Ancona, Calace, Mezzacapo, Munier, Napoli, Romano, Sorrentino: 20th Century Italian Chamber Music with Mandolin


  • Artist(s): Gianluigi Sperindeo, Giuseppe Ganzerli
  • Composer(s): Carlo Munier, Eduardo Mezzacapo, Eugenio Sorrentino, Francesco Ancona, Gennaro Napoli, Nicola Romano, Raffaele Calace
  • EAN Code: 7.46160911403
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Mandolin, Piano
  • Period: Modern
  • Publication year: 2020
SKU: C00311 Category:

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From Naples to the whole world: this Da Vinci Classics album could easily receive such a subtitle, since the composers represented here are all deeply rooted in the Neapolitan musical tradition, but actively contributed to its dissemination worldwide – to the United States, Russia, Japan, and throughout Europe. Indeed, sometimes Italians are slightly annoyed by the stereotypic image of their country abroad; the combination of “pizza-spaghetti-mandolino” is one which fails to represent the culture and variety of the Peninsula. However, it is intriguing that all three elements of this combination can be identified with Naples, and that just one, the mandolin, is not a food. Food in fact is the most immediate way for entering into contact and relationship with a different culture; music is almost as universal as food, and of course has a different level of artistry and spirituality. Therefore, even though “pizza-spaghetti-mandolino” is a slightly offensive oversimplification, the fact that the mandolin is a symbol of Italy on the same plane as pizza and spaghetti gives – quite literally – food for thought.
It is not by chance that Naples and the mandolin are so strictly connected to each other. The city of Naples has always had a very lively “outdoor” lifestyle: its idyllic climate, tempered by the sea both in winter and in summer, encourages people to enjoy open air life, which, in turn, favours human relationships, chattering, and the dissemination of popular and elevated culture. The mandolin is the ideal instrument for outdoor playing. It is easy to handle and to carry, light and non-cumbersome; it is perfectly suited for accompanying singing, but works perfectly also alone (being able to sustain a singing melodic line and to accompany it harmonically at the same time), and with other instruments, both of the same family and of a different nature. Moreover, the mandolin is perfectly suited to provide music for dancing (and the culture of dance used to be a distinguishing feature of the city), and its clear, silvery tone is aesthetically consonant with the city’s transparent air and sea, and its inexhaustible energy and vitality. Last but not least, Naples is the perfect stage for love and courtship, and the mandolin is the perfect instrument for moonlight serenades: the nostalgia which infuses the mood and aura of many sea-cities, and which translates the longing for the infinite characterizing the contemplation of the sea, becomes a perfect symbol for the desire of love.
Many of these feelings are found in this album, which collects nearly a dozen pieces for mandolin and piano. Of course, different from the mandolin, the piano is the indoor instrument par excellence; however, the presence of the mandolin seems almost to open the window of the piano’s salon and to bring in the salty flavour of the marine air. The association between mandolin and serenade surfaces frequently among the pieces collected here; for example Plenilunio by Sorrentino portrays a night of full moon, whose light almost rivals that of the sun, but whose cool and fresh atmosphere encourages the enjoyment of night. Equally clear is the reference to serenading in Calace’s Serenata Romantica, a piece which is almost a musical postcard from a time past; and, undoubtedly, both Nenia d’amore (“Love tune”) by Francesco Ancona and Mormorio d’amore (“Whisper of love”) by Nicola Romano embody the centrality of love in the Neapolitan culture and in its distinguishing music.
Once more, however, the seemingly immediate image of “Naples-serenade-mandolin” should not lead us to oversimplification. If music used to be practised, loved and lived by Neapolitans of all classes and levels of education, and was a ubiquitous feature of the city, the pieces recorded here are “popular” only inasmuch as they were widely disseminated and appreciated; however, they are certainly not “popular” if the intended meaning is “composed by non-educated musicians” or “representing orally transmitted culture”. In fact, practically all of the composers represented here were recognized and respected masters of their art, who had studied classical and academic composition at the Conservatory of the city, and who actively contributed to the continuation of a tradition unique for the city: the Conservatory of Naples was the only one where the mandolin was taught as a classical instrument, on a par with seemingly more august instruments such as the piano or the violin. Frequently, these musicians had an active career as teachers and performers abroad, thus contributing to the fame of the mandolin as a symbol for Italian music, culture and society. For example, Eduardo Mezzacapo represents the earliest generation of composers among those recorded here: his dates of birth and death correspond almost perfectly to those of Johannes Brahms. Mezzacapo was born in Naples, but he left Italy in his teens and found a new homeland in France, with which Naples had a strong cultural connection. He brought to France the knowledge, mastery, skill and expertise of the Neapolitan mandolin tradition and established the Ecole de mandoline française, the French Mandolin School. Moreover, he founded a mandolin quartet which outlived its founder, and which continued to perform in the early decades of the twentieth century: a recording of this quartet survives and is among the earliest testimonies of an ancient tradition. He wrote many short pieces, many of which are very characteristic and explore the national idioms of other countries and musical styles; however, his most successful works are those inspired by his birthplace, among which, of course, Napoli.
Little is known about Francesco Ancona, who was roughly a contemporary of Mezzacapo and who taught at the Conservatory of Naples; his Nenia d’amore is a charming piece with a pronounced cantabile style and a passionate mood. Among his most successful students was Raffaele Calace, who is instead one of the best-known mandolin performers and composers of his era, and was also very active in the manufacture of instruments. He had inherited the passion for the mandolin and the craftsmanship from his father, who represented already the second generation of mandolin-makers. Along with his brother Nicola, Raffaele continued the family business and tradition, until relationships between the siblings became strained and Nicola left Naples for America. Raffaele was convinced of the mandolin’s potential as a solo instrument, and wished to establish an autonomous repertoire for it, rather than resorting (as was customary) to transcriptions; his academic studies in composition allowed him to master the compositional language and to substantially contribute to this repertoire. He left also many pedagogical works, as well as instrumental prototypes which aimed at combining the lute’s wider extension and pitch range with the mandolin’s expressive power and flexibility. He wrote more than 180 pieces for plucked-string instruments; he founded an appreciated journal in which some of the greatest musicians of the era wrote thought-provoking articles; and he toured as far as to Japan, where he played for the Emperor and was awarded the Cross of the Sacred Japanese Treasure. His family continued in his footsteps, and their enterprise will soon celebrate its two-hundredth anniversary.
Raffaele Calace’s fame is witnessed by the numerous pieces which have been dedicated to him; among them is another of the works recorded here, the Frammento by Gennaro Napoli. Napoli was an appreciated composer who wrote operas, symphonic pieces and chamber music works, and he was particularly active in the pedagogical domain; he left composition manuals which became reference books for many subsequent generations, and became one of the leading teachers at the Conservatory of his city. His Frammento is a touching and expressive piece which undoubtedly put into relief the talent and skill of his famous dedicatee.
Among the remaining pieces in this album, those by Sorrentino (a musician who in turn was highly appreciated abroad, particularly in the States) and Romano are two exquisite miniatures portraying the tenderness, passion and lyricism of the Neapolitan soul; the mandolin’s voice finds its truest eloquence in the vibrating sound of its tunes. The most unusual pieces are however those constituting Carlo Munier’s triptych “Fisiologie musicali” (“musical physiology”), and depicting, respectively, Love, Grief and Pleasure. Munier plays with the perceived meaning of music, and transforms Pleasure into a “brilliant amusement” (“divertimento brillante”) whose dance-like features allude to charming flirtations, and whose cantabile section suggests tenderness and love. The classical topoi of musical grief, such as chromaticism, descending lines, slow pace and small intervals are found in the “elegiac thought” (“pensiero elegiaco”) dedicated to Grief, while Love is encircled by wreaths of arpeggios by the piano, upon whose garlands the mandolin’s impassionate voice soars.
Together, the pieces of this album open the windows of time on the contemplation of a lost belle époque, which could be as refined and as gay as that of Paris, but perhaps with a touch of Mediterranean humour and vivacity. They portray a society which knew well how to amuse itself, and where fun and irony were not confined to the upper social layers: a typical trait of the Neapolitan spirit is that no matter how sad or dire the circumstances, an occasion for laughing, singing and loving can always be found. And the mandolin expresses magnificently these characteristics of a city like no other.

