It is one of the truest commonplaces of music criticism to state that no instrument is as close to the human voice as is the cello. It is a trite statement, but it is undeniable. Few instruments can compete with the cello as concerns its warm timbre, so similar to that of an expressive human voice, its capability to hold long melodic lines, and the variety of accents it can produce. It is perhaps not by chance that this Da Vinci Classics album gathers some of the finest gems of fin-de-siècle Italian chamber music, written for the cello by musicians coming from the country of belcanto and opera.
Speaking of Italy, music and nineteenth century, one is forgiven if his or her thought goes immediately to Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini and their likes. The concentration of geniuses writing unforgettable operas in Italy at that time is almost incredible, and can only be compared with the equally astonishing number of master musicians who created instrumental music in Germany at that same time.
In fact, as it frequently happens in history, phenomena resulting from a huge variety of socio-cultural factors were simplified, and the artificial correlation “Italy = opera, Germany = symphony” began to acquire the value of an established truism. This could even have been harmless; the point is that these truisms tend to become truths with time, especially when they posit moral values which were quite alien to the original meaning.
In the nineteenth century, indeed, both Germany and Italy were creating their political identity in the midst of complex international matters and at the price of great internal strife. The possibility of identifying their own country with a particular musical genre, and, perhaps even more importantly, to differentiate it over and against its neighbours through an artistic and cultural form became fundamental. Thus, not only it was preferrable for Italian musicians to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to opera; it was also suspicious for them to be too enthused about foreign cultural products, and in particular for those coming from beyond the Alps. The fact was that Germany and Austria shared the same language, and, of course, much of their musical culture; and the independence of Italy was largely fought against the pretenses of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which still ruled in a huge part of northern Italy. Thus, paradoxically, instrumental music was simply anti-patriotic.
And this was felt even more since the undisputed masters and models of Romantic instrumental music were German or Austrian. To play and write instrumental music, one had to look at composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms and so on.
Unavoidably, many of the greatest Italian musical talents of those generations were caught by the fascination of opera, and created masterpieces in that genre. Still, it has to be said that even the musicians with whom Italian opera is most frequently identified (such as Rossini or Verdi, to name but two) were in fact great admirers of the German instrumental tradition; both, for instance, were deep connoisseurs of Bach’s oeuvre.
Others, however, not only knew Bach well, but also championed his music as performers or transcribers. This was the case with all three musicians represented in this Da Vinci Classics CD. Giuseppe Martucci, for instance, was a Bach enthusiast who conducted the premiere of an orchestral Suite by Bach on Italian soil; who created magnificent transcriptions for the piano of Bach’s works; who performed other pieces by Bach at the piano, being a professional concert pianist himself; who tirelessly promoted Bach’s music in his capacity as a Conservatory professor and as the Director of musical institutions.
Marco Enrico Bossi, as a performer, was drawn to the organ console rather than to the piano. As an organist, he mastered Bach’s music and studied it deeply; as a composer, he gained recognition with a piece significantly titled FEDE A BACH, in response to a competition and to a challenge launched by Arrigo Boito, and grounded on the association letter/pitch determining the musical subject of the piece.
Alessandro Longo is better known for his association with Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard Sonatas, which he edited – earning the gratitude of his contemporaries and the (unfair) criticism of the later generations, who unjustly evaluated his works by the parameters of twentieth-century philology. Yet, Longo was another Bach enthusiast in turn, and transcribed many of the Cantor’s pieces for the piano.
This brief overview allows us to understand that Martucci, Bossi and Longo combined their interest in instrumental music with an extremely thorough study of the great tradition in that field. Their careful analysis of the masterpieces of their past and of their present allowed them to master form and structure safely and unhesitatingly.
Still, it would be unfair to describe their music as German music outside Germany. While they certainly knew, appreciated and mastered the language which was crafted in the German lands in the nineteenth century, sounds, gestures and styles of their instrumental output are undeniably “Italian”. And, as said in the opening lines of this booklet, vocality – which had been somehow rejected by these composers who did not leave significant works in the field of opera – came back in the form of chamber music.
This appears clearly even from the titles of several works recorded here, which are labelled Romance or Romanza – the word by which Italians indicated what the English call “songs” and the Germans Lieder.
