Ries, Zemplinsky, Rota: Clarinet Trios


  • Artist(s): Livia De Romanis, Livia Tancioni, Michele Tozzetti
  • Composer(s): Alexander von Zemlinsky, Ferdinand Ries, Nino Rota
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Cello, Clarinet, Piano
  • Period: Contemporary, Modern, Romantic
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00567 Category:

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This Da Vinci Classics album collects three Clarinet Trios by three musicians who would deserve greater recognition and a more widespread appreciation. Indeed, the little that the average music-lover knows about them is frequently something rather tangential with respect to their life, personality, and works. For instance, Ries is best known as Beethoven’s pupil and first biographer; Zemlinsky, as the brother-in-law of Arnold Schönberg; Rota, as the composer of the music for Federico Fellini’s movies.
Of course, these elements are foundational for understanding the three protagonists of this recording. Ries was an affectionate pupil of Beethoven, and, as we will see, his own style is clearly and explicitly indebted to that of his teacher. Zemlinsky was in dialogue with the tormented musical and spiritual search enacted by the composers of the Second Vienna School, and his own music responds, in a personal fashion, to the challenges posed by the radical avant-garde of his time. Rota is more than simply a composer of film music, and yet the importance of his career as a composer of film scores must not be downplayed.
In fact, the red thread which can be found in the works of all three composers is the challenge of language, of its evolution (or involution?), and of how “the medium is the content”, of how language expresses content by its very form.
All three composers lived at times when political and philosophical turmoil was the rule. Ries lived between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, when Romanticism was blossoming, but was also shattering the certainties of the previous eras. The genius of Beethoven was dismantling the elegance, refinedness, and balance typical for the Classical style; and building, on the ruins of that porcelain world, the triumph of the self and of its expression which would characterize Romanticism.
Zemlinsky lived almost exactly a century later. During his lifetime, he could see the last splendours of Imperial Vienna, its inexorable decline, the loss of many values on which the previous generations had built their beliefs, the tragedy of World War I and the affirmation of Nazism in Germany. After the Anschluss, what remained of his beloved Austria was a place where he, as a Jew, could no longer live, and, before the onset of World War II, he left Europe, dying during the war in the US.
Rota saw World War I as a child, and World War II as a young man. The war’s aftermath deeply undermined the human beings’ faith in life, in beauty, in the existence of an order or a purpose to life. If human beings had been capable of causing the inferno of the two wars and of the Holocaust, what hope could survive? The answer of many of Rota’s contemporaries was an explicit rejection of all values and beliefs. Art either carried a message of despair, transmitted through the adoption of purposefully dissonant and “unpleasing” styles, or mocked all established conventions, claiming a nihilism which had become a religion itself.
Now, history is written by the winners, and this is a platitude. But this applies also to the bloodless “wars” of artistic aesthetics. The history of the arts is frequently seen as the struggle among conflicting aesthetical principles, and those who win the day tend to disparage those whose views seem to “lose”. But there is much more to art than this. No language dies when another is born. Both can coexist, and beautiful, meaningful things may be said in both.
Ferdinand Ries’ language demonstrates many aspects typical for the Classicist language: lightness, balance, elegance. Alexander Zemlinsky could not accept the destruction of tonality preached and practised by his brother-in-law, let alone adhere to the serialism proposed by Schoenberg. Nino Rota, who came at an even later date than Zemlinsky, was similarly against serialism, as well as against the harsh and “unsympathetic” experiments of the avant-gardes. All three composers sought a way to communicate with their audience, and they found it not in experimentalism for experimentalism’s sake, but rather in a shared musical ground whereby both composer and audience could understand the principles behind the language, and therefore the meaning expressed by it.
