Official release: June 2021
DAVIDE FICCO’S “EXPANDED” GUITAR
by Elena Mollo
The figure of Davide Ficco occupies a special place among the numerous guitarists/composers who enlarged the repertoire for their instrument. In fact, his figure is not exclusively limited to the universe of the six strings; rather, he gathers its idioms and intertwines them in a thick network of artistic, cultural, historical and ethnic references, making use also of the possibilities for research and expansion provided by new technologies. His output for the guitar’s six strings is in fact a successful example of cultural eclecticism. His vast knowledge does not only encompass the guitar repertoire, or the classical repertoire in general, but rather embraces various artistic forms, lingering also over the history of extra-European cultures and traditions. This all is poured into his music, in the form of countless extra-musical references, which may be more or less hidden, and which bestow refinement and elegance on his music without being burdened by an ostentatious intellectualism. Such richness does not belong to Ficco’s compositional activity only, but also derives from his work as a performer. Ficco has practised this activity for years, combining the musician’s technical know-how with the ability to draw diverse influences together and to let them emerge. However, this all happens in the service of the musical score, and not of an intellectual hedonism.
Such features are common to all of his compositions, beyond their heterogeneous surface appearance. Rather, this diversity bears witness to the composer’s fantasy and to his generous creative vein. It gives life (in an almost Stravinskyan fashion) to an extremely varied corpus. Still, its recognizable red thread is constituted by an unceasing effort to hybridize his instrument through external media (and this is certainly an unusual fact in the world of guitarists/composers). We can therefore speak of an “expanded guitar”, a guitar “widened” in its manifestations thanks to the large cultural horizons into which it is projected.
Another characteristic feature shared by Ficco’s entire output is the almost “rhapsodic” freedom with which he treats the different forms and the various references he pours in them. It seems as if the composer, in his creative act, claims some liberties which are rather typical for interpreters. The result is a musical flow which is not “plastered up” through rigid schemes. Instead, it is rich in spontaneity and freshness, making this music very enjoyable and worth disseminating.
Psaltes (2012-2017) is a cycle of three pieces dedicated to the Japanese virtuoso Shin-Ichi Fukuda, and conceived as the three movements of a Sonata. The title alludes to the figure of the female player of the psaltery: the idea behind this composition is in fact to recreate, on the guitar, some moments in which the instrument can develop long resonances, such as are typical for the psaltery.
Psaltes I opens the cycle with a formal construction reminiscent of the classical Sonata form (in particular, of certain forms found in Beethoven’s last Sonatas). It presents an introduction with a rather delicate character and a rhapsodic pace. Here the reference to the psaltery clearly emerges, since the piece is constituted by rapid passageworks ending on notes which are held and allowed to resonate. The following Andante mosso display a rhythmical first “theme”, linked through a short passage of transition to a second “theme” with a wholly different character, being lyrical and quieter. A section where the material is developed follows, but is brusquely interrupted by a Passacaglia-like movement, a kind of “reprise” in a slow tempo. After one last “faux reprise”, the piece finishes with a quote from the introduction, in a suspended and dreamy mood.
Psaltes II is the piece where the composer’s lyrical vein finds its best expression. Its pace is slow and rocking, and is reminiscent of a barcarola. Its waters are only lightly moved by ripples, due to a passage with quick repeated notes, whipped by “cutting” bichords, played staccato and with accents. The delicate initial theme reappears in the last bars, nostalgically recalled.
Psaltes III closes the collection with the grandioso style of a Sonata finale, whose large construction alternates episodes with a contrasting character. The first section offers a deciso e sonoro thematic subject (as the composer’s indication reads), whose accompaniment rhythmically marks the bar’s division. The taste for chromaticism, observable in the first measures, is found throughout the piece, in which polytonal moments are also observed. A more cantabile section follows, built on an ostinato bass. The bass’ material is then gradually dissolved, until it is reduced to a single low note. It constitutes a long pedal-note, breaking the unceasing rhythm and leading to a fugato section, followed by another with a freer design. This all flows into a reprise of the piece’s beginning. The Coda recalls the introduction to Psaltes I, closing the cycle in a perfectly circular fashion, on the rarefied tones of remembrance.
