From the pages of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik he had founded, Robert Schumann was ready to praise and to criticise contemporaneous music and musicians in equal measure. One of his most enthusiastic pieces was dedicated to a young composer from Northern Germany, Johannes Brahms. The youth from Hamburg had shown the first mature fruits of his talent to Robert and Clara Schumann, and the couple had been instantly conquered by his genius and by his charming personality. A lasting friendship would develop from that encounter; Brahms would remain close to the Schumanns throughout the difficult times of Robert’s illness, and faithfully assist Clara in her later years as a widow.
Robert Schumann, who was a very generous and selfless person, did his best in order to promote the career of his young friend. The Neue Bahnen article he wrote did certainly contribute to Brahms’ early fame; moreover, Schumann also provided his protégé with references. Their importance should not be underestimated: it was probably thanks to their laudatory words that Brahms was received with attention and consideration by Breitkopf & Härtel, the legendary music publishers based in Leipzig.
The first published works by Brahms were piano pieces; indeed, Brahms had long hesitated between a career as a piano virtuoso and as a composer, and throughout his life he would remain faithful to his beloved instrument. He would write piano works until his very last years, and employ the piano as a solo and chamber music instrument in most of his absolute masterpieces. Moreover, he would also pursue technical excellency at the keyboard up to an advanced age, premiering many of his most complex works (many others would be premiered by Clara Schumann).
The first harvest of his skill and compositional mastery was his Piano Sonata no. 1, op. 1. It was by no means his first creation; even among his piano sonatas, it had been the second in order of composition. However, since Brahms prized it more than its twin sister, the Second Sonata, he issued it as his op. 1.
As a matter of fact, this work is magnificent as concerns its formal structure, expressive intensity, powerful concept and emotional depth. Brahms’ connection with the German tradition before him, and particularly with Beethoven, is evident from the Sonata’s very beginning, with its fanfare-like motif reminiscent of the Hammerklavier Sonata. The second movement of Brahms’ Sonata is in one of his favourite genres: it is a set of variations on an (allegedly) medieval love song, which Brahms would later revisit as a choral piece. As was usual with him, the Scherzo is one of the most memorable moments of the entire Sonata; Brahms’ witty, creative, imaginative power crafts a movement replenished with fantasy and humour. His two contrasting souls – the restless, fiery and vigorous one, and the meditative, ecstatic and lyrical one – are both splendidly represented in the final movement, a breathtaking Rondo.
After this promising beginnings, Brahms’ career would steadily progress and his figure be recognized as one of the leading personalities in the musical world of his era. Yet, as is well known and documented, he also became an object of contention within the highly polarized musical climate of the late nineteenth century. Thanks to Hanslick’s influential writings, Brahms became the champion of so-called “absolute music”, particularly against Richard Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, of a totalizing artwork encompassing music, literature, visual arts and recitation. Wagner’s concept of opera, however, was also opposed to that inspiring Italian opera, particularly as embodied by the living legend of Giuseppe Verdi. The musical world was thus divided between Germanophiles and Italophiles, between opera enthusiasts and those in favour of instrumental music.
Typically, therefore, Italian musicians were divided – so to say – by three degrees of separation from the world of Brahms, by virtue of their nationality and of their “natural” attachment to opera. This simplistic view was in fact adopted by many (both in Italy and in the German-speaking countries), but fails to acknowledge a much more complex situation, in which musicians such as Leone Sinigaglia cannot be easily framed. In fact, just as a young Brahms had been both a friend and a protégé of the Schumann couple, so did a much older Brahms become a mentor and friend for the young Turinese musician.
Leone Sinigaglia was the son of a wealthy and cultivated Turinese family of Jewish descent. Through his parents (his father was Turinese, his mother from Milan) he was connected, either by birth or by acquaintance, with many of the leading figures in the cultural horizon of his time. Their child, who was born on August 14th, 1868, demonstrated a talent for music at a very young age. He received his first piano lessons from Severina Verri, and the rudiments of harmony from Carlo Fassò, but he also studied the violin under the guidance of Teresina Perni. At twenty, he became the pupil of Giovanni Bolzoni, who taught composition at the Liceo Musicale “Giuseppe Verdi” of Turin, of which he was also the director. Three years later, his teacher was proud to premiere several orchestral works of his student in a symphonic concert entirely consecrated to his output.