For instance, Giuseppe Martucci gave that title to a small but fascinating diptych where the cello truly has all opportunities to present itself as the instrumental alter ego to the human voice. Written in June 1891 in Bologna, these works belong in the compact but significant collection of Martucci’s compositions for the cello. During his youthful years, Martucci had had the extraordinary opportunity of concertizing widely with Alfredo Piatti, the legendary Italian cellist who lived in London, and who befriended the greatest musicians of the era. Together, Piatti and Martucci toured half Europe between 1875 and 1878. That experience certainly influenced Martucci’s view of the instrument, and gave him a deep inside knowledge of the secrets of the trade, i.e. of how to give to the cello its due. In 1884, Martucci had written his first important work for cello and piano: it would remain the most important Italian sonata for that ensemble written in the nineteenth century. Four years later, in 1888, Martucci wrote a set of Three Pieces, op. 69. He was evidently fond of them, since he came back to that score two decades later, orchestrating the central piece of the triptych. In the first of the Three Pieces, Martucci displays a noteworthy variety of inventions, resulting in a palette of feelings, moods and affections. The two instruments interact tightly, only to find a peaceful agreement in the piece’s Coda. It is easy to understand why Martucci decided to orchestrate the second piece, thanks to the enchanted and enchanting mood pervading it, and to the brilliant contrapuntal treatment found throughout the movement. (Indeed, Martucci’s careful study of Bach clearly transpires in his own writing!). Finally, the third piece alternates moments of rather tortured chromaticism, where the influence of Wagner’s music is clearly discernible, with others where clarity and brightness dominate the scene.
Vocality is evidently behind Martucci’s two Romanze, whose melodic spontaneity matches the vocally inspired title perfectly. Probably, the composer had in mind the model offered by Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, whereby even the piano’s hammers seem magically to be turned into sustained and vibrating voices. Still, Martucci was also keenly alert and interested in the most recent developments in the musical field, and the language here is much more progressive than that employed by Mendelssohn, who had died several decades earlier. These pieces, printed in 1891 by a Leipzig-based publisher, bear witness to Martucci’s success as an instrumental composer in the very land of instrumental music. The first Romance is actually the arrangement of a vocal work, i.e. a duet, “Perché tristo è questo cuore”, excerpted from an unpublished oratorio by the composer. The second piece, in A major, is devoid of direct quotations, but confirms the “vocal” approach to cello writing.
The other Romanza recorded here, that by Marco Enrico Bossi, was created as something akin to the French Pièces de concours: i.e. as a piece to be assigned to diploma candidates for studying at short notice. In spite of this occasion, which might have prompted the creation of a much less important work, Bossi infused his whole creativity into this piece, which would be dedicated to Carlo De Filippis in Naples in 1893. A similar taste for the refined miniature is revealed in the delightful Feuillets d’album op. 111, whilst Il canto dell’anima pays homage to Bossi’s family. On May 12th, 1919, the composer’s son Renzo was to marry Emilia Quadri. The piece Bossi wrote for them was originally to be titled Il cigno di Leda (“Leda’s Swan”), but later became Il canto dell’anima (“The soul’s song”). Initially, the piece had been imagined as a piano trio with cello and violin, but it soon became apparent that its concept lent itself better to the treatment as a duo, in which form it was finished and is still played.
If Martucci’s works for the cello were inspired by his acquaintance and collaboration with Platti, another cellist, Luigi Stefano Giarda (1868-1953) prompted Longo to compose his large-scale Suite op. 44, written in 1904. Giarda, born in Lombardy, had a brilliant career as a performer, composer and cellist – but also as a teacher, since he even taught at the Conservatory of Santiago del Chile! This Suite juxtaposes moments with very different styles and moods, whereby the composer’s mastery is revealed by his skillful handling of the balance between these two instruments.
Together, the pieces in this album suggest the flourishing beauty of an instrumental tradition which may have been the province of a minority, but whose quality deserves to be appreciated by a majority of today’s listeners.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
DUO FAUSONE - MUSSO
Fabio Fausone and Stefano Musso’s musical path begins in their youth studying at “Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi” in Turin, where they both graduate with the highest score in 2012. From the very beginning of their career, the two young musicians stand out for their musical skills. As a cello and piano duo, they studied with Natalia Gutman, Enrico Dindo and Thomas Demenga.
They both won the “Associazione De Sono” and “Fondazione CRT” ’s fellowship programs in 2012, allowing them to attend a Swiss Master of Arts study program.
At the conclusion of their individual Masters, achieved with full marks respectively by Fabio at the “Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana” of Lugano and by Stefano at the “Hochschule für Musik” in Basel, the duo Fausone - Musso is intensifying its activity.
Recitals for “MITO Settembre Musica”, “Associazione De Sono”, Musei Vaticani, “Polincontri Classica” of Turin, Conservatorio di Torino, Lugano chamber music festival and Chambery chamber music concerts are an example of their activity.
Beside the piano duo, important chamber music collaborations both in Italy and abroad enrich their career; amongst them, Fabio is the founder and current member of the string trio “Trio Quodlibet” and Stefano is regularly performing with violinist Bastian Loewe.
From 2019 they started a collaboration with “Associazione De Sono” and “Fondazione Agnelli”, for an educative project called “LiveMotiv”.
