Danilo Comitini, Francesco Paolo Tosti, Francis Poulenc, Franz Liszt, Leonard Bernstein
Official Release: 17 September 2021
Danilo Comitini, Francesco Paolo Tosti, Francis Poulenc, Franz Liszt, Leonard Bernstein
The publication year of this Da Vinci Classics album is 2021, a year dedicated to Dante Alighieri and to his poetry. This year commemorates the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death, and offers therefore an exceptional occasion for celebrating the unique personality, output and legacy of the “sommo poeta”, the “highest poet”, as he is commonly referred to in Italy.
This album constitutes a very intriguing contribution to the anniversary celebrations. Dante himself was keenly aware of the joint power of music and lyrics. His direct experience of how music and poetry may intertwine with each other is testified in a particular episode of the Purgatorio, the second of the three cantiche in which Dante’s Commedia is divided. Dante and Virgilio (Vergil), his mentor, have just reached the island on which Mount Purgatory stands, and they observe the arrival of a group of recently deceased souls, who are led by an angel to their purification. Among these souls, Dante recognizes his friend Casella, a musician. After failing to embrace him (since a soul is incorporeal), Dante invites his friend to sing for him a song of love, as he used to do during his mortal life. Casella willingly obliges, and begins to sing a canzone, a song, on lyrics composed by Dante himself. Amor che nella mente mi ragiona speaks of the most commonly found subject in a song, i.e. love, even though Dante had earlier affirmed that its verses referred to Lady Philosophy rather than to a real woman. Casella’s singing instantly conquers the ears and hearts of those present: all are enraptured by the beauty of the music and of the words. This moment of respite (all the more welcome in Dante and Virgilio’s case, since they have just exited the nightmarish Inferno) is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Cato, who rebukes the souls for neglecting their penance in favour of a moment of artistic pleasure. As one commentator of the Commedia, i.e. Claudia Elisabeth Schurr, has acutely pointed out, Cato’s condemnation of the love song should be properly contextualized. It is not that love disappears, or should disappear, from the hearts and souls of the blessed; it is not a question of “no more” love songs, but rater of “not yet”. Love, just as music, is seen very positively by Dante and by Christian theology: they are among the greatest gifts of God, and have an immense potential for saving the human beings. However, both love and music should properly channelled, i.e. oriented to the achievement of holiness and virtue. Otherwise, they may corrupt the soul, as when one loves power or wealth, or when music distracts from “real” life. The souls in Purgatory must learn to “attune” their wills to God’s will, as another commentator, Francesco Ciabattoni, perceptively put it. Only in Paradiso, their purification accomplished, the souls will be able to express themselves in a free – and, at the same time, beautifully ordered – polyphony, mirroring the liberty and peace of a society grounded on God’s love.
The works recorded here are connected, more or less loosely, to this perspective and to Dante’s itinerary in the ultramundane worlds. The works referring most closely to the Commedia are those constituting the Trittico by Danilo Comitini, a composition issued precisely in 2021. The three pieces suggestively propose fragments from each of the three Cantiche in reverse order: Paradiso first, then Purgatorio and Inferno. Even though this sequence has been inverted in turn, for musical reasons, in the album’s tracklist, the composer’s idea is fascinating. The lines by Dante set in Comitini’s Paradiso comprise the longest excerpt from the Commedia proposed here. They constitute the last thirteen lines of the entire poem, ending with the justly famous “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle” (“Love that moves the sun and the other stars”, referring to God’s Love). The abundance of Dante’s words selected for this piece encourages the composer to propose a recitative-like setting, with long sung phrases which flow generously as concerns both music and text. The numerous timbral effects, both in the vocal and in the piano part, suggest the unearthly transcendence of the poet’s final contemplation of the mystery of God. This epiphany occasionally takes the form of a sudden revelation, musically embodied by a series of contrasting and isolated chords by the piano, building up the fortissimo climax. However, the ultimate experience of God’s love is unfathomable, and leads the poets to an apophatic poetry: this is musically mirrored by the solo voice’s isolation and by the long wordless sections of the solo piano.