Ries was born in Bonn; his father had been Beethoven’s teacher, and Ferdinand followed in Beethoven’s footsteps, moving to Vienna to complete his musical education. He could already play the violin, the piano, and the cello; he had been taught the former two instruments by his father, and the cello by Bernhard Romberg. He studied with Beethoven and with another of Beethoven’s teachers, Albrechtsberger (who belonged in the circle of Johann Sebastian Bach’s devotees), and then became Beethoven’s right hand and his assistant. He later moved to London, marrying and English woman, an then went back to the Continent, finally settling in Frankfurt where he would die in 1838. This Clarinet Trio was written when the composer was approximately 25, and therefore represents a significant example of his early maturity. This work in four movements reflects Beethoven’s influence, for instance in the opening movement, with its brilliant openness and singing themes, perhaps reminiscent of Beethoven’s op. 11. The closest model, however, is clearly Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio op. 38, written a few years before Ries’. By way of contrast, the Scherzo is not yet a “Beethovenian” Scherzo: it does show the briskness and energy of Beethoven’s Scherzos, but still retains something of the Minuet’s elegance and composure. The slow movement, an Adagio, is full of lyricism: both in its melodic lines and in its refined ornamentation it is reminiscent of the vocal style and of coeval opera. The concluding Rondo is pleasant and pleasurable, with a playful style and a joyful serenity, thanks to its beautiful tunes and masterful handling of the form. This Trio was originally conceived for clarinet, cello, and piano, but, since the clarinet was not yet a very widespread instrument, the publisher asked Ries to adapt it also as a “traditional” piano Trio, with violin, cello, and piano, and so the work is playable in both versions.
In the case of Zemlinsky’s Trio, instead, the opposite transformation is observed. His D-minor Trio op. 3 was written in 1896 – thus Zemlinsky was approximately the same age as Ries when he had written his own clarinet trio. In Zemlinsky’s case, the stimulus for the work’s completion came from a competition promoted by the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein. Probably, the competition had been prompted by Johannes Brahms, who presided the Society at the time: his hand can be observed in the requirement that the chamber music works presented at the competition include at least one wind instrument. Brahms was particularly fond of the clarinet and of its sound. In order to be able to participate in the competition, Zemlinsky probably transformed a draft for a “traditional” piano trio (i.e. piano, violin, and cello) into a trio for piano, clarinet, and cello. His work obtained the third prize, and was recommended by Brahms to publisher Simrock for publication. Earlier on, Brahms had already admired the talent of Zemlinsky, but had been perplexed by some features of the budding composer’s personality. In this case, Zemlinsky evidently sought a more palatable style, which did not fail to impress the jury. If Ries’ Trio is clearly inspired by Beethoven’s, Zemlinsky’s is clearly inspired by Brahms’ op. 114. Other influences of the Hamburg composer regard, for instance, the use of micro formulae and their thorough development and combination. The first movement is very refined in its elaborate treatment of an abundant polyphony and of a rich contrapuntal texture; thematic conflict is reduced to a minimum, and the breadth of the lines is clearly intended. Similar to Ries’ Trio, here too the slow movement is opened by a long piano solo. At its core lies a contrasting, more animated and lively section. In the finale, the melodic ideas found in the first movement are transformed into the material for a rondo; here the opposition of light and darkness is more pronounced, but the eventual denouement is granted by the cyclic principle underlying the work.
If both Ries’ and Zemlinsky’s Trios were written by composers just entering manhood, Rota’s is one of the late works of its composer, who would die six years after its composition. Rota was particularly fond of the clarinet’s sound, and employed it frequently in his works. The first movement opens brilliantly and harshly at the same time, profusely employing f staccatos and chromatic elements; the second theme provides some lyrical respite and calms slightly the piece’s intense texture. In this case, the slow movement sees the clarinet and cello as its true protagonists, whilst the piano limits itself to the role of an accompanist; the high expressive potential of these two instruments is abundantly employed by the composer. Fellinesque atmospheres populate the third movement, Allegrissimo, which seems to evoke the circuses so frequently depicted by the Italian maestro of filmography. It is a witty movement, full of humour and of unexpected (and yet very much expected) surprises, closing with a smile our musical itinerary.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022


