One of the tritest commonplaces of musical historiography is that the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century were dominated by operatic music in both France and Italy, whilst instrumental music flourished in the German-speaking territories. Of course, no one wishes to downplay the importance – both historical and artistic – of the achievements of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, whose legacy in the field of (among others) instrumental music is foundational for the history of Western music. Still, there is no neat border, and, just as Mozart’s operas and Beethoven’s Fidelio rank among the masterpieces of operatic music, similarly the instrumental music written by some Italian and French composers is absolutely worth rediscovering.
The figure of Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni is a typical representative of the high number of valuable musicians whose name and work still awaits adequate reception. His life and music connect Italy and France, blending some typical traits of both musical cultures. He can be defined as one of the principal heirs of the Italian instrumental school, and particularly of the august lineage of composers-violinists which had turned Italy into the cradle of instrumental virtuosity, starting in the early Baroque era. At the same time, he was deeply connected with the musical, cultural, and also political scene of Revolutionary France: being at the forefront of the artistic and social debate, he contributed crucially to the development of the French First Republic.
This celebrated musician and shrewd politician was born in Cuneo. This city lies at the feet of the Alps, in south-western Piedmont. It was therefore understandable that the first centres around which his life revolved were the main cities of Piedmont. In particular, the city which is today the capital of Piedmont, Italy, boasted an important tradition of violin making and performance. The presence there of a musician of the standing of Gaetano Pugnani bears witness to the high level and quality of the local musical life. Bruni’s education as a violinist took place under the aegis of Pugnani, who transmitted to his young pupil his astonishing technical mastery and virtuosity, as well as his widely recognised musical experience and refinement.
Whilst Pugnani was a great composer in his own right, probably Bruni felt the need for a more thorough education in the field of composition and compositional technique. Therefore, he seems to have taken lessons in composition at the school of another musician, Speziani, who lived in the city of Novara – today in Piedmont, but closer to Milan than to Turin.
Having thus accomplished his education, Bruni moved to one of the greatest capitals of the European culture: his talent and mastery demanded a larger stage than that offered, at the time, by the musical scene of Piedmont. He thus took the great leap to Paris, where he arrived in his late twenties. On the day of a religious festival, the Corpus Christi solemnity (May 25th, 1780), he made his debut on the famous stage of the Concerts spirituels, one of the most important musical and cultural institutions not only of Paris, but in the whole Europe. Here, he presented himself as a violinist-cum-composer, performing a violin concerto of his own creation. His debut was a success under both aspects: technically, the trait which enthralled the Parisian audience was his lively and energetic handling of the bow, whilst musically he was appreciated as the composer of themes with a noteworthy variety and pleasantness.
Soon, Bruni started issuing collections of Duos for stringed instruments. They were typically collected by groups of six, following a tradition which had originated much earlier and had crossed the entire Baroque and a good part of the Classical era. His first collection was that of the Six Duos à deux violons, published in 1782, but numerous others were to follow.
Instrumental music, however, was by no means the only outlet of Bruni’s creativity. In 1786, he debuted as an operatic composer, setting to music a comedy by Tacusset by the title of Coradin. Unfortunately, the music has been lost, but it had been appreciated by Bruni’s contemporaries and by the critics.
His career kept ascending, with further publications in the domain of instrumental music (particularly as concerns concertato quartets) and performances of his operas.
Bruni’s double allegiance – to his homeland and to his new country – is mirrored by his very output in this period. His operas were performed at the Théâtre des Italiens and he was the chapel master (at the harpsichord, in spite of his virtuosity as a violinist) at the Comédie Italienne. At the same time, he was an active writer, along with G. G. Cambini and other – mainly French – musicians, on the Journal de violon, a publication by Porro and Mme Baillon which is currently a mine of information about the musical life of that time.
Yet another Italian musician, the great Giambattista Viotti, noticed the value of his compatriot (both were from today’s Piedmont) and invited him to the very prestigious post of concert master (i.e. first solo violin) at the famous Théâtre de Monsieur at the Tuileries. There, Bruni’s duties included also proper orchestra conducting, particularly after the death of N. Mestrino, his predecessor at that post, who died in 1789.
In spite of the important result he had obtained in his professional career, evidently Bruni was not satisfied. His true vocation was composing, and, possibly, the duties of a salaried orchestra musician were incompatible with what he needed to achieve in the musical field. Numerous operas issued from his pen in the ensuing years, which were those of the French Revolution and of the Terror. Bruni was quick on the uptake, and did not preclude to himself the possibility of exploiting the cultural and social climate of the era. Thus, many of his operas from those years depict at least the ideals of the Revolution, but also its iconic features, characters and facts. This was the case, for instance, with L’officier de fortune ou les deux militaires, on a libretto by Patrat, which was premiered in 1792 and then represented in 1799, and whose plot evidently betrays its Revolutionary inspiration.
Bruni’s “patriotism” (i.e. his affection for his acquired country, France, and his attachment to the Revolutionary ideals) was not unnoticed. Fortunately, those in charge of distributing the tasks in the “renewed” country intuited the potential that this creative musician could unleash. He was asked, therefore, to cense and list the musical goods (scores, instruments, etc.) which had been left behind by those who did not sympathise with the revolution: aristocrats and counter-revolutionaries who had been jailed or even executed, as well as those who had “freely” chosen to abandon the country. In 1794, therefore, Bruni reported to the Assemblée, listing the musical instruments confiscated to the “undesirables” of the time. On the other hand, probably without Bruni’s intervention a whole lot of valuable scores and instruments would have been lost forever. By seizing them, Bruni actually saved these instruments and manuscripts.