In the meantime, Sinigaglia corresponded or was personally acquainted with the great personalities of his time. These included composers Arrigo Boito and Alfredo Catalani, but also Verdi and Puccini, to say nothing of Toscanini who would eagerly champion his music. He was also in correspondence with famous authors such as Antonio Fogazzaro, scientists such as Galileo Ferraris, sociologists such as Cesare Lombroso. His wide-ranging interests are confirmed by his university studies in law and foreign languages; however, his main interests always lay in the world of music. The great violinist Antonio Bazzini advised him to broaden his musical horizons and to spend some time in the capital of music, Vienna. He went there in 1894, and thus was able to profit from Brahms’ friendship and mentoring in the three last years of the great musician’s life. In Vienna, he also studied with Eusebius Mandyczewski, the librarian of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, and a close friend of Johannes Brahms. Mandyczewski was a great expert of “early” music and of the compositional techniques of the early modern and baroque era; in particular, he was an undisputed master in the field of rigorous counterpoint, and would transmit his expertise to his many pupils.
If Mandyczewski taught Sinigaglia how to build powerful musical constructions, another musician would help him to give them colour and life. In 1900, Sinigaglia went to Prague where he was given lessons by Antonin Dvořák. The Bohemian composer refined his student’s mastery in the art of orchestration, but also encouraged him to draw inspiration from the inexhaustible heritage of folksong. Dvořák had looked with constant fascination to the patrimony of Czech and Bohemian tunes, rhythms and melodies, but he had considered with equal interest the heritage of American natives and of the African-American tradition.
In the following century, attention to the tunes, modes, rhythms and performing practices of oral tradition would become the object of a specific discipline, ethnomusicology. Musicians such as Bartók and Kodály were keen to incorporate many such elements in their “classically” composed works, but also recorded and transcribed faithfully the “non-classical” performing styles typical for the cultures they considered. But this “scientific” approach, which recognized the value of non-standard intonation, ornamentation and rhythm, was still to come in the early 1900s. Sinigaglia followed Dvořák’s advice and did dedicate considerable time and energy to the collection and study of folksong, but, admittedly, he “adapted” its idiosyncratic features to the conventions of “classical” music.
Notwithstanding this, his work is immensely valuable. Back home, he bought a home in Cavoretto, near Turin. Its location was strategically chosen, as it allowed him to pursue his two passions: on the one hand, research on the Piemontese musical heritage, on the other, alpinism, of which he was a pioneer.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, Sinigaglia collected hundreds of these songs, many of which were going to disappear very soon, as they were known only by a handful of elderly people. He transcribed many of them and transformed them into songs for voice and piano, but also used them as building blocks for some of his most impressive compositions, many of which would be performed in some of the most important venues in Europe and the USA. A substantial collection of these songs was published by Breitkopf (the same publishing house of Brahms’ earliest efforts!) and obtained a great success leading to immediate reprints.
The tide of fame, however, was doomed to change. When the Fascist regime adopted the infamous “racial laws”, inspired by the ethnic cleansing principles of the Nazis, Sinigaglia’s works could no longer be publicly performed in Italy. His last years were lived in the constant fear of being deported, and persecution frequently hit his family with violence. Together with his beloved sister Alina, Leone was advised to seek refuge in a hospital managed by a Catholic religious order (the Mauriziano). Unfortunately, however, their hiding was revealed to the Nazis, who came for the elderly musician (he was already 75 in 1944). When they brutally intruded his room, Sinigaglia’s heart did not resist, and he died of a heart attack.