was born in Rome in 1990 and started to study cello at the age of 9 under the guidance of Mo F. Strano, Mo A. M. Mastromatteo at the conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome and then with Mo M. Chen at the conservatory of Modena, where she graduated in 2012. In November 2012 she was admitted to the advanced course on chamber music held by Mo C. Fabiano at the Santa Cecilia academy in Rome, where she got the degree in 2015. With the duo 'Pontoniero – De Romanis' she was awarded with the first prize at the Melos O. Stillo di Paola, Concorso città di Mercato San Severino, A.m.a. Calabria e il concorso Jacopo Napoli di Cava de Tirreni competitions. Over the years, Livia has attended masterclasses with A. M. Mastromatteo, Kyung mi Lee, Marianne Chen, M. Carbonara, B. Canino, L. Piovano, S. Peltonen, Quartetto di Cremona e M. Da Silva. She toured in Italy and France with the Orchestra of Parma's University and played as first cellist in with several other orchestras. As first cellist and solo cellist she has collaborated with the composer G. Ciampi in several projects, with performances in Moscow (Zentr Slobodkina), Rome (Parco della Musica), Los Angeles and Washington. She has been part of the " Ensemble Novecento" of the Santa Cecilia academy, the Graces trio, the duo 'Pontoniero – De Romanis' and the Sincronie quartet. She had recorded for movies, short movies and soundtracks.

graduated with full marks in Clarinet and in Chamber Music cum laude at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome, under the guidance of masters I. Meccoli and R. Clemente. She studied with renowned clarinetists, such as C. Palermo, S. Novelli, G. Mazzocchitti, G. Punzi. She attended the Master classes of P. Berrod, W. Fuchs, A. Vicario and A. Fraioli. She has been collaborating with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and others, such as: Roma3Orchestra, Orchestra Filarmonica Città di Roma, Orchestra Sinfonica di Salerno Claudio Abbado. She played to important theaters and concert halls, such as the Auditorium Parco della Musica, the Teatro Eliseo, the Reggia of Caserta, the Teatro Greco of Ischia, the Duomo of Orvieto, the Museo Napoleonico, the Teatro Palladium. She collaborated with renowned directors such as J. Hrůša, L. Viotti, B. Aprea, M. Bufalini and others. She has also festivals, such as the 2021-22 Season of the Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, the Narnia Festival, “Un’estate da Re”, Musica Riva Festival, Ticino Musica Festival. She has performed as a soloist at the Chiesa Valdese in Rome, the University of Rome La Sapienza, the Auditorium Seraphicum, the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano and the Sala Petrassi of the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. She has with the Orchestra di fiati Città di Ferentino (M. Braconi soloist) and for the VDM Records the CD "Simply...George”. Some of her main collaborations have been broadcast live on RAI Radio3 and RAI 5.

attended the Music Conservatory “Santa Cecilia” of Rome where in 2017 he got his master degree under the guidance of Maestro Elisabetta Pacelli. He took part to many Piano and Chamber Music Masterclasses, with musicians such as Paul Badura-Skoda, Claudio Martinez Mehner, Jeffrey Swann, Boris Berman, Maurizio Baglini, Andrzej Pikul. He has attended annual Masterclasses since 2015 with Roberto Prosseda and Alessandra Ammara whom he considers as his mentors. He has Chamber Music collaborations with Riccardo Schioppa, Livia Tancioni, Livia De Romanis, Maria Caturelli & Alessandro Pace. In 2018 he created as artistic director a Music Festival in Rome named “La Domenica Che si Nota”. He has recorded Leonard Bernstein Complete Piano Works in an album published by the record label “Piano Classics”. He has recorded Friedrich Kuhlau’s sonatas for flute & piano with Maria Caturelli in an album published by the record label “Brilliant Classics”. In 2021 he got his master degree in chamber music at the Music Conservatory “Licinio Refice” of Frosinone under the guidance of Maestro Francesca Vicari.


Alexander (von) Zemlinsky [Zemlinszky],
(b Vienna, 14 Oct 1871; d Larchmont, NY, 15 March 1942). Austrian composer and conductor. Although closely linked to the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg was his pupil), Zemlinsky was no outright revolutionary. While undisputedly a conductor of the first rank and an interpreter of integrity, he lacked ‘star quality’ and was overshadowed by more domineering personalities. His music is distinguished by an almost overpowering emotional intensity. It took several decades before it became known and began to be appreciated.

