The red thread binding together the pieces of this Da Vinci Classics album is in fact a golden thread: it is the golden voice of the trumpet or of the flugelhorn, which resounds in most pieces and is seen in transparence even in the solo piano works by George Gershwin. This album, in other words, boldly proclaims that no musicologically pretentious justification is needed in order to enjoy the pure delight of an itinerary built on the characteristics of an instrument and of its voice.
Taken together, the pieces performed here in fact represent a gorgeous palette of varied colours, whereby each work contributes a tile to the mosaic, and the whole offers a dazzling experience of the trumpet’s pure golden sound.
The modern trumpet’s ancestors are found at a very early date, and are frequently connected with military life and its needs. Among the winds, the trumpet and its cognate instruments possess an intensity of sound and a capability to pierce the air which make it ideal as a vehicle for musical messages. However, it is not just a matter of mere volume and power: the sound of the trumpet has always possessed – or perhaps historically acquired, or both – a unique power to inspire, to arouse, to symbolize the human voice on a heroic plane.
These qualities have been very frequently employed in orchestral music through the eras. Moreover, Christianity has endowed the trumpet with a further layer of symbolical meaning: St. Jerome’s translation of the names of some wind instruments of the Jewish tradition as tuba has encouraged Christian writers, visual artists and musicians to associate this instrument with the solemnity and transforming power of the heavenly hosts and of holiness. In Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin, the evocation of the trumpet’s sound symbolizes resurrection and eternal bliss; in Handel’s Messiah the longest Aria of the Oratorio is actually a duet for bass voice and trumpet, whereby the instrument symbolizes the life-giving power of God’s Spirit who re-awakens the dead for eternal life.
In that famous solo, Handel masterfully combined the quasi-military, heroic sound of the trumpet’s dotted rhythm with the enchantment and wonder elicited by the beauty of the tunes it sings. These two faces of trumpet music are declined into a variety of facets in this album, where these two main roots originate a high number of branches and multicoloured leaves.
The pieces by Gershwin pay homage to the Roaring Twenties and to the explosion of jazz music they witnessed. The association between trumpet and jazz music depended on a number of factors, but a particularly significant one was the trumpet’s ability to evoke some characteristic performing practices of African (and Afro-American) singing styles. It is not by chance that Louis Armstrong was a virtuoso trumpet player and that his singing and his trumpet playing showed remarkably similar performing styles.
George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is one of his best-known pieces, and one which has become famous beyond the borders of “classical” music. In fact, it is a matter of debate (albeit of a rather sterile debate) whether this piece belongs in the field of “classical” or “jazz” music. Arguably, it bridges the gap between these two fields, by conferring to jazz a patina of classicalness and by enlivening the classical style with authentic jazz inspiration. This does not mean, however, that Rhapsody in Blue is a typical example of jazz music; rather, it evokes a world – the American world of the Twenties – which had jazz music as one of its icons.
The piece’s genesis was not straightforward. After having listened to Gershwin’s Blue Monday, a “jazz opera”, bandleader Paul Whiteman tried and approached the young composer with the idea of asking him to write a Piano Concerto in the jazz style. Gershwin was rather reluctant, at first, especially since the date of the premiere had already been established and it was much too close for composing a complex piece. However, the composer was left no choice when Whiteman publicly announced the Concerto on a newspaper – well before the composer had agreed on writing it, let alone started working on it. The inspiration came to Gershwin rather suddenly and unexpectedly: in his own words, “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer…. I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise. And there I suddenly heard—and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance”.
The premiere of the Concerto (whose first title should have been American Rhapsody) took place in 1924, during a mammoth-concert called “Experiment in Modern Music”; the piece was scheduled to be performed just before the end of a very long programme, and Gershwin, at the piano, was accompanied by Whiteman’s jazz band. The orchestration had been realized by Ferde Grofé, one of Whiteman’s longtime cooperators, and the iconic clarinet glissando opening the piece had come out almost by chance during one of the rehearsals.
The packed hall included some of the greatest musicians of the era: among them Igor Stravinsky, Fritz Kreisler, Sergey Rachmaninov and Leopold Stokovsky. The success was immediate (although the critics were lukewarm); the piece earned Gershwin immortal fame and remained a hit from the time of its premiere until present-day.
Among the listeners on that fateful day was also Marguerite d’Alvarez, a celebrated singer who invited Gershwin to accompany her during a concert scheduled to take place in December 1926. The singer had asked Gershwin to include some solo pieces for piano, and Gershwin chose to perform a selection from a larger project he had been imagining for some time. With the aim in mind to obtain the status of “classic” for jazz music, he had turned his attention to that classic of classics, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with its 24 Preludes and Fugues, and to the classic of Romanticism, Chopin’s 24 Preludes. Inspired by these masterpieces of keyboard literature, he had planned to write 24 jazz Preludes; even in the number of their measures they should have imitated the structures found in Bach and in Chopin’s Preludes. In the end, the project was never completed, but these three Preludes (along with other pieces which have not yet been identified with any certainty) were played by Gershwin on that occasion and remained in the piano repertoire forever. Here, even though the scoring is for solo piano, evocations of trumpet sounds are found on several occasions, and lend a touch of gold to the piano’s keys.