His memory has been treasured and cherished, particularly by one of his former students and cooperators, Luigi Rognoni. Whilst many of his works had been published during his lifetime, and several by great publishers such as Breitkopf, there is still much to discover, particularly in the eponymous collection in the Library of the Turin Conservatory. The interpreter of this Da Vinci Classics album has recently completed a doctoral dissertation on Sinigaglia, editing some hitherto unpublished manuscripts: among them are the pieces recorded in world premiere in this CD (tracks 5-8). They reveal Sinigaglia’s creative fantasy as concerns piano technique, melody, freshness of inspiration and style. His miniature Fogli d’album are slightly better known, and reveal the variety of expressive moods found in his music – from irony to enchantment, from spontaneity to reflectiveness. The influence of Brahms and Dvořák and of their world is perhaps best discernible in the German-titled Zwei Klavierstücke: the Capriccio seems to pay homage to Brahms’ works by the same name, whilst the Humoreske seems closer to Dvořák’s world.
Together, these pieces demonstrate the value of this composer and of his music, and are a welcome – though currently rare – opportunity to familiarize ourselves with a repertoire fully worth rediscovering.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Praised by leading figures of the international music world, such as Paul Badura-Skoda who described him as an “excellent pianist, with sensitivity and a well-developed technique,” Edoardo Turbil has appeared—as recitalist, as soloist with orchestras, or in chamber ensembles—in the most important Italian and international concert halls, including the Teatro Regio in Turin (with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the 1900s), the Festival of the Two Worlds in Spoleto, the Alte Oper Mozart Saal in Frankfurt, the “G. Verdi” Theater in Turin, the Sala Mozart of Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, the Sala della Pergola and Municipal Theater in Florence, and the Zunfthaus zur Waag in Zurich. In 2011, he was invited by the European Central Bank to represent Italy, as a soloist and in duo with the cellist Miriam Prandi, in the season with stars of the caliber of Claudio Abbado and Uto Ughi.
His vast repertoire, matured over many years of experience, ranges from the great classics to the works of more unusual composers such as Clementi, Janáček, Sinigaglia, Villa-Lobos, Debussy, Granados, Albéniz, de Falla, Stockhausen, Soler, and Say. Acclaimed for his light touch and his ability to paint suggestive musical narratives through a calibrated use of a vast palette of colors (evoking “a enthralling picture of a character torn by longing,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Turbil is able to reinvent listeners’ expectations, exploring unusual yet deferential interpretative territories, by virtue of solid and reliable technical means.
Over the years, Turbil has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Gold Medal with High Distinction at the 5th Manhattan International Music Competition, the third Grand Prize and the prize for the best performance of a Baroque work (with Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonatas) at the Chicago International Music Competition 2021, the first prize at the 28th World Music Competition 2020 in the piano solo discipline, the first place at the American Protégé International Piano and String Competition, the nomination at the German Piano Award 2013, and the Special Prize at the “Arcangelo Speranza” International Piano Competition in Taranto. From 2013 to 2017, Turbil was a recipient of the De Sono Scholarships, awarded each year to the most gifted young musicians from Piedmont.
Performance projects, activities, and masterclasses—in America and Europe—have provided Turbil with the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from renowned artists such as Andrea Lucchesini, Alexander Lonquich, Ronan O’Hara, Anton Nel, William Wolfram, Pietro De Maria, Joel Sachs, Daniel Hass, Francesco Ivan Ciampa, Adrian Pinzaru, and Pavel Gililov. For many years, Turbil has played in duo with the Italian cellist Miriam Prandi, with whom he extensively concertized in different parts of Europe and America.
