Nineteenth-century musical Italy is fatally and inextricably bound to the world of opera. Composers such as Verdi and Puccini were admired worldwide, and, in their homeland, they were idolized in a fashion not unlike today’s pop singers. However, there is also a significant instrumental tradition in the Peninsula, which took different forms and needs currently to be reappraised.
For example, there was amateur music-making. This was frequently indebted to opera, since many music lovers were keen to play at the piano or in small chamber ensembles the numerous fantasies or potpourris composed on operatic themes and motifs. There were also instrumental soloists and virtuosi, who frequently authored the brilliant pieces they played. In their case, the musical content of many works was often downplayed in favour of the showy aspect of technical proficiency. But there were also classically minded composers, who perhaps did not feel at ease in the world of opera which was thought to absorb the best part of Italian musical creativity. Frequently, these musicians had studied abroad, and often they left Italy seeking fortune beyond the Alps. In other cases, however, they actively contributed to the establishment of an “Italian” school of instrumental composition and performance. They are also to be credited with the dissemination of “foreign” music in the Peninsula; for example, many of these musicians are responsible for the adoption of Bach’s music in the programmes of Italian Conservatories and music schools.
Naples was a city where instrumental music was widely cultivated, and where the appreciation of instrumental and chamber music from other European countries was very common. In that city was born, on October 22nd, 1856, the protagonist of this Da Vinci Classics album.
Carlo Albanesi was the son of Luigi (1821-1897), who, in turn, came from a family of artists: his father had been a refined miniaturist and had taught him painting. After his family moved from their native Rome to Naples, Luigi found his vocation in music, learning piano and composition. He was particularly appreciated as a piano pedagogue, but his compositional output includes valuable works in the sacred field (motets, Masses and oratories) and in that of instrumental music (among which a curious Elegia a Garibaldi, paying homage to the celebrated Risorgimento hero).
At the time of Carlo’s birth, Naples was a real hotbed of musical culture, particularly as concerns instrumental music and specifically piano playing. The main figures of this piano Renaissance were Ferdinando Bonamici, Costantino Palumbo, Nicolò van Westerhout, Alfonso Rendano, Giuseppe Buonamici, Francesco Sangalli, Giovanni Rinaldi and Beniamino Cesi. Cesi, who would become one of the leading figures in the unified Peninsula as concerns piano playing, had been a student of Luigi Albanesi. Later, he also studied under the guidance of the great Sigismund Thalberg, who substantially favoured the establishment of a Neapolitan piano school during his stay in Posillipo (1858-71).
The repertoires practised and written by many of these musicians were still indebted to the operatic world; however, many of them were also among the earliest promoters of works such as the Well-Tempered Clavier in Italy.
Luigi’s son, Carlo, began his musical education under the guidance of his father. He also studied harmony and composition with Sabino Falconi. Carlo soon attracted the attention of the Neapolitan audience performing acclaimed concerts and recitals in his hometown. His debut took place at the time when several music societies were blossoming in the city; among them, the “Circolo Bonamici”, founded by pianist and pedagogue Fernando Bonamici, and the “Società Filarmonica”. The former institution was probably the first focusing specifically on piano music, and fostering it to a high level; the latter was to affirm itself as the first major concert society in Naples.
Having established his fame in Naples, Carlo decided to broaden his horizons and to seek fortune and further musical refinement outside the Peninsula. At first, in 1878, he moved to Paris, where he played numerous recitals to great acclaim. Four years later, in 1882, and following the advice of Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916), the celebrated composer of Italian vocal chamber music, he settled in London, where his fame as a pianist and composer increased steadily.
For the following ten years, indeed, Albanesi performed and taught unceasingly, whilst also pursuing his activity as a composer. In 1893 he was offered a prestigious job as a piano professor at the Royal Academy of Music, on the chair that had been Thomas Wingham’s. Albanesi would maintain this role until his death.
Three years later, Albanesi married a British author, Effie Adelaide Rowlands; the couple had two daughters, Eva Olimpia Maria (born in 1897) and Margherita Cecilia Brigida Lucia Maria. Born in 1899 and prematurely died in 1923, Margherita would obtain some fame as an actress under the name of Meggie Albanesi; her sister married in 1927 and, in 1948, settled in South Africa. The family lived in a beautiful home in central London, at 3 Gloucester Terrace in Hyde Park.
The prestige achieved by Albanesi in London is testified by the nobility which sought his lessons: he taught, among others, Crown Princess of Sweden and her sister, Princess Patricia of Connaught, the Duchess Marie of Saxe-Coburg and the Duchess Paul of Mecklenburgh. In turn, as a token of his value, Albanesi was knighted, as a Chevalier of the Crown of Italy; he was also a member of the London Philharmonic Society, and his services were often requested as an examiner at the Dublin Royal Academy of Music. Along with aristocrats, his students also included gifted musicians such as composer Mary Lucas. As a testimony of his gifts as a pedagogue, his published Exercises for Fingering, dating from the early 1900s, were in continuing demand and are still being reprinted and employed for piano teaching.