The song dedicated to Purgatorio sets to music the farthest fragment from the Paradiso’s conclusion, i.e. the very first lines of Dante’s second cantica. Whereas the preceding song uttered the limitation of the poet’s fantasy to render the mystery of God, here this same poetic power is evoked, and invited to rise again after the desolation and anguish experienced in hell. The poet’s painful effort to reconquer language’s beauty is mirrored by the musical setting, whereby the first words are fragmented, as if they were painfully pronounced by somebody in the process of learning to speak. Later, the evocation of beauty’s return encourages a more fluid declamation, while the penitential dimension of Purgatorio is evoked by the repetition of the word “alza” (“lift up”). The itinerary awaiting Dante and Virgilio, as well as the souls they meet, is hard; the mountain to climb is tall, and punctuated by suffering and grief. Yet, this ascension is also a spiritual one, which lifts the human beings up from the depths of sin and prepares them for the beauty of heaven.
The fragment from Dante’s Inferno sung here is excerpted from the XXVI Canto, whose protagonist is Homer’s hero Ulysses. He is portrayed as burning in the same flame in which his companion Diomedes is also punished. This image powerfully symbolizes their duplicity, for which they are condemned eternally. Duplicity, however, is akin to doubleness, and thus to the alienation of personality so frequently embodying evil in literature (see Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or Gollum and Sméagol to cite but two well known examples). The music once more reflects this disintegration of the self, and the despair it betrays; human words may fail to express the beauty of God, but they lose all significance and meaning when faced with the abyss of hate found in hell.
Dante’s itinerary in the other world has always been interpreted as a symbol for the spiritual quest of humankind, which happens in “this” world. It is thus fitting that the other works recorded here represent a variety of situations, ranging – similar to the Commedia – from the grotesque to the sublime, from the lofty to the ironic, from the holy to desecration.
The rude jokes of the devils in charge of chastising the sinners who are punished for their gluttony find a more refined, but no less ironic, expression, in Leonard Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine. These four very short songs set to music four culinary recipes, ranging from desserts such as Plum Pudding and the Turkish pudding called Tavouk Gueneksis to meat dishes, including the “express rabbit” one may cook if unexpected guests arrive suddenly. These songs, composed in 1947, were premiered the following year by Marion Bell accompanied by Edwin MacArthur.
Something akin to the sloth punished in the first cantos of Dante’s Inferno is found in the Banalités on lyrics by Guillaume Apollinaire, set to music by Francis Poulenc. Written in 1940 (so not in a particularly cheerful moment), this cycle opens with Chanson d’Orkenise, a mock-military march set in the odd triple time. Hôtel effectively celebrates laziness, with its dreamy setting and the exaltation of smoking. The depiction of a windy Nordic landscape (actually not that Nordic: “just” a Belgian setting) encourages Poulenc to resort to a wide range of timbral effects; while Voyage à Paris purposefully evokes the triviality of postcards, and of “musical” postcards. Sanglots is the most complex of the five songs, and suggests a dialogue between two people: thus, the idea of duplicity is hinted to once more, symbolizing, also on this occasion, alienation and longing.
If Bernstein’s recipes, just as happened in Dante’s Inferno, deprived language of its expressive power and reduced it to mere phonemes; and if Poulenc’s Banalités employ language in the service of the trivial; then, with D’Annunzio’s poetry, we are invited to climb one further step towards the heights of art. If Dante is referred to as sommo poeta, D’Annunzio is il Vate, the “prophet”, due to the visionary elements of his personality and of his art. Already at just 18, D’Annunzio had collaborated with musician Francesco Paolo Tosti (probably the best known representative of Italian vocal chamber music); the songs recorded here embody the ripest fruit of their cooperation. Whilst at the beginning of their artistic partnership Tosti was the celebrated one and D’Annunzio just a promising young poet, by 1906 D’Annunzio had already acquired lasting fame, and purposefully chose to express an autobiographic content in these touching and languid songs, whose musical component magnificently mirrors the Vate’s aesthetics.
It will be recalled that the last lines of the Commedia were set to music in Comitini’s Paradiso. The poem’s last canto, from which they are excerpted, opens with Dante’s unforgettable prayer to the Virgin Mary: “Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio”. In Inno a Maria Nostra Donna by the fifteenth-century Italian poet Angelo Poliziano we find a similar spiritual tension and a homage to Mary which has many points in common with Dante’s. This poem has been set to music by Gian Francesco Malipiero, who was a passionate rediscoverer of Italy’s musical and artistic past: he is also remembered as the editor of Monteverdi’s monumental opera omnia.
The musical past is also alluded to in the solo piano piece recorded here, i.e. Liszt’s Miserere d’après Palestrina. Even though the original work is actually not by Palestrina, the piece evokes the solemn atmosphere in the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo’s frescos portray the Last Judgement, with vivid depictions of heaven and hell clearly influenced by Dante. Moreover, the Miserere is the single most cited musical Psalm in the Commedia, and thus, we can say, our itinerary with Dante comes to perfection.
