Riccardo Zandonai: Rarities & Surprises, Art Songs, Transcriptions & Chamber Music


  • Artist(s): Simone Zuccatti, Spettro Armonico Chamber Orchestra
  • Composer(s): Riccardo Zandonai
  • EAN Code: 0746160911359
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber, Instrumental, Orchestra, Vocal
  • Instrumentation: Guitar, Orchestra, Piano
  • Period: Romantic
  • Publication year: 2020
SKU: C00307 Category:

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In the dual role of Conductor and Artistic Director, I have sought hard to find pieces among Riccardo Zandonai’s output, exclusively for strings, for the Spettro Armonico Chamber Orchestra – something “new”, something unpublished and not performed in recent times.
Zandonai’s catalogue of works comprises largely of opera, symphonic works for large-ish orchestra and pieces for voice and piano. His output for chamber orchestra was quite small.
A trunk, full of his manuscripts and unpublished music, was donated to the Rovereto Civic Library in 2018 by the composer’s daughter, his only living heir. Among this treasure trove – thanks to the generous help of Professor Cescotti of the Centro Internazionale di Studi “Riccardo Zandonai” and Doctor Filosi of the “G. Tartarotti” Civic Library in Rovereto – a number of pieces for strings came to light.
Some feature the inclusion of harmonium, harp and voice. Other original compositions, transcriptions and arrangements came to the fore. With the exception of the Berceuse, which has already been recorded in the last decade, all other pieces were almost forgotten manuscripts.
I then transferred this music to electronic format, partly so that orchestral parts could be extracted.
This CD, therefore, is the result of a long process of research and transcription, all of which culminated in a celebratory concert dedicated to the Rovereto-born composer Riccardo Zandonai on the 75th Anniversary of his death.
The repertoire on this CD falls into four categories: original pieces for duo; original pieces for strings; transcriptions for chamber orchestra of works by other composers; transcriptions for voice and chamber orchestra from Zandonai’s output for voice and piano.

The original pieces for duo, namely Amarezze (‘Bitterness’) for violin and guitar and Danza for piano 4 hands, both still in manuscript form, were composed over the 2-year period 1898-99 when the young Zandonai had just begun his studies at the High School of the “Rossini” Conservatorium in Pesaro under the guidance of Pietro Mascagni. Amarezze bears the dedication “Alla gentil signorina Gisella Bonfioli” [to the gentle Miss Gisella Bonfioli], together with a short quote from Dante’s Convivio: “I shall recount the strangeness in my heart, how here within my sad soul weeps” [translation by Richard Lansing, from the original “Io vi dirò del cor la novitade, come l’anima trista piange in lui”]. The musical style and the word-painting clearly reveal a heartbroken fifteen-year-old Zandonai.
Like the duos, the two original pieces for strings, Lettera and the lovely Berceuse were still in hand-written form and belong to this youthful period. Written in 1900, it is quite reasonable to assume that they were ‘exercises’ – first examples of experimenting in writing for this instrumental combination. The grace and melodic elegance found especially in Amarezze and in the ‘mature’ and delicate Berceuse, as well as a ‘symphonic’ approach to rhythm and harmony in Danza are, at this stage, already clearly perceptible. On the other hand Lettera seems rather repetitive and as a consequence, less effective musically; however, worthy of note are its harmonic peculiarities and the difficult ostinato syncopation in the second violins and violas.
Among the rediscovered pieces, I found transcriptions of well-known works from the Baroque and Romantic eras rewritten by Zandonai for strings and reminiscent of the ‘popular’ vogue for the “Reinterpretazioni dell’antico”, the greatest exponents of which were Casella and Respighi.
The transcriptions of Lulli1, Handel and Mendelssohn, all handwritten and unpublished [sometimes only the individual parts were available, which required the reconstruction of the score], could be considered simple adaptations, without major changes to the instrumentation. They may have been exercises in arranging but it is worth noting Zandonai’s use of articulations, tempo markings and dynamics etc. which often differ strongly from the original. For example, Zandonai’s version of Lulli’s Minuetto asks for the accompaniment to be played pizzicato; in the Hornpipe there is no part for the harpsichord continuo, plus, all of the dynamics are rethought; as for the Canzonetta some dynamics have been changed in the rescoring from the original string quartet to string orchestra [e.g. the ending is marked forte rather than the piano marking Mendelssohn intended].
The transcriptions from Bach, Schubert and Schumann’s keyboard pieces are musically more interesting, proper orchestrations, that reveal Zandonai’s maturing feel for instrumentation. These three were the only pieces to have been published out of all those on the CD. It is entirely feasible that these pieces were never again performed after receiving their premières in the 30s – no evidence to the contrary has come to light2.
In his approach to these arrangements, Zandonai’s intervention is more substantial when compared with the simple adaptations mentioned above; in Preludio VIII the grace notes are written out in full and the Romantic sonority is reminiscent of the Bachian transcriptions by Mahler and Schoenberg, albeit with much reduced forces – strings with harp and harmonium; in the Schubert the timbral alternation from arco to pizzicato is quite fascinating and Zandonai, as well as changing the key from F minor to G minor, adds some imitative material in the coda of the viola part not included in the original piano version. Lastly, in Rêverie, the insertion of the harp gives the piece an even more intense and dreamy feel than its piano counterpart. However, the entire arrangement is very faithful to the piano version.
The combination of voice and piano is undoubtedly the most visited by Zandonai, who began composing for the duo from a very young age unfolding his stylistic evolution over the years. Only on rare occasions, however, did he orchestrate his works. For this reason, the Three Songs for string orchestra, harp and harmonium certainly represent the most important discovery from the manuscripts that I unearthed. This was the one piece of which both the score and individual parts have survived. These three songs were orchestrated in February 1931 for two concerts which were held in Napoli and Roma in March and April respectively of the same year, conducted by the composer2, and almost certainly never again performed. The instrumentation is exquisite with ever-changing timbres. The piano originals are enriched with new colours and word painting [e.g. the strings effect attached to the word ‘mare’ – sea – in La Serenata, not present in the piano version]. The instrumental balance is masterfully calibrated with the divisi strings and the delicate sounds of the harp and harmonium that accompany the voice sometimes ‘in dialogue’ and at others, emphasising the text. Zandonai reveals a ‘mature’ style from both musical and poetic standpoints, and these resulting orchestral versions are even more refined and full of additional timbral suggestions when compared with the already wonderful voice and piano originals. The vocal interpretation is entrusted to Maria Letizia Grosselli, one of the finest Zandonian interpreters – winner of the “Zandonai Special Prize” at the International Competition for Young Opera singers “Riccardo Zandonai” in 2004. In 2013 she recorded the album “Terra di Sogni” [Land of Dreams] bringing together 23 songs, Romanze da Camera, for voice and piano by this composer from Rovereto.