A totally different context surrounds the composition of Théo Charlier’s Solo de Concours. Instead of America’s exploration of sparkling new languages, here the composer is a Belgian professional trumpet player, whose work was so admired and appreciated that it was included as a compulsory examination piece at the Conservatoire of Paris, following a practice inaugurated by Gabriel Fauré during his directorship of the institution. The piece is a showcase for the performer’s musical and technical skills, with a variety of affective and technical situations and challenges; the final Vivo section is particularly exciting and thrilling in its brilliant scoring and imaginative style.
As concerns Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a 1957 review stated that it took up “the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died. It is fascinatingly tricky and melodically beguiling”. Even though the style of Bernstein is miles away from Gershwin’s, the younger composer’s debt towards the elder is clear: similar to Gershwin, with his famous musical Bernstein claimed and obtained the status of “classic” for the complex melting-pot of American musical traditions and for the rich heritage of the nation’s ethnic components. The story, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, embodies ethnic and social tensions through the juxtaposition of different musical styles, which however are blended into Bernstein’s unique and personal musical language: thus, exactly when racial and ethnical conflicts are posed, they are simultaneously solved through the language of music.
The trumpet’s versatility and its capability to express a nation’s musical soul are clearly recognizable also in Arutunian’s Trumpet Concerto. This piece, written by an Armenian composer during the Soviet era, weaves Armenian folk-like tunes (which were actually composed by Arutunian himself) into the fabric of a classical trumpet Concerto; the result is a blend of solid structural forms with enticing tunes having a distinctly Eastern flavour.
The same taste for exoticism is found in the thrilling Neapolitan Dance from Čajkovskij’s Swan Lake. Once more, the trumpet evokes singing in the typical Mediterranean fashion, while the virtuoso repeated notes of the tarantella create rapturous circular movements in an increasingly excited tempo and rhythm.
Together, these pieces concur to demonstrate the potential of an instrument whose history is so closely bound to human civilization; the trumpet is capable, again and again, to stir our emotions, to touch, to inspire and to electrify its listeners.
Album notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Fabrizio Viti: Graduated at the Francesco Morlacchi Conservatory in Perugia with full marks and honours, he has attended masterclasses held by Lazar Berman, François-Joël Thiollier, Jorg Demus, Boris Petrushansky, Alexander Lonquich, Roman Vlad, Felix Ayo and Sergio Perticaroli, who selected him to attend the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Mozarteum University in Salzburg and the Josè Iturbi Piano Academy in Valencia. Viti has collaborated with world-famous musicians such as baritone Giuseppe Taddei, with whom he reinterpreted Verdi's Falstaff, and Franco Petracchi, under whose direction he played Beethoven's 5th Concerto for piano and orchestra. He has premiered compositions of several composers for contemporary music Associations and Insitution such as Nuova Consonanza, SIMC, Musicology Division of University of Texas at Austin, Ignacy Jan Paderewski Academy and Adam Mickiewicz University's Faculty of Art Studies and Musicology in Poznań, University of Helsinki for the 15th International Doctoral and Postdoctoral Seminar on Musical Semiotics.
He has performed worldwide in important music halls such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Parco della Musica, Auditorium della Conciliazione, St. Cecilia Conservatory Hall in Rome, La Fenice in Venice, Leopold Mozart Saal in Salzburg, Vienna Rathaus and Sala Nervi in Vatican City.
Luca Seccafieno: 1st trumpet of the Venice Chamber Orchestra from 2004 to 2011, is endorser of Schilke ® - Chicago. He holds regularly masterclasses in the prestigious conservatories of Venice, Padua, Riva Del Garda, Trento, l'Aquila, Cagliari, Bari, Benevento, Avellino, Alexandria as well as the Miranda de Ebro University of Burgos in Spain.
His experience as a musician led him to collaborate with prestigious institutions such as Parco della Musica of Rome, Carnegie Hall in New York, Sydney Opera House, CBSO Center in Birmingham, St John's Smith Square in London, Konzerthaus Berlin, Konzerthalle Freiburg, Liederhalle Stuttgart, Alte Oper Frankfurt, Musikhalle Hamburg, Konzerthalle Klagenfurt, Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok and Opera di Roma.
He has produced several recordings for Sony and Universal and worked with numerous film productions. Seccafieno has a contract with the literary International agency as a writer and screenwriter: this year a new novel is expected to be released as well as a movie inspired by the same book of which he is author and screenwriter. He has published several methods for trumpet exported throughout Europe, United States, Asia and Oceania with publishing companies Albatros and Raitrade. Luca Seccafieno is brand ambassador for Paul Picot ®.
George Gershwin: (b Brooklyn, NY, 26 Sept 1898; d Hollywood, CA, 11 July 1937). American composer, pianist, and conductor. He began his career as a song plugger in New York’s Tin Pan Alley; by the time he was 20 he had established himself as a composer of Broadway shows, and by the age of 30 he was America’s most famous and widely accepted composer of concert music.