After the epigones of Verist opera, the composers of the so-called “Generation of the Eighties” (i.e. Casella, Pizzetti, Alfano, Respighi and Malipiero) brought new lymph to the Italian instrumental music of the twentieth century. These composers had a sound academic education; they were open both to the rediscovery of the Italian musical heritage of the past, and to the novelties following each other in the premieres of the Parisian theatres.
The traits these composers have in common are the rediscovery and the study of Italian instrumental music written between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century (from Monteverdi to Vivaldi, and from Gabrieli to Frescobaldi), the preservation of tonality, and the insertion of elements bound to modality and chromaticism.
Among these composers, even though they were less innovative than Malipiero and Ghedini, are found also Mario Barbieri and Giuseppe Rosetta. Giulio Viozzi, from Trieste, was able instead to elaborate a style with powerfully chromatic features.
Even though all the pieces proposed here were written within a timeframe comprised between 1953 and 1984, we cannot speak of avantgarde music. There are no graphical formulas bound to new music, there is no abandonment of key signatures, which are instead still clearly present. Rather, all can be understood within the framework of the new trends of the Italian instrumental school after World War II. The shadow of Casella and of his broad European view hovers over all these works. This movement can therefore substantially be called “Italian Modernism”.
The works by Gian Francesco Malipiero and Giorgio Federico Ghedini are those which best embody this idea of Modernism. These musicians have great importance both at the Italian and at the European level. In their mature age, they left their unique but valuable contribution to the guitar literature. Their two pieces, whilst reaching very different results, start from shared gestures consisting in the recovery of modality, in the use of chromaticism, and in the insertion of fragments and compositional processes which enter a dialogue with the Italian music of the past.
In Malipiero’s Prelude, ideas flow freely, unbound by predetermined architectural formulas. The complete picture is formed by small phrases composing a series of musical panels, in the form of a Quattrocento polyptych constituted by many, small, juxtaposed boards.
Ghedini’s Studio da concerto would need greater dissemination, so complex and elaborated is this piece. A very short chromatic ornamentation represents the nucleus of the entire work, which is articulated in a tripartite form, leaving the development of the Study proper essentially to the piece’s central part.
The composer’s very words are better than any other consideration, regarding the construction of his own music: “The composition’s structure was born from the spontaneous organisation of properly musical values, in a series of aural constructions, which, in turn, are cemented to each other by a clear thematical and building logic”. The quote refers to one of Ghedini’s most important pieces, Architetture of 1940, written for orchestra, but it is well adapted also to the work he composed for the guitar. Here the constitutive elements are essentially three: the semitones, wavering by contrary motion; the modal scales; and the constant harmonic indeterminacy, which is felt in spite of the presence of a clear key signature.
These factors (described, developed, and rationally elaborated), are the connecting element of the very original central part. In spite of this being his only piece for guitar, the composer asks for the extreme notes of the board, demonstrating a perfect knowledge of the instrument. The two sharps in the key signature would let one imagine a tonally defined ambitus, i.e. that of D major. Still, the entire first part floats harmonically without a certain basis. We have to wait for no less than 24 bars in order to find the explicit enunciation, marked by an evident upbeat accent, of the key indicated in the signature; still, it will be immediately denied in the following bars. In the third part, Ghedini abandons himself to the lyricism of small archaic fragments. He recovers the colours of a sixteenth-century Ricercare, which dissolves in the slow repetition of the introductory fragment.
Giuseppe Rosetta, from Piedmont, composed several guitar works echoing the traditions of his land, from Canti della pianura to Sei poemi brevi. These works are masterfully written and lead us back to a writing free from avant-garde formulas and permeated by poetry. His language does not aspire to Ghedini’s and Malipiero’s European views. Rather, it remains confined within self-composed tonal structures, enriched by a personal harmonic elaboration. His Sonata for two guitars and his Sonatina are the pieces where the composer expressed himself best also at the level of formal construction. The homage to the Mexican composer Manuel Maria Ponce in the Sonatina’s third movement is the emblem of is style. Here, the refined harmonic processes alternate with the central section’s passionate elan. Whilst demonstrating a noteworthy knowledge of the guitar, the composer’s frequent use of a scoring with chords in open position requires, in our opinion, some small interventions on the internal parts, with the aim of making the piece technically more flowing.
A separate treatment is required by Mario Barbieri’s La Serra. These seven Preludes, each dedicated to as many floral species, are pages free from predetermined writing models. These short sketches are enriched by the composer’s punctual indications. They are full of a very original instrumental colour, which is, once more, quintessentially Italian. The alternation in the use of the modes forms pleasant tonal “surprises” which combine well with the quest for feelings and scents. If Art Nouveau represented a reaction to academicism in art, Barbieri’s pieces represent a reaction to serialism and to the ensuing abandonment of tonality.
