To perform works originally conceived for operatic theatre orchestras on the organ certainly represents a lowering. Starting from the official voice and piano score (in this case we used the coeval Ricordi edition), one needs to summarise the orchestral score, perforce sacrificing something. However, one should also try and imitate, as much as possible, the colour of the orchestral instruments, or, at the very least, the essential meaning of the framework. This is done thanks to the organ’s sonic resources, since it assuredly is a step ahead of the piano. Indeed, the game is made easier, since nineteenth-century pipe instruments of the Lombard school were conceived precisely for imitating the wind instruments of orchestra and band. This happened thanks to the innovations introduced, in the last two decades of the eighteenth century, by the famous Serassi family, who were organ builders in Bergamo. Such wind instruments included flute, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, hunting horn, clarinet and English horn, along with the viola. Moreover, these organs claimed to imitate “not only each and all wind and string instruments, but also the so varied accents of modern music, such as the pianos, fortes, sforzatos, the crescendos, diminuendos etc., so that the organ can claim to be the true representative of the orchestra1”. For this reason, listeners who are unacquainted with the original orchestra version of the Stagioni will possibly fully enjoy the surprising effect of the “Organ-orchestra”. This work was composed by Giuseppe Verdi for the ballet which constitutes a fundamental part of the opera Les vêpres siciliennes, premiered in Paris in 1855. Only those who are deeply acquainted with the “sobriété savante de l’instrumentation”2 (the “knowledgeable sobriety of instrumentation”) adopted by Verdi in his orchestral score will be able to compare the two versions, and possibly to pitilessly condemn that for the organ. It is in fact impossible to faithfully reproduce the polyphonic resources and the instrumental mixtures of a true orchestra.
In spite of this, if I can so state, the result of the transposition for the organ is not entirely disagreeable, precisely due to the intrinsically “orchestral” vocation of the “istromentato ” pipe organ. “Istromentato”3 here indicates the organ’s enrichment with stops aiming at imitating the sound of orchestral instruments.
Of course, the original orchestral score must be given due consideration, in order to get as close as possible to the primeval effect. For this reason, “it is necessary for the organist to be deeply skilled in musical Composition, and to possess abundantly the required genius, indispensable for distinguishing oneself praiseworthily and, most of all, for letting such a magnificent instrument shine4”.
The encouragement to play, today, non-specifically organistic repertoires on the organ is justified by the fact that, in the nineteenth century, the theatrical style was increasingly employed by (more or less professional) organists during the worship services. Yes: opera during Mass. Without much scandal, it constituted the soundtrack of the people’s Sundays, in the “bel paese là dove ‘l sì suona”5, Dante’s “beautiful country where sì sounds”. For this reason, music publisher offered to the organists many practical transcriptions and adaptations, of varying difficulty, which transformed the most (and least) famous operatic excerpts into ill-concealed pious liturgical versions. So, after the triumphs of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, success arrived for Giuseppe Verdi as well, and his tunes entered the sacred temples. An Elevation could be accompanied by the air Di Provenza il mar, il suol, or even by the cabaletta Di quella pira l’orrendo foco. Similarly, Alla vita che t’arride candidly lent itself to accompany the Offertory, while a transfigured Amami, Alfredo became a solemn Te Deum, and so on…
An example of similar organ literature, parallel to the operatic world, is to be heard here in the pieces realized by Carlo Fumagalli (1822-1907) after tunes by “famous Verdi”, excerpted from the opera Giovanna di Guzman (this was the title of the censored version of Les vêpres siciliennes when they received their Italian premiere in Parma on December 26th, 18556). Fumagalli did nothing else than taking up Verdi’s tunes and arranging them, sewing them with original episodes, and employing a writing style whose results were rather accessible even by modestly gifted performers7.
The stream of opera-inspired organ music in nineteenth-century Italy was thus double. In the present album, this doubleness is represented by the two groups, i.e. Verdi’s Stagioni and Fumagalli’s Messa solenne on themes by Verdi. On the one hand, in fact, there are the piano reduction of orchestral scores which were placed on the organ’s music stand and were arranged almost extemporaneously8. There was an added harmonic bass, played on the pedalboard, and the “concertation”, i.e. the use of the best suited sonic mixtures thanks to the purposeful choice of the stops which were available, at each given moment, on the organs. On the other hand, there is a reduction expressly conceived for the organ: this could be the transcription of an operatic excerpt or also the more or less free arrangement inspired by appreciated musical themes.