Turbil has received a rigorous and thorough Italian traditional musical training. He began studying the piano at the age of four. From the age of eleven to twenty-one, he was a pupil of internationally renowned artist and Scarlatti-specialist Maria Tipo. Under her scrupulous guidance, he accumulated early on much performance experience and solo repertoire. As a child, he appeared on the Italian national television in 1998 as an up-and-coming enfant prodige of the piano. At the age of sixteen, he obtained the Italian Piano Diploma with top marks and honorable mention. He attended the Pinerolo Academy of Music, and in 2012 he obtained the High Specialization Diploma with top marks and honors from the Music School of Fiesole, in concert pianist Andrea Lucchesini’s studio. In 2014 he completed the Specialized Biennium at the Conservatory of Ferrara with top marks and honors, and in 2016 he obtained his Master’s Degree in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music in New York, in Russian-Cuban pedagogue Dr. Solomon Mikowsky’s studio.
In 2021, Turbil graduated from the DMA Doctor of Musical Arts CV Starr Piano Performance Program, in the studio of Juilliard piano chair Dr. Yoheved Kaplinsky. Turbil wrote his Juilliard DMA dissertation on the music of the unjustly neglected Italian-Jewish composer Leone Sinigaglia (1868 – 1944): “Leone Sinigaglia: A rediscovery of Brahms’s Italian Apostle.” The dissertation won the 2021 Juilliard Richard F. French Doctoral Prize.
From 2016 to 2021, Turbil has taught at Juilliard as an assistant and fellow for the graduate secondary piano, keyboard studies, history, and undergraduate theory departments.
Johannes Brahms: (b Hamburg, 7 May 1833; d Vienna, 3 April 1897). German composer. The successor to Beethoven and Schubert in the larger forms of chamber and orchestral music, to Schubert and Schumann in the miniature forms of piano pieces and songs, and to the Renaissance and Baroque polyphonists in choral music, Brahms creatively synthesized the practices of three centuries with folk and dance idioms and with the language of mid- and late 19th-century art music. His works of controlled passion, deemed reactionary and epigonal by some, progressive by others, became well accepted in his lifetime.
Leone Sinigaglia (b Turin, 14 Aug 1868; d Turin, 16 May 1944). Italian composer. After studying under Giovanni Bolzoni at the Liceo Musicale, Turin, he went to Vienna in 1894 and became a pupil of Eusebius Mandyczewski. He met Brahms, Goldmark and Mahler, and became a close friend of Dvořák, who gave him private lessons in orchestration at Prague and Vysoká (1900–01) and awakened his interest in folk music. In 1901 Sinigaglia returned to Turin, and from 1902 devoted much energy to the collection and study of Piedmontese folksongs (c500 in all), many of which he arranged for voice and piano or for other media. He died suddenly when on the point of being arrested as a Jew.
Most of Sinigaglia’s music written before he moved to Vienna remains unpublished; but the sombrely meditative Romanza op.3 for horn and strings and the vivacious Scherzo op.8 for string quartet reveal a fluent, amiable, essentially conservative talent, receptive to the influences of Mendelssohn and other early Romantics. His growing awareness, during his Viennese period, of Brahms is reflected in some of his mature music, for instance in parts of the Violin Concerto. But the example of Dvořák proved more decisive: the fresh, melodious Rapsodia piemontese, written in Prague, is particularly indebted to the Czech composer, whose influence persists (despite the different regional accent) in two highly successful works using genuine folk melodies, the Danze piemontesi and the Piemonte suite, both often heard in Italy. Sinigaglia’s folksong arrangements as such are always tasteful and imaginative, with judicious variations in the accompaniments from verse to verse. In his original compositions, however (except in the two above-mentioned works and the Serenata sopra temi popolari), he preferred to absorb folk influences without recourse to direct quotations. Nor do all his post-1902 works have Piedmontese overtones: the popular Baruffe chiozzotte overture, for instance, comes nearer to Wolf-Ferrari in its sparkling, neo-Rossinian exuberance. After World War I Sinigaglia composed little and showed almost no inclination to update his style (though he took an open-minded interest in at least some modern composers, from Debussy to Dallapiccola): Dvořákian characteristics remain discernible, notably in the agreeable Cello Sonata; and in the late Violin Sonata such characteristics are sometimes modified by an affectingly nostalgic chromaticism that recalls Strauss at his most mellow.