Liner Notes © Chiara Bertoglio
Federica Livi: The Italian Soprano Federica Livi graduated from the Conservatory G. Rossini of Pesaro in 2012 with the highest marks where she studied under the esteemed Maestri, L. Macchinizzi, R. Marcantoni and E. Dundekova; currently studying under the Maestri Alessandra Rossi e Bruno De Simone.
She continued her professional studies at the Bottega Peter Magg where she participated in their Opera Studio of Le Nozze di Figaro under the direction of Maestro Donato Renzetti and under the guidance of Maestro R. Barker, Alfonso Antoniozzi and Mariella Devia. She also completed a post graduate course at the Accademia del Belcanto Rodolfo Celletti where she studied under world famous maestri including, Richard Bonynge, Fabio Luisi and the soprano S. Bonfadelli.
She has won awards at the 70th edition of the European Competition for Young Opera Singers of Spoleto, at the 68th Edition of the AsLiCo Awards, at the 9th edition of the International Singing Competition of Pesaro and was chosen to receive the Roberto Scandiuzzi Scholarship at the XLIV edition of the “Toti Dal Monte” Awards.
Throughout her career she has debued in the following roles: Soprano in L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle, by A. Guarnieri and performed at the ‘Ravenna Festival’, “Nannetta” in Falstaff by Verdi, “Oscar” in Un ballo in maschera by Verdi, “Una modista” in Il cappello di paglia di Firenze by N. Rota, “Barbarina” in Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart, “Berta” in Il Barbiere di Siviglia in G. Rossini, “Doralice” in Il trionfo dell’onore by A. Scarlatti, “Une famme” in La voix Humaine by Poulenc, soprano in Ehi Giò – Vivere e sentire del grande Rossini by V. Montalti, “Euridice” in Orfeo vedovo by A. Savinio, “Amante 2” in Fammi udire la tua voce by A. Guarnieri, “La Fisica” in Ettore Majorana – cronaca di infinite scomparse by R. Vetrano, “Zerlina” in Don Giovanni by Mozart, “Gilda” in Rigoletto by Verdi, “Gilda” in Opera Crime written by E. Melozzi, “Rita” in Rita by Donizetti.
Her concert and oratorio roles include, Faurè’s Requiem, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Boccherini’s Stabat Mater, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Carmina Burana by C. Orff, Mahler’s 4th Symphony, Exultate Jubilate by Mozart. She has performed in numerous Italian Theatres and prestigious festivals.
Marta Tacconi: Born in Jesi, Italy, began to study piano at the age of six. In 2009, under the guidance of Bruno Bizzarri, obtained a First Level Degree in Pianoforte from the “G.Rossini” Conservatory of Pesaro with the most votes, and in 2016 a Second Level Degree as Accompanist Pianist and Repetiteur from the "Santa Cecilia" Conservatory in Rome, with distinction. From 2006 to 2009, perfected her piano studies, chamber music and vocal chamber music under the guidance of Lorenzo Di Bella, Guido Salvetti, Stelia Doz, and Pier Narciso Masi. From her earliest youth, played in many concerts, in important Italian Theatres and Auditoriums and qualified in various National Piano and Chamber Music Competitions in Italy. In 2010, selected by the "Sipario" Project of the “Pergolesi Spontini” Foundation in Jesi as House and Stage Manager, which gave her authorized professional status. In the same year, began to collaborate with the Pergolesi Spontini Festival and with the Traditional Opera Season of the “Pergolesi” Theater in Jesi. As of 2011, is, also, House and Stage Manager at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. In April 2017, after research and analysis carried out with support of Guido Zaccagnini, writes La voix humaine – From the monologue of Jean Cocteau to the music of Francis Poulenc, published by Edizioni Pendragon, Bologna (Italy). In the same year, founds, in Jesi, Studio Musicale Crescendo, to make classical music better known through concerts, theatre productions and other initiatives, as well as to take advantage of many years of experience in musical education and as a teacher of pianoforte. Currently, Marta Tacconi is Accompanist Pianist at the "F. Morlacchi" Conservatory in Perugia.
Danilo Comitini: He was born in the United Kingdom in 1986. He has studied in Italy with Alessandro Solbiati (Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, Milan) and Ivan Fedele (Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome). His opera The spectacles, based on a novel by E. A. Poe, was staged at the Teatro Rossini of Pesaro in 2017.