Listeners will be able to enjoy the timbral potential of two organs which Giuseppe Verdi could have played himself, or at least heard live. Indeed, Croce Santo Spirito is by the road leading from Sant’Agata (where the “paesano delle Roncole”9, the Roncole villager settled with his own Giuseppina Strepponi in 1851) to Cremona. This road was famously used by Verdi when he went, on his calash, to the marketplace found under the shadow of Cremona’s Torrazzo. The organ which today is found in the Church of Saliceto di Cadeo was originally installed in nearby Cortemaggiore. Since Saliceto was the birthplace of Verdi’s mother, Luigia Uttini, it is not far-fetched to imagine the Maestro’s direct concern for the relocation of the instrument. In fact, in 1861 it was moved from the Collegiate Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie of the above-mentioned city (for which it had been built in 1778 by Giovanni Cavalletti) to the parish Church of Saliceto, only a few kilometers away. There, it was adapted to the building’s size, which was much more modest (even though pronouncedly resonant), by the organ-builder Cesare Gianfré.
It is said that Verdi, who frequently went to the Cortemaggiore Collegiate, used to contemplate a canvas painted by Francesco Scaramuzza (1803-1886). Representing “Mary’s Resurrection” (the Virgin’s Assumption to heaven surrounded by the heavenly hosts), this painting may have provided him with the inspiration for composing the famous tune of the chorus La Vergine degli angeli, in “La forza del destino”. Be as it may, the American scholar Mary Jane Phillips-Matz painstakingly documented Verdi’s relationships with relatives and acquaintances in Saliceto10.
The possibility that Verdi knew the organ built in Croce Santo Spirito in 1865 by the famous Pavia organ-builders Lingiardi is confirmed by one fact. Already in 1837, the young composer was employed by the local archpriest, don Luigi Sterzi, in order to confer musical solemnity to the Mass of the parish-church Fair in honour of the Virgin of the Rosary (on the second Sunday of October of that year). There was therefore a documented performance of Verdi’s Messa solenne, conducted by himself leading the Filarmonici di Busseto; the score was found by Busseto musicologist Dino Rizzo and recorded for the first time by Riccardo Chailly for Decca in 2001.
Opera lovers will know this well, but perhaps few organists will be acquainted with the fact that Verdi not only used the organ on stage for connotating religious subjects (this is quite obvious), but also for dramatic effects. For example, there is a cluster of three low notes played on the Contrabbassi stop of the organ in order to emphasize the storm-effect at the beginning of Otello.
Similar passages are found in the following operas: I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843), Giovanna d’Arco (1845), La battaglia di Legnano (1849), Luisa Miller (1849), Stiffelio (1850), Il trovatore (1853), Simon Boccanegra (1857), La forza del destino (1862) and the above-cited Otello (1887)11. We do not know, instead, whether Verdi ever composed works for solo organ, but it is a possibility. In fact, when he was barely ten years old, he was able to succeed the organist in the church of his village, Le Roncole di Busseto. This fact constituted a reason for pride for both the youth and his father!
One may also wonder, moreover, whether the promising young musician could have had the possibility to continue his studies and Milan, and to become Verdi the operatic composer celebrated worldwide, should he have won the 1829 competition for the job of organist in residence at the church of Soragna. His application was not even taken into consideration, due to his young age, since he was deemed to be too inexperienced.
Listeners may find it useful to read the synopsis of the presentation of the ballet of the Saisons.
The Ball of the Four Seasons is performed in front of the Court of Palermo. A basket rises from the earth. It is made of green bushes of plants growing only in winter. Their leaves are covered in ice and snow. From the basket’s inside a young girl comes out, representing winter. Pushing away, with her foot, the brazier lighted by her companions, she dances to get warmer. Ice soon melts at the tepid breath of Zephyrs crossing the air. Winter disappears. Spring rises from a basket of flowers, soon giving way to Summer, a young girl rising from a basket surrounded by a handful of golden spikes. Heat oppresses her, who begs the Naiads for the freshness of their springs. The Swimmers are chased by a Faun who jumps out, preceding Autumn. The sounds of the sistrum and of the cymbals announce Satyrs and Bacchants, whose spirited dances close the Ball.