Album Notes by Simone Zuccatti
English revision by Peter Anthony Monk


Simone Zuccatti: He was born in 1985 in Trento, Northern Italy. After gaining a Degree in Trumpet in 2003 under Prof. Ivano Ascari along with Composition Studies and Singing at the “Bonporti” Conservatorium of Music, Riva del Garda, he then devoted himself to Conducting, graduating with a Batchelors Degree in Conducting from the “Verdi” Conservatorium in Milano in 2012. His Mentor was Maestro Daniele Agiman. Subsequently, he read for a Masters Degree in Conducting resulting in a High Distinction under Maestro Eduardo Diazmuñoz at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australia in 2015.
In 2016 he was finalist at the “Nino Rota International Conducting Competition” in Matera, winning the Special Prize of the Audience. He was then semi-finalist at the “Mendelssohn Competition” (Thessaloniki, Greece). In the last few years he worked with orchestras such as: I Pomeriggi Musicali of Milano, Orchestra Sinfonica Rossini of Pesaro, I Filarmonici of Trento, Orchestra of the Alps, Magna Grecia Orchestra (Italy), Sydney Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra (Australia), Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra (Ukraine), Koszalin Philharmonic Orchestra (Poland) and District of Columbia Youth Orchestra (Washington DC, USA).
During the 2018-19 season he conducted “La Traviata” at the MusicaRiva Festival and an all-Prokofiev programme with the Orchestra Filarmonica of Benevento. In 2016 he founded the Cultural Association “Spettro Armonico” for which he is both Artistic and Musical Director. Since that time he has mounted and conducted a number of concerts with the Spettro Armonico String Orchestra in music ranging from the 18th to the 21st Centuries.
He furthered his skills by participating in masterclasses in Europe and Australia with Maestri Daniele Agiman, Massimiliano Caldi, George Pehlivanian, Christopher Seaman, Johannes Fritzsch and Isaac Karabtchevski. In doing so he conducted, among others, the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
In 2008 he graduated with honours in ‘Conservation of Artistic and Cultural Heritage’ at the University of Trento; his thesis concerned the “Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” by Debussy/D’Annunzio. In 2014 he served as assistant to Maestro Nicola Luisotti for a production of Verdi’s “Othello” at the San Carlo Theatre, Napoli.