The cycle of the Sette frammenti on poems by Federico García Lorca (1988) is the first compositional work dedicated by the composer to the solo guitar. This work was initially conceived as stage music to accompany actress Valeria Moriconi as she recited García Lorca’s poems. Later, the composer derived from this material a cycle of self-standing pieces, characterized by an intimate expressivity and rich in aural suggestions from the land of Andalusia. Yet, these pieces maintain a very strict connection with the texts from which they originated. In some cases, the poems suggest a particular structure to the music, in other they permeate the music’s character and emotional mood. The general path thus designed starts from the gipsy atmospheres of the first piece. Through a progressive transition, it leads to the leaden atmospheres of the last one, devoid of hope. There is just a single moment of carelessness in the sixth Frammento, which temporarily enlightens the tension before the final drama takes place.
Baile, the opening fragment, makes use of the gestures of flamenco and of its particular techniques, such as the rasgueados (percussive and scraping chords), followed by very short melodic solos, reminiscent of the falsetas. These stylistic elements are reinvented within an utterly original structure, the fruit of a personal compositional synthesis.
Gacela del recuerdo de amor is characterized by a melodic profile constituted by short repeated phrases, which are left in a harmonic suspension. In the central section, they bend themselves over a line of appoggiaturas made of tones and semitones. Flash-like descending arpeggios mark the phrases, and are led to conclude with percussions of the thumb over the board, giving to the piece a sense of inevitability.
Si mis manos puedieran deshojar begins through a short introduction, rich in instrumental idiomatic gestures, typical for Andalusian music. On the harmonic plane, a suspended cadence seems to repeat the unanswered questions of Lorca’s lines. The second part recalls the introduction’s harmonies, which are dilated in an agitated tremolo passage. In the concluding bars the suspended cadence achieves its resolution, displaying a small light in the final major triad.
Gacela del amor desesperado has a more intimate and meditative character. The appoggiatura is the piece’s protagonist. It imparts to the piece a melancholic and, at the same time, a sweet pace. The polyphonic writing is rich in chromatic passages and in archaic-sounding movements of parallel fifths.
Stylistic elements of the flamenco guitar are found again in Las seis cuerdas, with percussive effects similar to the bass-drum (the board is hit by the performer’s wrist) and to the castanets (tremolo played by the nails on the guitar’s body sides). The melodic section, with an irregular and unstable beat, obsessively oscillates around a handful of pitches, giving a feeling of an inexorable agitation.
In Adivinanza de la guitarra, the sixth fragment inspired by the eponymous poem, the six strings are allegorically represented by Lorca as dancing girls. The musical piece’s form is reminiscent of a dance (the minuet), while the contrapuntal design initially displays two voices chasing each other in imitation, later joined by a third voice. This piece’s lighthearted character strongly contrasts with the atmosphere of the following one, closing the cycle on tragical tones.
Gacela de la muerte oscura is the final fragment, and the longest of the series. Its emotional mood is permeated by grief and a sense of unavoidability. Ficco once more employs the classical guitar idiom of the tremolo (which is frequently and purposefully asymmetric). In the second half of the piece, in the accompaniment, the beginning of a lullaby from Friuli can be heard (it may be an autobiographic childhood memory of the composer). However, this moment does not change the fate’s doom, which is devoid of hope.
The Berceuse pour guitare (2004), dedicated to Matilda Lapio, is a piece with a dreamy character and a barcarola-like rocking rhythm, permeating the work. The melodic line’s highly singing style originates from the fact that, initially, the composer had wished the lyrics of a French lullaby to be sung on that tune. The principal thematic phrase, of an extreme sweetness, is repeated with variations. Freer sections are juxtaposed to it, with some harmonic ambiguity (even though they employ material excerpted from the principal period). In the piece’s second half a short polytonal episode is found. Polytonal harmonics are found also in the initial and final chords, juxtaposing real and harmonic sounds, as if they were symbolizing the ambivalence of dream and reality.
Trois Nocturnes de Poche (2006-2009) is a cycle made of three short album leaves with a strong emotional impact, dedicated to the composer’s three children, Linda, Riccardo and Giuliano. Similar to the Berceuse, the composer’s goal is to translate the dimension of dream into music: the contours between reality and the subconscious are blurred.
In Nocturne I, fragments of tonal harmonic materials (with a mostly coloristic function) are found among less traditional structures. Their brevity, in fact, prevents the listener from grasping them fully (here the dream metaphor is represented). Night is recreated, moreover, as an aural space made of silence, troubled by far-away noises or interrupted by unexpected sounds. The repeated notes appearing since the piece’s beginning and closing it circularly are of this nature.