His adhesion to the Revolutionary ideals, however, was by no means a superficial acceptance of their appearance: he seems to have been truly convinced by the French Revolutionary perspective, as is testified by his composition of a hymn to the faceless godhead of the French Revolution, the Supreme Being (“O Dieu puissant”, 1795), sung in the presence of Robespierre by a choir of blind youths.
In the following years, Bruni remained active in the field of operatic composition, issuing almost one opera a year; his works for the violin and viola were similarly appreciated and considered already as a fundamental part of the violinists’ education.
During the first years of the nineteenth century, Bruni’s life was less strictly bound to the Ville lumière, and he moved at first to Passy. Then, the attraction of the capital city made itself felt again, but unfortunately the taste had evolved so dramatically, in the meanwhile, that Bruni was no more acclaimed – as he was and would have been some years earlier.
The last years of his life were spent in his birth city, in Cuneo, where – interestingly – the former Republican wrote a piece to celebrate the visit of the Savoy king to Cuneo.
Along with the violin, Bruni cultivated a lively interest in the viola, writing a method for teaching and learning viola technique (Méthode pour l’alto-viola, first edition in 1814, Jeanet and Cotelle), and another set of six Sonatas, which, in this case, are duets for alto and double bass. Along with these works where the viola has a protagonist role, this instrument features prominently in many other of Bruni’s compositions, bearing witness to the high concept the composer had of this instrument. This concept translates into a condition of absolute parity with the violin. There is no soloist and no accompanist, but rather a dialogue between two equally challenging, and equally beautiful parts.
These Six Duos have all a similar structure, in just two movements – thus allowing also for the performance by very accomplished amateur players. The opening movements are those with the richest musical variety and inspiration; the last movements display a substantial interest in the Rondo as a musical form, with plenty of creativity and lively musical ideas.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Agostino Mattioni is a member of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai and prior to this he has collaborated with almost all of the main Italian Symphonic Opera Houses including “Teatro alla Scala” in Milan, the “Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia” in Rome, and as principal viola with the “Orchestra della Toscana” and the “Orchestra Toscanini” in Parma. He has played with conductors such as Z.Metha, R.Muti, K.Petrenko, D.Gatti, F.Luisi, D.Harding and with soloists such as M.Argerich, A.Lonquich, L.Kavakos, P.Zukermann, H.Hahn, M.Maisky, A.Tamestit. He had the opportunity to play live on Rai Radio Tre in chamber music concerts at the prestigious “I concerti del Quirinale” in Rome, “Domeniche dell’Auditorium” in Turin and as a soloist in the prestigious MITO Season. He is a founder member of the Orchestra Archè in Pisa, in which he has been both an orchestra player and an organizer for several opera symphony seasons at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa and other Tuscan chamber music events. For years he played with the pianist Pierpaolo Vincenzi wherewith has received the first prize in the International Riccione Competition. His studies began with the violin at the Fiesole Music School and he was able to study with violinists such as M. Fornaciari, P. Vernikov, G. Franzetti and with violists like B. Giuranna, D. Rossi and S. Briatore. Furthermore he had specialized in and passionate about the classical philology of ancient music with L.Giardini, C.Chiarappa, G.Carmignola, V.Ghielmi and S.Montanari. He performed with the ‘Rossignolo’, ‘Ausermusici and ‘Modo Antiquo’ ancient music ensembles. He has recorded live for Radio Svizzera Italiana, for Amadeus music magazines, and for the Deutsche Grammophon, Naxos, Brilliant, EMA Vinci and Denon record companies. He has been teaching at the “Pietro Mascagni” Conservatory of Music in Livorno.
Giovanni Matteo Brasciolu
He is member of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale RAI. After his Diplomas in violin and viola, both with full marks at the Conservatorio Giorgio Federico Ghedini in Cuneo under the tutelage of Bruno Pignata and Leopoldo Slamig, he continued his education at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg with Peter Langgartner and at the Accademia Walter Stauffer in Cremona with Bruno Giuranna. In 2007 he receives the Full Scholarship "Master of talents" from the CRT Foundation. Winner of I° prize at the viola competiton "Rassegna per violisti Città di Vittorio Veneto 2007", he wasfounding member of the Quartetto Lyskamm whereby he studies with the Artemis Quartett. As component of Lyskamm Quartet he wins I° prize at the chamber music competitions "Luigi Nono in Venaria Reale", "Carlo Mosso in Alessandria", "Guido Papini in Camaiore", and III° prize and special prize Bresso at "Chamber Musica competizion Città di Pinerolo". He collaborated as principal viola with the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, the English National Ballet Orchestra of London, the orchestras of the Teatro Regio in Torino and Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova. Recently he takes part to the Quartetto Paganini (with guitar), historical italian ensemble created for the divulgation of the chamber music repertoire of Paganini.
Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni
(b Cuneo, 28 Jan 1757; d Cuneo, 6 Aug 1821). Italian violinist, composer and conductor, active in France. According to Fétis he studied the violin with Pugnani in Turin and composition with Speziani in Novara. He arrived in Paris in spring 1780, and on 15 May made his début as a violinist at the Concert Spirituel, performing one of his own concertos; the performance won considerable acclaim from the Mercure de France. In 1781 he joined the orchestra of the Comédie-Italienne. His first published work, a set of six violin duos, appeared in the following year and was soon followed by numerous other instrumental works, mostly for violin, and by the periodical collection Journal de violon (Baillon and Porro), on which Bruni collaborated. His first opera, Coradin, was performed at Fontainebleau in 1785 and in Paris the following year, and began a series of nearly 20 comic operas produced in Paris with considerable success over the next 15 years. In 1789 he was appointed by Viotti to the orchestra of the Théâtre de Monsieur as first solo violinist, and for a short time served as director of this orchestra, succeeding Mestrino, and of the orchestra of the Théâtre Montansier.