Spettro Armonico Chamber Orchestra: In 2016 the “Spettro Armonico” Cultural Association was established by its President and Artistic Director Simone Zuccatti for the purpose of disseminating musical culture by means of concerts given by the Spettro Armonico Chamber Orchestra, as well as creating artistic links with other local organisations in order to bring about an ever-widening productive and fruitful network.
The words “Spettro Armonico” – literally ‘harmonic spectrum’ refer to the distinctive timbre/profile or ‘colour’ of a voice or instrument. Therefore spettro armonico is the very DNA of music itself – the physical phenomenon by which we perceive music – what actually makes it definable.
Every concert programme is intended as a ‘journey’ – exploring time and place – through different forms and styles by which unknown composers and pieces can be discovered and, at the same time, great masterpieces offered. Each work is lovingly introduced and explained by the conductor just before its performance according to the time-honoured practice of ‘educating while entertaining’.
Of the various programmes performed by the Spettro Armonico String Orchestra here is a representative selection worthy of note: Requiem by Rutter, Simple Symphony by Britten, Lyric Andante by Reger, St. Paul’s Suite by Holst and music by Bach, Mozart, Dvořák, Grieg, Scriabin, Mascagni, Mahler, Chavez, Bartók.


Riccardo Zandonai (b Sacco di Rovereto, Trentino, 30 May 1883; d Pesaro, 5 June 1944). Italian composer. He studied at Rovereto, and with Mascagni at the Liceo Musicale, Pesaro (1898–1901). In 1907 Boito introduced him to Giulio Ricordi, who launched him as an opera composer: after the success of Il grillo del focolare the Ricordis regarded him as Puccini’s natural successor, and even sent him to Spain to ‘collect material’ for Conchita. After a troubled period during World War I, when the Austrian government condemned him for his irredentist activities, Zandonai married the singer Tarquinia Tarquini and settled in Pesaro, where he directed the Conservatory (formerly the Liceo Musicale), 1940–43. Between the wars he was widely active as a conductor.

Although an uneven, often rather superficial composer, Zandonai was the most important of those Italians of his generation who, unlike Pizzetti, Malipiero and even Alfano, remained content to modify rather than reject the operatic tradition of Mascagni and Puccini. Not that he was ever a mere imitator of these older composers: even in the unpretentious, homely II grillo del focolare the orchestral part is more ‘symphonically’ conceived than in most Mascagni, though neither here nor in his later operas could Zandonai match his teacher’s melodic spontaneity. In Conchita the true nature of his talent was becoming clear: the piquant harmonies and colourful orchestration, with judicious borrowings from Strauss and Debussy comparable with those in La fanciulla del West, seemed bold to Italian audiences of the time; yet the result is an eclectic amalgam, whose greatest virtue is its strong sense of atmosphere and the picturesque, with many Spanish touches. The prelude and ensuing ‘Notte a Siviglia’ that open Act 3 are especially effective, and there is abundant vitality in the ensemble scenes, notably the first scene of all. By comparison, the more passionate music can seem self-conscious and overemphatic, though the Carmen-like heroine is forcefully portrayed.

Similar qualities and defects recur in Francesca da Rimini, which has had many productions internationally and remains Zandonai’s most popular work in Italy. In parts of Acts 1 and 3 (especially those dominated by female voices) his flair for the colourful and decorative is seen at its very best, clearly stimulated by the rich imagery of D’Annunzio’s words. Archaic, modal outlines are backed up by ‘antique’ touches of instrumentation (including a lute), the results having at times an unforgettable radiance and charm, as in the beautiful ensemble sung by Francesca and off-stage female chorus at her first entry. But just as D’Annunzio’s opulent poetry of the senses went hand in hand with something more barbarous and sinister, so Zandonai also indulged, especially in the Act 2 battle scene, in orgies of crude orchestral rhetoric. Moreover, in the more dramatic solo music, even more than in the comparable parts of Conchita, he too often seems to have been affecting more emotion than he felt.

Zandonai’s postwar operas on the whole show little fundamental advance on Francesca, despite incidental new departures: Giulietta e Romeo is an especially direct, though inferior, successor to the earlier work. In I cavalieri di Ekebù, however, the strange libretto served both as a safeguard against the worst sort of rhetoric and as an intermittent stimulus to break new ground: the ‘theatre band’ music in Act 2 even introduces stark parallel minor 2nds, minor 9ths etc. comparable with those in Puccini’s Turandot. Such harmonic explorations were not developed further in Zandonai’s last operas, which show signs, rather, of a return to simplicity: Giuliano, with its Oedipus-like plot and its ‘mystical’ prologue and epilogue, adapts the manner of Francesca in more subdued and contemplative terms; while La farsa amorosa attempts, not altogether convincingly, to revive something of the spirit (rather than the letter) of opera buffa.

Zandonai’s instrumental music, which has usually had less than its due share of attention, includes several works inspired by his native Trentino. In descriptive pieces like these his picturesque sense could achieve a purer expression than is usually possible in a dramatic context, though the variegated orchestration cannot disguise the slenderness of some of the ideas. However, the Concerto andaluso, whose quasi-Spanish material is presented in neatly neo-Scarlattian terms (enhanced by a prominent harpsichord in the small orchestra), has abundant melodic life: this is probably Zandonai’s best instrumental composition, embodying in a light, compact form the neo-classical spirit evident in La farsa amorosa.

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