Nocturne II has a more traditional writing, with a prevailingly tonal structure. The quest for blurred contours is found here too, for example in the ambiguity between major and minor mode found in some chords, or in the enharmonic use of the melody’s notes. The listener’s perception remains ambiguous also from the metrical-rhythmical viewpoint, since the basic binary subdivision is occasionally superimposed to a ternary one.
Nocturne III is, from the formal viewpoint, the most rhapsodic one. Here too short harmonic rows reminiscent of tonality are found; however, they constitute just a coloristic effect within the musical discourse’s flow. Here the metre becomes unstable, and it varies even between a bar and the following one. This effect is however mitigated by the persistence, through most of the piece, of a constant beat. A reminiscence from the first Nocturne closes the three pieces in a cyclical fashion.
Der Atem der Nacht (2019), dedicated to guitarist Edoardo Pieri, is a work with a dreamy character. The nearly hypnotic pace of this Nocturne is given, since the piece’s inception, by an oscillatory and rocking movement between two pitches, which thus constitute a long pedal-note. Similar to other Nocturnes by Ficco, the lunar ambient makes both form and material less clear and definable: this happens in the modal uncertainty between major and minor mode, in the first part. The first thematic element is in the bass, employing harmonics and real notes (yet another reference to the dimension of dream). Gradually, the harmony increasingly distances itself from the groupings with a tonal flavour found in the first part. A fragment fuori dal tempo works as a transition to a section characterized by an emotionally more intense theme, which is, in a certain sense, more “concrete” than the preceding one. A passage follows in which the harmonic instability becomes more pronounced, due to quick semitonal slidings. The return of the fuori dal tempo fragment leads to the Coda, which, in a few bars, recalls retrospectively the piece’s most important moments. The final chords appear as two shining stars, while the last pitch sounds almost as a question mark: a leading note whose resolution will never arrive.
Chromeoxide Heart (1990) is inspired by figures from the comics created between the Seventies and Eighties. In this aural transposition, Ficco recreates timbral situations similar to the electric guitar. He employs performance techniques such as the “bending” (strings are bent to change their intonation) or the “slap” (strings are lifted and then suddenly released). However, this kind of sound is only evoked, while delicate nuances and sottovoce passages are actively searched. The thematic material is made of a single phrase, which undergoes some elaborations. In this theme, it is possible to recognize the riff from Smoke on the Water by the Deep Purple. The piece’s formal appearance is that of a suite to be performed without interruption. In its titles, it recalls the terms of the French Ballet de Cour of the seventeenth century, as if pointing out the links between a certain strand of rock music and the Baroque era.
Edoardo Pieri: Born in Italy in 1991. He began studying guitar at the age of 4 with Antonio Rondina, continued his studies with Matteo Motroni and completed them with Frédéric Zigante. His musical education also improved thanks to lessons with Nuccio D'Angelo, Giampaolo Bandini, Lorenzo Micheli, Oscar Ghiglia and Manuel Barrueco.
In 2009 he complete his bachelor with full marks at the Conservatory of Turin. In 2012 and 2015 he passed with honors two masters (Concert Performance and Musical Teaching) at the Conservatory of Alessandria. In the same period he wrote a thesis about Alexandre Tansman containing the transcription of three unpublished pieces (Nocturne Romantique, Invention, Segovia) removed by Segovia for stylistic reasons from the well-known work Trois Piéces pour Guitare. Thanks to his research, the corpus of Tansman’s music now boasts a new philological version of the work that was originally titled Six Piéces pour Guitare. It is conserved by the Alexandre Tansman Association in Paris and the transcriptions contained in the thesis have been used for a recording with important label such as Brilliant Classics. He has won a high number of solo and chamber music competitions worldwide, both nationally and internationally. He also has an intense international calendar of concerts: as well as regular concerts around Italy, he performs in Spain, England, Belgium, Thailand and in the United States. Some important label - such as DotGuitar and GuitArt - published his recordings. His concerts and recordings have often been transmitted by RAI, Italian Radio and Television. He has released interviews with several national and international newspapers and magazines. As composer, he writes music for Edizioni Musicali Novecento label. His interest for the contemporary scene and his musical eclecticism have urged composers from all over the world to write musical works for him. Since 2009 he has undertaken important teaching posts. Currently he's teaching at P. Mascagni Conservatory in Livorno and Liceo Musicale A. Passaglia in Lucca He is often called on to sit on national and international adjudicating commissions. From 2018 he managed Viareggio Guitar Festival.