A historical itinerary through “his” piano
Ruggiero Leoncavallo is one of those not-so-rare Italian musicians from the generation that lived between nineteenth and twentieth century and who are remembered today for just one opera, two at the most. Among them are Pagliacci (Milan, 1892) as well as Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito, Andrea Chénier and Fedora by Umberto Giordano, and Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea. These are the “standard-bearing” works of composers who, in fact, were able to move among the most diverse genres (operetta, opera, symphonic poem, chanson), and who had, while living, a remarkable international success.
Time tends to flatten memory, to efface it among the mists of that Lake Maggiore on whose Swiss shore the Maestro had chosen to build a villa full of memories. Here he piled up the memorabilia of a life which, indeed, was not so long, but decidedly intense, and occasionally stormy and reckless. Certainly, it was not always a well-off life, if one considers that the Maestro was forced to sell his home a few years prior to his death, due to a constantly increasing economic malaise.
If we would and could get into detail, digging deep within the meanderings of a historical period rich in stimuli and cultural promptings as was the fin de siècle, Leoncavallo’s human experience would not appear to be more transgressive and bohemian than many others which are chronicled. For instance, this applies to the standard-bearer of Italian music, Giacomo Puccini, whose life is suspended between theatrical stage, cars, passions, and scandals.
Born in Campania (Naples, April 23rd, 1857), Ruggiero had the piano as his first interlocutor, under the auspices of his mother’s teachings, which later became regular studies with Beniamino Cesi at the Conservatory of Naples. Cesi, his teacher, is well known to musicologists and to a few music students, but is completely forgotten today. Ruggiero was the child of a wealthy family: his father was an important Bourbonic officer. As happened to children from his social class, Ruggiero not only studied the piano, but was also well-read in texts which would have led him, also as a musician, to gain impressions and to follow projects of a grandiose scope, in the wake of the French and German literature, and influenced by the music of Richard Wagner.
Due to the engagements of his father, a magistrate, his first years were spent in Calabria. His family moved, shortly after his birth, to Montalto Uffugo, where the composer-to-be spent his childhood and part of his youth, where he began his musical studies, and where he witnessed the tragical and bloody murder of a house servant. This tragical event marked his entire life. Nearly thirty years later, in his masterpiece, Pagliacci, Leoncavallo set to music precisely the shred, filtered by memory, of that terrible murder which took place in Montalto Uffugo. This town, already in 1903, attributed him an honorary citizenship, at a time when the Maestro was already abundantly a citizen of the world.
Though his life was not stormy, it was characterized by deep disquietude, which brought him from Italy to Egypt, France, but also to the US and finally to Brissago, in Switzerland, where – even today – he is lovingly remembered by the eponymous Foundation. The town of Montalto Uffugo, in turn, keeps his memory alive, along with the interest for its honorary citizen, thanks to the activity of a Museum and to a Festival dedicated to him.
During his lifetime, some others of his operas enjoyed great success, along with the world-famous Pagliacci. However, today the view of the musician’s compositional heritage is very narrow. It is worth being widened, through the study and performance of some works which represent many aspects of his output which are still surrounded by shadows.
With the exception of some musicologists, very few musicians (to say nothing of the general public) are informed about the existence of Leoncavallo’s output of solo piano works. They came out of Leoncavallo’s pen at different moments of his career. They constitute a not very numerous catalogue (less than forty pieces), but nonetheless a very interesting one.
Print editions are very few and virtually impossible to find. In quantity, discographic recordings are almost inexistent. Leoncavallo’s piano output, along with that of his chansons (nearly fifty, for voice and a piano which is never a mere accompanist, but rather a coprotagonist with the voice, as shown by Mattinata, the only one of his creations which is still famous), is today an uncharted planet and one unjustly forgotten. If one looks closely to it in its globality, it can well represent a small summa of the cultural provocations of an entire life.
The literary stimuli come not only from France or Germany. Leoncavallo had begun University studies in Literature and Philosophy in Bologna, where he had been a pupil of Giosue Carducci. However, he had not graduated, contrary to what he himself good-humouredly boasted. These stimuli translate into atmospheres, compositional attitudes and themes which closely remind us of those by another splendid contemporaneous Italian musician who focused on the keyboard (and not just on it), but who is today completely forgotten, i.e. Giulio Ricordi (1840-1912).
In order to understand how Leoncavallo’s chamber music is strictly bound to the cultural climate of a fascinating historical period, one rich in contrasts, it will be necessary to recall at least the undisputed “sovereign” of salon music for voice and piano. We are speaking here of another son of Southern Italy, i.e. Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916), whose melodies filled the homes, the hotels, and the holiday places all over Europe. Over this historical and cultural “carpet”, mirroring a not always linear human itinerary, the compositional vein of Ruggiero Leoncavallo, the pianist and piano composer, is rooted. It is a flow frequently permeated by inquietude, even in the seemingly light themes (as in the pieces dedicated to the masks of Arlecchino and Pulcinella). Dance is the absolute protagonist, with a dozen pieces written (mostly) on Waltz rhythms, but also Tango, Gavotte, Gaillarde and Romanesca (these are both in an archaic style, as written on the score), Minuet and so on. We then reach his Spanish Album (Airs de ballets espagnols), opening another fundamental theme of Leoncavallo’s piano music, i.e. that bound to travel memories. These can be either real or simply imaginary, with the dutiful quotations (or stylistic imitations) of tunes or themes evoking Naples or Venice, among which Tarantelle, Serenate Barcarole and the impossible-to-miss Gondole.