The programme closes with two important pieces by Giulio Viozzi. The Fantasia, a youthful work by the composer, is reinterpreted starting from the holograph manuscript preserved in the holdings of the Civico Museo Teatrale Carlo Schmidl of Trieste. It comprises two dances written in different years, the Gavotta (1953) and the Brasiliana (1956), along with connecting parts (Più lento improvvisando and two instances of Moderato improvvisando). The publication edited by Alvaro Company in 1965 begins with the Gavotta’s central section, called Improvvisando. However, the manuscript, at the same point, has a Più lento, improvvisando:
It seems therefore clear that the Più lento can only refer to a preceding movement which is, in fact, the Gavotta. What is offered here is therefore a different organization of the various movements which, with a better internal cohesion, form two blocks with a mirror-like structure:
– Gavotta – Più lento improvvisando – Gavotta da capo;
– Moderato improvvisando – Brasiliana – Moderato improvvisando.
Besides this new organisation of the various sections, we tried and respected the original writing by long values of the Brasiliana. It had been modified by the editor through rests which are very unsuited to time’s sinuous flowing:
The pace of the South-American dance is unavoidably reminiscent of the atmospheres of the ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit op. 58 by Darius Milhaud (1920), whilst the Gavotta’s neo-baroque composedness is broken by the rhapsodic impetus of the improvised sections.
The Sonata of 1984, written a few months before the fatal stroke, is a piece scarcely performed by guitarists. True, the first and the third movement suffer from a certain chromatic harshness: they are performed here with numerous added instrumental slurs and lightened repeated chords. However, the Lento quasi funebre is to be numbered among the most interesting pieces of the twentieth century. It was premiered in the cathedral church of San Giusto in Trieste precisely on the occasion of the composer’s funeral. This is a harmonically refined and deep music, the work of an old, wise man who is leaving us, knowing that his work has been good.
Viozzi, whilst remaining faithful to the traditional language, manages to weave a writing whereby the chromatic melody’s stupendous lyricism is sustained by a very refined harmonic research. The introductory phrase of six bars is a solemn and funereal rhythmical continuum. The pedal on the low E sustains a bowed profile, whose melody has a gradual and progressive ascent. The chromatic oscillations found on each bar’s final beats seem to represent the unceasing knocking of something inexorably nearing. In the central section, the touching melody is sustained by particular harmonies with a jazz-like derivation. Here are found chords of dominant seventh, where the minor and major third coexist at the distance of a diminished octave; they are also called blue chords.
The presence of the typical Tristan-chord is also characteristic; it had influenced such a great part of the music written in the past century.
After the enunciation of the second part, a melodic topos of a rare beauty, the melody majestically smooths itself out towards the final riconduzione, sweetly closing the piece, which fades on the notes of the short reprise. In the last breath of his life, Viozzi managed to sculpt a page of a rare beauty.
Alfonso Baschiera and Michele Peguri © 2022
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Alfonso Baschiera is an honours graduate of the Venice Conservatory. He studied with Angelo Amato and was a post-graduate student of Ruggero Chiesa. Baschiera has both commissioned and performed numerous solo works and chamber-ensemble pieces by Luca Mosca and Alessandro Solbiati. In 1990, Baschiera edited the educational collection “La chitarra oggi”, featuring works by Bettinelli, Fellegara, Malipiero, Mosca, Morricone, Solbiati and Zanettovich. Baschiera’s chamber music recordings include “Colori e Danze del Novecento”, “Cantares Populares” and the collected guitar works of the Hungarian composer Ferenk Farcas – all critically acclaimed in Italy, the UK, France, Spain and Hungary. Baschiera is the author of “The Easy Guitar” as well as editions of “Niccolò Paganini: 43 Ghiribizzi” and “Ferdinando Carulli: Guitar Works”. In 2015 the Dutch record label Brilliant Classics released a CD of Sauguet’s complete works for guitar. The recording was positively reviewed throughout Europe and was mentioned as “Best Disc of the Month” in the prestigious Italian music magazines “Amadeus” and “Musica”. Da Vinci Editions has recently released a recording of Ferdinando Carulli’s works for two guitars featuring Baschiera and Marco Nicolè.
Gian Francesco Malipiero (b Venice, 18 March 1882; d Treviso, 1 Aug 1973). Italian composer and musicologist. Although very uneven, and less influential than Casella and Pizzetti, he was the most original and inventive Italian composer of his generation.
Giorgio Federico Ghedini (b Cuneo, 11 July 1892; d Nervi, nr Genoa, 25 March 1965). Italian composer and teacher.
(b Trieste, 5 July 1912; d Verona, 29 Nov 1984). Italian composer. Of the Italian composers born between the ‘generation of the 1880s’ and the postwar avant garde, Viozzi has a place of special interest for the quantity and quality of his large, diverse output. At the beginning of the 1950s, he moved from an initial involvement in chamber music towards theatre and orchestral music, scoring an important and immediate double success with the comic opera Allamistakeo, performed at La Scala under Maazel and at the recommendation of Sabata, and the orchestral Ditirambo. These works made clear the personal nature of Viozzi's musical language, in which references to Straussian vitality, the folk palette of Bartók and the sonic exuberance of Stravinsky and Prokofiev are combined with a sturdy rhythmic force and, even more, the evocation of the magical and surreal. This linguistic cocktail served the composer extremely well both in opera, not only in Allamistakeo, but also in his tragic masterpiece, Il sasso pagano, and in orchestral and chamber music.