He is winner of numerous international competitions and, as a result, he has performed in music Seasons, contemporary and non, both in Italy and abroad. In his own music, he searches for a message beyond sound. His compositions are polyhedral works which seek a perceptive interest in sound, gesture, form and
in a narrative aspect that gives music a means to describe an inner transformation. Beethoven himself, starting from the Fifth (but maybe even before), gives life to a concept of music loaded with a meaning "beyond" itself and carries a message. For Comitini, this is perhaps the most stimulating aspect of the narrative side of music, which is not necessarily telling a story or referring to something extra-musical. That is the most belittling aspect of music because it gives a value wich is not absolute. It is by "entrusting" music with a message and by letting it carry us from one vision (about the world and life) to another, as extremes of a dramaturgical vector, that music can achieve its best results. Thus, each piece is a new journey full of discoveries. According to the composer, this is one of the possible ways to write (but also to listen to) music. Especially in the artistic field, history has taught us that it is not the choice of one ideology or another, or this or that style, that can lead us to beauty. Even the most different ideologies are different ways of telling more or less the same concepts and the same emotions inherent in humankind. Comitini is not often interested in a kind of art that avoids expressing the human being, who is life: birth, growth and change, death. A path forward, therefore, which for the composer's way of "feeling" can be deeply expressed by the dramaturgical force of music, a direction in which the audience can also recognize and orient themselves.
Francesco Paolo Tosti: (b Ortano sul Mare, 9 April 1846; d Rome, 2 Dec 1916). Italian song composer and singing teacher. He entered the Naples Conservatory in 1858, studying the violin under Pinto and composition under Conti and Mercadante. In 1869, illness and overwork as maestrino at the college enforced a period of convalescence in Ortano. There he wrote Non m’ama più and Lamento d’amore, songs which subsequently became popular but which he initially found difficult to publish. Sgambati helped Tosti establish himself in Rome (where his admirers included D’Annunzio) by composing a ballad for a concert at the Sala Dante which Tosti himself sang in addition to his own works. Princess Margherita of Savoy (later Queen of Italy) was present and immediately appointed him her singing teacher and shortly thereafter curator of the court music archives. Tosti first visited London in 1875, and then made annual spring visits until he settled there in 1880. In the same year he was appointed singing teacher to the royal family, and from 1894 he was professor of singing at the RAM. He became a British subject in 1906, was knighted in 1908, and retired to Italy in 1912.
The songs Forever, Goodbye, Mother, At Vespers, Amore, Aprile, Vorrei morire and That Day were among his earliest successes in England. He was a prolific composer to Italian, French and English texts, with a graceful, fluent melodic style that quickly found favour among singers of drawing-room songs and ballads; the ballad ‘alla Tosti’ also found many imitators. His Vocal Albums, the 15 duets Canti popolari abruzzesi, and later songs such as Mattinata and Serenata all enjoyed great success.
Francis Poulenc: (b Paris, 7 Jan 1899; d Paris, 30 Jan 1963). French composer and pianist. During the first half of his career the simplicity and directness of his writing led many critics away from thinking of him as a serious composer. Gradually, since World War II, it has become clear that the absence from his music of linguistic complexity in no way argues a corresponding absence of feeling or technique; and that while, in the field of French religious music, he disputes supremacy with Messiaen, in that of the mélodie he is the most distinguished composer since the death of Fauré.
Franz Liszt: (b Raiding, (Doborján), 22 Oct 1811; d Bayreuth, 31 July 1886). Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. He was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which left their mark upon his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and procedures; he also evolved the method of ‘transformation of themes’ as part of his revolution in form, made radical experiments in harmony and invented the symphonic poem for orchestra. As the greatest piano virtuoso of his time, he used his sensational technique and captivating concert personality not only for personal effect but to spread, through his transcriptions, knowledge of other composers’ music. As a conductor and teacher, especially at Weimar, he made himself the most influential figure of the New German School dedicated to progress in music. His unremitting championship of Wagner and Berlioz helped these composers achieve a wider European fame. Equally important was his unrivalled commitment to preserving and promoting the best of the past, including Bach, Handel, Schubert, Weber and above all Beethoven; his performances of such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata created new audiences for music hitherto regarded as incomprehensible. The seeming contradictions in his personal life – a strong religious impulse mingled with a love of worldly sensation – were resolved by him with difficulty. Yet the vast amount of new biographical information makes the unthinking view of him as ‘half gypsy, half priest’ impossible to sustain. He contained in his character more of the ideals and aspirations of the 19th century than any other major musician.
Profile from The New Grove dictionary of Music and Musicians