Also in this field, Leoncavallo frequently opens cracks on an unexpected, nostalgic melancholy, which appears to be a constant trait of his aesthetics. One of the works of his last years, Au bord du Lac, written in “his own” Brissago in 1904 is simply heart-wrenching. Here all wanes in a sweet fading of memories, of a life which slowly turns pale, of splintered dreams which can startle no more, but only give a few rare tremors to the soul.
Within the allegoric catalogue of the Maestro’s pianistic geography, we cannot but notice the Yankee March he offered to none less than President Roosevelt. It was finished in 1906 and printed a few years later.
Among the other curiosities of the catalogue (and there are not a few of them) we find a seductive Arabic Air, by the title of “Under the palms” (Sous les palmiers), and a short Theme for a Marcia per l’eroica Armata italiana di Tripoli, as well as an articulated and springy Wedding March which was commissioned to him. Beyond these curious pieces (but not devoid of virtuosity and technical difficulties), in his entire pianistic output some pieces stand out in which the composer imparts to his writing the power of feelings and passions. Among these, the Chanson d’Amour is probably the highpoint of Leoncavallo’s inspiration and compositional skill at the keyboard. Based on ostinato rhythms and on touching modulations, it is a small masterpiece worth being inserted in the concert programmes. The E-flat major Nocturne is no less intense. It is lyrical and passionate, just as the Romanza Dolce Notte, pervaded by sweet, melancholic chiaroscuros.
The variety and compositional skill they display, the subjects which today may appear unusual and slightly old-fashioned, the expressive power of some works which makes a contrast with the (refined) naivety of others, the joy of dance (veined by melancholy) and the evocation of faraway lands form the original picture of this composer. He is worth being newly rediscovered, without prejudice, and – most importantly – putting aside, be it for just one time, the memory of “Vesti la giubba”.
Ingrid Carbone: In 2021, Ingrid Carbone received the Career Award by Città di Montalto Uffugo”, the Calabrian town where the great Ruggiero Leoncavallo spent his childhood, “for her extraordinary artistic career that has brought prestige to the whole of Calabria”.
In 2020, the Conservatory of Music of Cosenza, her hometown, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary celebration ceremony, selected Mrs Carbone as one of the brightest and most successful students that the Conservatory has had, and awarded her “for her highly prestigious artistic activity“.
In 2018 she is awarded the XXI edition of the Prize “La città del sole” (section Art) by the Rotary International Association “La città del sole”. In 2017 the International Federation of Professional and Business Women – FIDAPA BPW Italy (Rende) awarded her the biennial prize “Donna del Sud” for her artistic value. In the same year, her artistic history and her Liszt’s music appeared in the movie-documentary (and soundtrack) “Italian genius under the stars”, which has been presented at the Venice Film Festival.
Mrs Carbone has a wide repertoire which runs from the baroque period (including Bach concertos with string orchestra) to the 20th century. She has performed as a soloist, with orchestra and in duo with violin for several associations, conservatories of music, Italian consulates, foundations, theaters and universities in Austria, China, Germany, Hungary, Israel (including West Bank), Italy, Poland, Spain, Slovenia. She also gave masterclasses in China, Israel and West Bank.
Beside the concert activity, Ingrid Carbone is interested to spread musical and cultural knowledge through lecture – concerts, and she is very engaged in social issues also through charity concerts, and is attentive to its own territory, which she promotes in Italy and abroad with projects involving composers linked to Calabria.
She has been invited to be a jury member of international piano competitions and jury member for Italian Piano Diplomas. In 2018 Mrs Carbone has founded the Musical Association “Clara Schumann”, of which she is the President.
Ingrid Carbone began her musical training in Italy, at the Conservatory of Music in Cosenza, where she studied with Maria Laura Macario and Flavio Meniconi, and obtained the Piano Diploma with full marks at the age of nineteen with Francesco Monopoli. At the Conservatory she also studied Composition.
She specialized in Italy and abroad at prestigious academies such as the Internationale Sommerakademie - Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Tel-Hai International Piano Master Classes in Israel and with internationally renowned pianists, including Lazar Berman, Cristiano Burato, Aquiles delle Vigne, Eduardo Ogando, Ronan O’Hora, Hector Pell, Andrzej Pikul.
Eclectic personality, she graduated summa cum laude in Mathematics at the University of Calabria (Italy) at the age of 21. She became Assistant Professor in Mathematics at the University of Bari at the age of 27. She is the author of articles, published by international journals, and was invited to give talks and conferences in Europe and Canada. Currently, she is Assistant Professor at the University of Calabria, where she teaches mathematics and where she also was the President of the Scientific Library for some years.
Ruggiero Leoncavallo(b Naples, 8 March 1857; dMontecatini, 9 Aug 1919). Italian composer and librettist. The son of a well-to-do family in Naples – his father, Vincenzo, was a magistrate – he began his musical studies at the Conservatory in 1866. There he studied the piano with Beniamino Cesi and composition with Lauro Rossi, one of the best known opera composers of the day in the French tradition. He also studied composition under Serao until 1876. Formative in his development were the courses of the poet Giosuè Carducci, an enthusiastic Wagnerian, at Bologna University, which Leoncavallo followed from the autumn of 1876, breaking off, however, the following year without obtaining a degree. At the same time he was fired by the controversy over the art and aesthetic of Wort–Ton–Drama which led to the revival of the new version of Boito’s Mefistofele and the Italian premières of Rienzi (1876) and Der fliegende Holländer (as Vascello fantasma, 1877), conducted by Mancinelli. Influenced by Wagner and grand opera, Leoncavallo wrote both the libretto and the music of his first opera, Chatterton, at about that time, although it was not performed until much later.