Ferdinand Ries
(b Bonn, bap. 28 Nov 1784; d Frankfurt, 13 Jan 1838). Pianist, composer and copyist, eldest son of (3) Franz Ries. He was the most celebrated member of the family. He was taught the piano and the violin by his father and the cello by Bernhard Romberg from the age of five. Because of the dissolution of the electoral court in 1794 Ferdinand failed to receive a promised position in the orchestra. Instead he spent most of the next seven years at home studying with his father, apart from a fruitless nine-month period in Arnsberg about 1797 studying with a man to whom he ended up teaching the violin. In 1801 he studied in Munich with Peter Winter for a short time, earning money by copying music. With this he kept himself, paid his fees and saved enough to go to Vienna in October of that year, armed with a letter of introduction from Franz Anton. Beethoven received his old teacher’s son well, and gave him much help.

Nino Rota: (b Milan, 3 Dec 1911; d Rome, 10 April 1979). Italian composer. He grew up surrounded by music: his mother Ernesta Rinaldi was a pianist and the daughter of the composer Giovanni Rinaldi (1840–95). At the age of eight he was already composing, and in 1923 a well-received performance of his oratorio L’infanzia di S Giovanni Battista established him as a child prodigy. In the same year he entered the Milan Conservatory, where his teachers included Giacomo Orefice. After a brief period of study with Pizzetti, he moved to Rome (1926), where he studied with Casella, and took his diploma at the Conservatorio di S Cecilia three years later. On the advice of Toscanini he studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (1931–2) with Rosario Scalero (composition) and Fritz Reiner (conducting). He formed a friendship with Aaron Copland and discovered American popular song, cinema and the music of Gershwin: all these elements were grafted on to his passion for Italian popular song and operetta.

On his return to Italy, barely into his twenties, Rota attracted the attention of audiences and critics with a large body of music, predominantly chamber and orchestral works. At a time of open warfare between innovators and traditionalists (sustained by the mood established by the Fascist régime favouring warfare), Rota’s style, in part building on the example of Malipiero, displayed original characteristics. Works such as Balli (1932), the Viola Sonata (1934–5), the Quintet (1935), the Violin Sonata (1936–7) and his first two symphonies (1935–9 and 1937–41) show Rota’s trust in an unbroken link with the music of the past. This made Rota’s idiom exceptionally and uninhibitedly responsive to the widest variety of influences, supported, as it was, by a masterly technique, an elegant manner and a capacity for stylistic assimilation. His language at this time is strikingly different from the contemporary predominant directions in Italy. For example, the symphonies draw on a middle-European, Slav symphonic tradition (Tchaikovsky, but possibly Dvořák even more so), probably absorbed during his American period and already infused with cinematic mood. He contributed to the renewal of Italian music with a body of work that has an immediacy of gesture and is rooted in a rare lyricism, built on harmonic languages, formal structures and a rhythmic and melodic idiom which sound distinctive and original. Gianandrea Gavazzeni commented of the Sonata for flute and harp (1937) that he heard ‘the voice of an Italian Ravel, archaic, intimate, the voice of one who has invented a style that did not exist before’.

After World War II, Rota’s critical fortunes altered considerably when, in the wake of the post-Webern movement, his work was increasingly judged to be anachronistic. This opinion was strengthened by his growing establishment as a film composer, held by many to be insignificant and uninvolved in the contemporary music scene. He continued, however, to write music for the concert hall and the opera house, with a constant cross-fertilization between the two areas: for a European composer this was an oblique, pioneering approach. In film music he used his eclectic inclinations and treated the boundaries of the film medium as a challenge, so producing some of the finest music of the genre.