They are founding members, together with other musicians and friends, of “Associazione Musicale Il Camerificio”.
Stefano is also Artistic Director of the international chamber concert season “Gli Accordi Rivelati”, organized by “Associazione il Timbro”.
(b Amantea, 30 Dec 1864; d Naples, 3 Nov 1945). Italian pianist and composer. After studying with his father, the pianist and composer Achille Longo (b Melicuccà, 27 Feb 1832; d Naples, 11 May 1919), he attended Naples Conservatory (1878–85), where he studied the piano with Beniamino Cesi, composition with Paolo Serrao and the organ; he took a diploma in all three subjects in 1885. After teaching the piano there, initially as Cesi’s substitute and then as a regular member of staff from 1897, he taught briefly (1899) at Alfonso Rendàno’s private school; he retired in 1934 but returned in 1944 as interim director. He was also pianist for numerous concert organizations, including the Società del Quartetto (1909–15). Longo’s interest in the music of Domenico Scarlatti led to his founding a Domenico Scarlatti society at Naples (c1893) and to his publication of 11 volumes containing 544 sonatas and a fragment of Scarlatti’s keyboard music. He arbitrarily organized the sonatas into key-related suites and felt compelled to adjust some of their harmonic implications, but the edition (Domenico Scarlatti: Opere complete per clavicembalo, Milan, 1906–10) was long the most complete and did much to awaken interest in Scarlatti. He also wrote Domenico Scarlatti e la sua figura nella storia della musica (Naples, 1913). Longo was a dedicated teacher; his pupils included such pianists as Franco Alfano, Guido Laccetti, Paolo Denza and Tito Aprea. In 1914 he founded the journal Arte pianistica (later Vita musicale italiana), which continued until 1926. For his educational writings, among which are piano methods and anthologies, he received a gold medal at the music-history congress held at the Paris Exhibition. His compositions (over 300), which have been described as combining a Germanic instrumental style with Italian vocal characteristics, include works for piano, for strings, and suites for various instruments. He was a member of the Accademia Pontaniana and the Società Reale di Archeologia, Lettere e Belle Arti.
Giuseppe Martucci: (b Capua, 6 Jan 1856; d Naples, 1 June 1909). Italian composer, pianist and conductor. He was the most important non-operatic composer in late 19th-century Italy and played a versatile, highly influential part in the resurgence of Italian concert life after a period when it had been at a low ebb.
Marco Enrico Bossi (b Salò, Lake Garda, 25 April 1861; d Atlantic Ocean, 20 Feb 1925). Italian composer, organist and pianist. Born into a family of organists, he studied with his father, Pietro Bossi (1834–96), then at the Liceo Musicale, Bologna (1871–3), and at the Milan Conservatory (1873–81), where his teachers included Ponchielli. In 1881 he was appointed organist at Como Cathedral, and in due course he won worldwide renown as one of the finest organists of the day. He moved to Naples in 1890 as teacher of harmony and the organ at the conservatory, later becoming director of the Licei Musicali in Venice (1895–1902) and Bologna (1902–11) and of the Liceo (Conservatorio from 1919) di S Cecilia, Rome (1916–23). He died at sea while returning from New York.
Bossi’s few completed operas had little success; but he won lasting respect, mainly in Italy, for his instrumental and choral compositions. Internationally he is remembered largely for his organ pieces, the best of which (e.g. the widely performed G minor Scherzo op.49 no.2) are still very effective. However, the Canticum canticorum was particularly highly praised in its time, in Germany as well as Italy. Today the work perhaps impresses more by sincerity and solid craftsmanship than originality, but the opening pages of Il paradiso perduto – a representation of chaos, with pulseless rhythms, bare 5ths and flattened 7ths – show that Bossi was capable of vivid poetic evocation, while Giovanna d’Arco, the most dramatic of his choral works, suggests that he had more sense of the theatre than his operas revealed. Among his orchestral pieces, a vigorous if slightly academic Organ Concerto and the elegant rather Wolf-Ferrari-like Intermezzi goldoniani have continued to be revived occasionally in Italy; and of the chamber compositions, the two violin sonatas have proved especially worthy of renewed attention: the profoundly expressive, subtle-textured slow movement of the second is one of Bossi's most inspired utterances.
With Martucci and Sgambati, Bossi led the revival of Italian non-operatic music at the turn of the century, and, like them, he turned to northern Europe for the main sources of his style: there are signs of the influences – not always fully assimilated – of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Franck, Brahms and (in more adventurously chromatic pieces such as the Konzertstück op.130) Reger. In his last years he showed little sympathy with the radical young; but such new departures as the very refined chromaticism of the Five Pieces for piano op.137 (1914), or the ladders of perfect 4ths in Santa Caterina da Siena, reveal that he was not wholly unreceptive to the new sounds of the 20th century.