If one would like to have the impression of participating to a ballet, here are the indications punctuating the piano score in the Ricordi edition:
WINTER: [10, 0:00] Enters the god Janus, presiding over the year. [10, 1:27] Janus, with a golden key, opens the earth and gives life to the seasons. Winter arises from a basket covered in ice, whence the first season of the year comes. Winter, under the shape of a young woman, is covered in furs; behind here, three maidens with bags. [11, 0:00] They shiver with cold. [12, 0:00] One of the maidens hits, with a bar of iron, a stone which sends sparks. [12, 0:09] The fire is lighted. [12, 0:29] The maidens try to get warmer and invite Winter to come by them; Winter refuses. [12, 0:41] The best way to excite heat is [13, 0:00] by dancing. SPRING: [14, 0:00] Zephyrs fly by the ice basket, and, by their warmth, they melt the icicles which still surround it. [14, 0:33] From everywhere, bunches of flowers arise; from the midst of these flowers arises Spring, in the shape of a young girl. SUMMER: [19, 0:00] Flowers disappear. [19, 0:11] The basked is covered in yellow spikes. [19, 0:17] Summer, in the shape of a young girl, rises from the midst of the sheaves. [19, 0:31] She picks the spikes. [19, 1:32] Summer and her companions wish to dance, but the heat is excessive. [19, 2:00] Heat oppresses them. [20, 0:00] Young Naiads exit the basket with long scarves of green voile, imitating waters. [20, 0:14] Summer and her companions imitate the act of swimming. [20, 0:39] The young girl would like to bathe. AUTUMN: [21, 0:00] A girl comes out. [21, 0:08] The girls are worried. [21, 0:10] The Faun wonders. [21, 0:18] The girls disappear, the Faun follows them. [21, 0:28] Joyful sounds are heard from afar; the Faun attentively listens. [21, 0:35] The basket is covered in fruits and vine logs. [track 21, 0:41] The Faun goes around and around the basket, and in the end climbs on it, [track 21, 0:48] He crushes the vine logs and discovers Autumn and her companions. [track 21, 0:54] Surprise.
Liner Notes: Paolo Bottini | Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Paolo Bottini: Paolo Bottini was born in Cremona, motherland of famous composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula and Amilcare Ponchielli. He graduated in organ, piano and harpsichord. Bottini’s most genuine vocation like an organist is to pay his service during catholic liturgical celebrations. Since 1986, he has been the official organist of the Lingiardi organ (1865) in Croce Santo Spirito (Castelvetro Piacentino). In 2012 and 2013, during a two-year stay in Paris, he obtained the qualification as a liturgic organist of the Paris diocese. Plus, he was the substitute organist (choir organ) at the Trinity church in Paris, where Olivier Messiaen was official organist. Since 2015, he has accompanied the Saturday evening liturgy celebrated in the basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna in Piacenza; here he plays the prestigious organ – a Serassi’s (1825) – which Padre Davide da Bergamo, the greatest organist of the Italian Risorgimento, conceived and regularly played. Starting from 1997, Bottini is an organ soloist as well. He is very appreciated for the great richness and variety of his sound palette and for the touch of novelty of his programs. His career boasts prestigious invitations, such as that to the International Festival of Magadino, in Suisse, and to the Organistic Auditions in Notre-Dame in Paris. Among the great number of cds recorded as an organ soloist, there are those devoted to Giuseppe Verdi, Amilcare Ponchielli, Vincenzo Petrali, Claude Debussy, Ferruccio Busoni, Gaetano Valeri and Giovanni Battista Pescetti. He was the secretary of the Italian Association of the Church Organists from 1998 to 2011. He is the author of the first monograph devoted to Federico Caudana (1878-1963), renown organist and maestro di cappella in the cathedral of Cremona (the study was published in 2009 on the “Bollettino Storico Cremonese”). He was also the curator of the catalogue of Caudana’s collected musical manuscripts kept in the Public Library of Cremona.
Giuseppe Verdi: (b Roncole, nr Busseto, 9/10 Oct 1813; d Milan, 27 Jan 1901). Italian composer. By common consent he is recognized as the greatest Italian musical dramatist.