He became a lecturer at Bari Conservatory (1939), and later its director (1950–77). In 1942, Rota began his long collaboration with the Lux Film company, directed by, among others, Guido M. Gatti and Fedele D’Amico. He created the music for around 60 films in ten years by such directors as Renato Castellani (Mio figlio professore, Sotto il sole di Roma), Mario Soldati (Le miserie del signor Travet), Alberto Lattuada (Senza pietà, Anna) and Eduardo De Filippo (Napoli milionaria, Filumena Marturano). In 1952, with Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik), he began an association with Fellini which lasted until the composer’s death. Of their 16 films, some achieve an extraordinary marriage of music and image, such as I vitelloni, La strada, La dolce vita, 8½, Amarcord and Il Casanova di Federico Fellini. Although it is generally thought that the director dominated the composer, the situation was more subtle and problematic as the music was required to fulfil a narrative and psychological role, frequently featured at the expense of the text itself. Fellini’s film style owes a great deal to Rota’s virtuosity, adaptability and insight. Examples include the many circus marches inspired by Julius Fučík’s Einzug der Gladiatoren and the engaging parody of Weill’s Moritat von Mackie Messer in the theme of La dolce vita. In addition, Rota’s tendency to quote, sometimes to the point of plagiarism – the theme for Gelsomina in La strada is based on the Larghetto of Dvořák’s Serenade, op.22 – was a genuine inclination which converged with Fellini’s imagery, to the point where it identified with it and lent it dignity. Rota’s film career, amounting to over 150 titles, included collaborations with Luchino Visconti (Rocco e i suoi fratelli and Il gattopardo [The Leopard]) and directors such as René Clément, Franco Zeffirelli, King Vidor, Sergei Bondarchuk, as well as on the first two parts of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

Rota composed in a wide variety of genres, writing pieces of an almost provocative simplicity. His Ariodante (1942), audaciously 19th-century in manner, was followed by works reminiscent of operetta and vaudeville, such as I due timidi (1950), La notte di un nevrastenico (1959) and the overwhelming farce Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (1955). These works show an ability to produce instant sketches which the composer himself described as the product of his familiarity with the rhythm of film-making. Another favoured genre was that of the fairy tale as in Aladino e la lampada magica(1968) and La visita meravigliosa (1970), considered perhaps his finest score for the theatre.

The most significant orchestral works are the 3 piano concertos, the Sinfonia sopra una canzone d’amore (1947), the Variazioni sopra un tema gioviale (1953), Symphony No.3 (1956–7) and several concertos for various instruments. His piano and chamber music includes many original compositions, such as the 15 Preludes or the Due Valzer sul nome di Bach for piano (1975; re-used in Casanova), the Violin Sonata (1936–7), the String Quartet (1948–54), two trios (1958 and 1973) and a nonet (1959–77). His vocal music includes the oratorio Mysterium (1962) and the rappresentazione sacra, La vita di Maria (1968–70), in which a style derived in part from the neo-madrigalist manner of such composers as Petrassi and Dallapiccola results in an operatic-sounding eclecticism, with influences filtered through Stravinsky but rooted in other Eastern European styles (Musorgsky, for example).

Rota had frequent recourse to self-borrowing, increasingly apparent in the later film music and stage works. As a whole, Rota’s work is a dense web of continual, multiple references where – in line with the composer’s declared intention – film music and art music are allowed equal dignity. As early as Il cappello di paglia di Firenze he drew together material from preceding works, but it is particularly in a masterpiece like the ballet La strada (1966) and in the opera Napoli milionaria (1977) where self-quotation becomes a point of synthesis and revelation of his essential style. His first film score for Fellini, Lo sceicco bianco, stands out as a source-composition, a model of one of Rota’s specific musical languages; other scores for Fellini as well as Il cappello di paglia, Il giornalino di Gian Burrasca and the incidental music for Much Ado about Nothing draw material from it. La strada makes use of themes from many works, including Lo sceicco bianco, Le notti di Cabiria, Rocco e i suoi fratelli, Concerto soirée and 8½, while Napoli milionaria uses quotations from Filumena Marturano, Plein soleil, La dolce vita, Rocco e i suoi fratelli and Waterloo. Rota’s uninhibited language corresponds in aesthetic terms to this flood of quotation, and the two aspects offer new definitions of such terms as ‘new’ or ‘originality’.