Liner notes by Chiara Bertoglio


Gianluigi Sperindeo: At the age of 9, he received his early training in guitar and began to study privately.
When he was fourteen he continued his studies at Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella in Naples with Vincenzo di Benedetto and Stefano Cardi.
During these years, he started to feel a very strong passion for the mandolin thanks to Ugo Orlandi and that led him to a new journey at the Conservatorio Pollini in Padova where he obtained his degree with honours.
Sperindeo won different competitions and the scholarship “I giovani dell’arte”.
He has been the chief conductor of Orchestra Giovanile Napoletana and he taught mandolin in Primary and Secondary Schools.
He cooperated with Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and with the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia during the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” by Prokofiev, the operas “Siberia by Giordano and “Otello” by Verdi.
His conducting and soloist activity brought him through Europe, China, Japan and the United States.
He performed at “Nanning Festival International Folk Songs Arts” in China, at “Viva Napoli” in Zurich and at the prestigious “Valletta International Baroque Festival” in Malta, proving the versatility of the mandolin in a vast classical repertory from 17th to 20th century as well as in the traditional folk Neapolitan songs.
Alongside his career as a mandolinist, Gianluigi continuesto teach guitar.

Giuseppe Ganzerli: Born in Naples (Italy), he started his study at avery young age and soon he discovered his natural talent for the piano.
He obtained his piano degree cum Laude and a special mention under the guidance of Antonio Traverso at Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella in Naples. A few years later, at the same conservatory, he gained his MA cum Laude in pianistic interpretation, chamber music, piano accompaniment, and répetiteur.
He has appeared in several music festivals and competitions and in all of them he has been acclaimed with unanimous approval winning the first prizes.
Ganzerli performed in several concerts in different prestigious venues such as “Napolinova” in Naples, Fondazione “W. Walton”, “Associazione Scarlatti”, Ravello Concert Society, “Il Tempietto” and Conservatorio S. Cecilia in Rome, Festival “Busoni”, Conservatorio “G. Martucci” and Teatro Verdi in Salerno, La Fenice in Venice, Teatro Manzoni e Teatro Nuovo in Milan.
He has honed his technique with a wide range of masterclasses including one with Aldo Ciccolini.
As a pianist and along with chamber ensembles, Ganzerli has toured around the world.
Organist for the vocal ensemble “Axia”, he performed sacred music in collaboration with Orchestra del Teatro San Carlo, “La Nuova Scarlatti“ and “I Solisti di Napoli”.
He is currently engaged in numerous concerts and his purpose is to transmit his passion for piano music and opera.