkling irony and a tender expression find their place.
Taken as a whole, these six Quartets represent a beautiful sample of Fiorillo’s compositional mastery and of his creative fantasy; they create a fascinating landscape of musical situations, where true tragedy is missing, but where the warmth of the most genuine human feelings is constantly experienced and lived.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
The string trio Il Furibondo was founded in 2011 by violinist Liana Mosca, violist Gianni de Rosa and cellist Marcello Scandelli. The three musicians collaborate regularly with legendary early music ensembles such as “Il Giardino Armonico” and “Le Concert des Nations”. Their repertoire ranges from the Baroque (played on period instruments) to the music of the first half of the 20th century. “Furibondo” was the term used by Giuseppe Tartini to describe the performance style of the great violinist Francesco Geminiani. From the start, Il Furibondo gained recognition for its outstanding level of musical interpretation, including its recording of Bach’s Fugues transcribed by Mozart, for the recording label Stradivarius. Since then, the trio has been active in radio and concert performances throughout Italy and Europe, including Le Settimane Musicali (Merano), Ceresio Estate (Lugano), Milano ArteMusica, Paesaggi Musicali Toscani and Rencontres Internationales Harmoniques in Geneva.
Lello Narcisi graduated with full marks in Italy and Switzerland, studying with Angelo Ragno, Mario Ancillotti and Andrea Oliva. From a young age he began teaching, as well as performing regularly in Italy and abroad as a soloist and above all as a keen chamber musician. In this context, he had the privilege of collaborating with internationally renowned musicians and principal players of prestigious orchestras and chamber groups including: Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw La Scala, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Il Giardino Armonico etc... In 2011 he won the audition as flute teacher at the PreCollege of the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana and since 2015 he has been assistant professor of Andrea Oliva in the Bachelor and Master courses. He regularly collaborates as principal flautist and soloist with Colibrì Ensemble.
Federigo Fiorillo (b Brunswick, 1 June 1755; d after 1823). Italian violinist, viola player and composer, son of Ignazio Fiorillo. He reportedly first became proficient on the mandolin and only later turned to the violin. He had probably been touring for some time before his first recorded appearance as a violinist in St Petersburg in 1777. He was in Poland from 1780 to 1781, playing both the violin and the mandolin, and from 1782 to 1784 he was conductor at Riga. In 1785 he played with considerable success at the Concert Spirituel in Paris, and the first of his numerous published works appeared shortly thereafter. He apparently remained in Paris for three years and then went to London, where in 1788 he began to play regularly as viola player in Salomon’s quartet. According to Fétis his last public appearance was as soloist in a viola concerto in 1794, but the title-page of his op.29 (trios for flute, violin and viola), published some time between 1802 and 1811, indicates that he continued to play at some public occasions. His works continued to appear from various publishers throughout Europe until about 1817. According to one report, he left London in 1815, and Pohl stated that he spent some time in Amsterdam. It is possible, however, that he remained in London until 1823, when he went to Paris to undergo an operation. Fétis learnt from Fiorillo’s publisher Sieber that he returned to London after his treatment. Fiorillo’s works appear to be both conservative and conventional. His violin compositions reflect a virtuoso’s technique, but he chose to direct a large part of his prolific creativity (more than 70 opus numbers and some 200 works) towards current fashions, such as light piano pieces, divertimentos and arrangements of popular songs. Unquestionably, he succeeded with the public; his publications appeared in multiple editions throughout most of Europe. As a result, conflicting opus numbers are common, and his total output is in need of bibliographic clarification. Although great surprises are not likely to emerge, it is not possible to judge Fiorillo’s achievement based on our present knowledge. Such present-day fame as he has rests almost entirely on one work, his 36 caprices for violin. These are études of good musical quality, and they have taken their place in the violinist’s pedagogical repertory beside those of Rode and Kreutzer.