Albanesi’s compositional output includes symphonic music, chamber works (such as a string quartet and a trio for piano and strings) and compositions in other genres; however, he is best remembered for his piano music. In particular, this includes his Six Piano Sonatas, five of which survived until present-day. They belong in a relatively small but qualitatively conspicuous repertoire of “Italian” piano sonatas of the nineteenth century. Among the composers who ventured in this field are Romaniello, Del Valle De Paz, Westerhout, Frugatta, and Alessandro Longo.
This Da Vinci Classics album includes his first Sonata, in A flat (1893), his Sonata in D minor, and his Sonata in E.
The A-flat Sonata was dedicated to the publisher Giulio Ricordi. It earned a positive review at the time of its publication on the columns of The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, where it was described as follows: “After the hard things that have recently been written about the period of the sonata being past, it requires some courage and faith to publish a composition in this form. Signor Albanesi however, has the courage of his opinions, and doubtless many pianists will thank him for having thus given them expression. His Sonata, if somewhat lacking in depth of sentiment, is brightly conceived, melodious, and affords many opportunities for legitimate executive display”.
The D-minor Sonata was dedicated to Walter MacFarren, a pianist and composer in turn, who had the role of Dean at the Royal Academy at the time. It was published in 1899 by Simrock, but it has been impossible to establish with any degree of certainty whether it is the second or the third written by Albanesi.
Ten years later, in 1909, Albanesi issues his Fifth Sonata, in E major, dedicating it to Adolphe Schloesser, a fellow Professor at the Royal Academy, of German origins.
Albanesi’s compositional style is pronouncedly Romantic, and indulges in rich virtuoso writing; its technical palette includes arpeggios, scales, octaves, double thirds and sixths, bearing witness to the composer’s technical proficiency.
Most Sonatas written by Albanesi adopt the four-movement form, in which the outer movements frame a slow movement and a scherzo; first movements are normally in the Sonata form, and Finales are usually in a ternary form with two themes and a Coda. The fifth Sonata, however, is exceptional under this aspect, since it numbers only three movements, and its second movement is a Theme with nine variations. Its advanced language goes beyond the late-Romantic idiom and resonates with suggestions reminiscent of Fauré.
Even though it was argued that instrumental music did not belong in the really “Italian” music, and in spite of Albanesi’s long stay in England, his themes are Italian through and through; this is particularly evident in the form taken by his melodic phrases, especially in the slow movements. This may mirror Albanesi’s friendship with Tosti, but also his own genuine and personal expressive vein.
His piano scoring is indebted to Chopin’s (and, indeed, the Royal Academy would establish a Chopin Prize to honour Albanesi’s memory), but also to Brahms and Tchaikovsky; the grandioso style it reveals is particularly well-suited for concert performance and for the recital stage. In the words of the interpreter of this Da Vinci album, his music “accompanies and takes us by hand, at times forcefully, at time caressingly; the piano remains its great protagonist, bearing witness to Carlo Albanesi’s entire life”.
Daniele Adornetto, Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
DANIELE ADORNETTO was born in Rome. He studied with Elio Maestosi, obtaining his diploma with the highest honors, and furthering his studies with Marylene Mouquet, Charles Rosen, and Massimiliano Damerini. He studied composition and analysis with Eduardo Ogando and orchestration with Vieri Tosatti.
He received the ‘l'Oscar dei Giovani’ in Roma in 1986, and a prize at the “Liszt Competition” in Lucca in 1989, performing as a soloist in Brahms’ First piano concerto with the Kielce Symphonic Orchestra in Formia. He has performed for Radio Uno (1989) and Telemontecarlo (1994).
He has given solo recitals in Italy (Teatro Olimpico and Teatro Ghione in Rome, Neaples, Turin, Bari, Sorrento, Viterbo, Salerno, at the Ravello Festival, Teatro Sanzio in Urbino, Alghero Festival, Ateneo Musica Basilicata in Potenza, Associazione Barattelli in L'Aquila, Todi Arte Festival) and abroad (in the Netherlands and in Spain), performing also as a part of a duo, with the pianist Stefano Giardino, at the Italian Cultural Institute in Rio de Janeiro and in Tunisi.
A refined chamber performer, he has performed with artists such as Franco Maggio Ormezowski, Adam Klocek, and Mauro Tortorelli, with whom he has recorded a live CD for "Domani Musica".
Involved in theatre collaborations, he has performed with celebrated actors such as Giorgio Albertazzi, Pino Micol, Arnoldo Foà, Blas Roca Rey and Amanda Sandrelli, Walter Maestosi.
In recents years he has deepened his exploration of the Italian repertoire of the twentieth century, performing amongst others the sonatas of Alessandro Longo, Pizzetti, Zafred, and has recorded piano music of Vieri Tosatti for “Tactus”. He has presented a series of successful lecture-recitals at concerts associations and musical academies, exploring the historical context and musical features of the works performed.
After teaching at the Conservatoires in Bari and Perugia, he presently holds a Chair of Piano at the Conservatorio "Licinio Refice" in Frosinone.