Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Chamber Works


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    Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence in 1895 in a family of the jewish upper class. His love of music and his early talent were boosted by his mother’s lessons and the teaching of Edgardo Del Valle de Paz with whom he graduated at his hometown’s “Luigi Cherubini” Conservatory. Gifted for composition already from his first paths in the musical world, Mario found in Ildebrando Pizzetti an inspirational mentor and guide. He got his composition diploma at the Bologna Conservatory in 1918. Achieving fame in Italy’s musical world both as a pianist and composer, he caught the attention of Arturo Toscanini, Alfredo Casella and of some of the most prominent instrumentalists of his time, the violinist Jascha Heifetz, the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, the pianist Walter Gieseking and the guitarist Andrès Segovia, becoming one of the leading composers of guitar music of the twentieth century. He was harmed by the fascist racial laws of 1938 which precluded him the possibility to see his music performed and all work opportunities. He decided to emigrate to the USA where Toscanini and Heifetz helped him, the later introducing him to the Hollywood film industry where he would work as a soundtrack composer and arranger, often as a ghost writer. His teaching was highly regarded (he was the mentor of many famous film music composers like John Williams, André Previn, Harry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein). His skills awarded him the nickname “The Master’s Master”. In 1946 he became an American citizen. He came back often to Italy but kept his residency in the USA where he passed away in Beverly Hills in 1968.
    In his vast output, following a very traditional tonal stream, far from the second viennese school but not insensible to French music, chamber music enjoyed a large space. His string trio op.147 of 1950, a very straightforward and brilliant piece in the final movement comes from a set of compositions written in a phase of Mario’s professional life where his activity for the film industry made him feel the necessity to produce more intimate works. In the same period he wrote his second string quartet op.139, the c minor sonata for viola and cello op. 144, the second piano quintet “Ricordi della campagna toscana” (memories of Tuscany’s countryside) op. 155 and the Sonata for violin and cello op.148. Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote of his trio “… this is indeed a minor work, in its proportions and intentions; anyway I was interested to study the “positions” of the three instruments, which are often (through the exchanges of the parts) inverted: for example, more than once, the violin is the lowest voice while the cello is the highest. The first movement, Allegretto grazioso opens with a liquid design close to French music, very ravelian in its sinuous lines. The canon answers, characteristic of the composer’s style are pervading the whole movement. A dance-like second element follows. The development elaborates the themes in their keys and colors without really changing them. From the re exposition we will be led to an appeasing coda resolving the initial d minor in D Major. The second movement “Nenia” takes us from the serenity of the first, leading us to a Nocturne of much darker color. It opens with an ostinato design of the violin and viola over which the cello sings a very long theme. The central part gets tenser in the harmony and modulations as well as speeding its pace to a dramatical effect. The main element comes back calming the previous tensions, concluding with an ethereal viola solo. The brilliant finale, Vivace “Ritmico e balzante” (rhythmical and bouncing) reminds of the Sibelius violin concerto’s last movement with its main theme and accompaniment. It is built in a form akin to the Rondò with contrasting episodes, first lyrical then rhythmical with the main element always coming back. More than ever the canon answers between the instruments are essential to the core of the music. After an almost orchestral episode in its fullness and after a witty small hesitation the trio closes straightforwardly. Started in Beverly Hills in may 1950, the string trio was completed on the 12th of July. It was performed for the first time at the Royce Hall of the University of California in Los Angeles for a memorial concert in 1968. It was premiered in Italy by the Mark Rothko Ensemble in October 2021 in Gorizia as part of the “Viktor Ullmann” festival. The op.143 quintet, may be the most played of all Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s works was written in the same year than the trio for Andrès Segovia. The Spanish virtuoso, was invited to play a chamber music concert by the “Music guild” of Alfred Leonard in Los Angeles. Used to be in the limelight Segovia couldn’t stand performing the pieces for guitar and strings of Boccherini and Paganini, the only available in the short repertoire list for this combination of instruments, where the guitar is playing a secondary role; so he answered that he would have accepted only if he would have been given the possibility to perform a new tailor-made quintet written for him by Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Their relationship began after their meeting in Venice in 1932. Many works written by Mario for Segovia, starting with the variations of the same year, the Sonata (homage to Boccherini), the “Capriccio diabolico” of 1935 for solo instrument reached their peak with the concerto in D Major, last piece written before his exile, played for the first time by Segovia in Montevideo in October the 28th in 1939. Accepting the commission Mario worked swiftly and completed his task in less than one month. Let’s quote his own words “… I took at once the opportunity, and accepted the challenge! […] The combination of the guitar and string quartet creates many issues (for example, how to create a difference between the pizzicatos of the guitar and the string ones?) but I think that I managed to solve the issues: and also for this (as well as for its intimate cordiality) I consider this quintet as one of my best works. The first movement “Allegro vivo e schietto” is written in a classic sonata form creating a contrast between a dancing first theme and a second “più dolce e gentile” subtly ironical. As usual the author doesn’t really transform or opposes these elements in the development but puts them under different lights. The second movement “Andante Mesto” lyrical and very Spanish flavored (the central part bears the title “Souvenir d’Espagne”) allows a large space to the comments of the guitar, very close to a mere improvisation in contrast to the singing of the strings. The third movement “Allegro con spirito alla Marcia” is a Scherzo comprising two trios. It uses many virtuosic runs of the violins (harmonics, gettato bow strokes, fast runs and “bariolage”) while the first trio stays on the burlesque side and the second gives way to a sort of improvisation of the first violin. The fourth movement, in a Rondò form, brilliant and using a lot of counterpoint, is based on a triplet design in its main part with a folk song in the central one, then bringing us back to the Rondò refrain through a guitar cadenza while all the main themes of the work are mixed in the coda. The homage to Spain is intended not only for Segovia but also as a personal remembrance of the author’s early trip to the Iberian peninsula of 1913 which left him a very lasting impression. The first performance took place in Los Angeles with Andrès Segovia and the Paganini Quartet on the 26th of April 1951. The third string quartet op.203 “Casa al Dono” of 1964 is dedicated to the memory of B.B. (Bernard Berenson) great scholar of the Italian Renaissance, with which the author enjoyed a lasting friendship and in which Mario remembers many of the places of his youth as well as the conversations he had with Berenson in his his house, close to Vallombrosa, named “Casa al Dono”, hosting the meetings of many artists and intellectuals. Its themes were already composed in 1952 during one of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s first visits to Tuscany after the war, but the work was completed only at the end of his life as a nostalgic flashback on his early years. The first movement “Return to Vallombrosa” opens with a theme “robusto” followed by a “Più dolce e tranquillo” one. Castelnuovo-Tedesco as a child used to spend a month during the summer in this haven of freshness on the Pratomagno mountain, over 1000 meters, of which the florentines were very fond, so escaping from the city’s heat. The contrapuntal and canon answers are characteristic of the author’s style who doesn’t look for constrasts within his material but for the different shades he can project on it. The second movement “The Abbey” is a tribute to the famous worship place immersed in the woods. In a serene atmosphere the viola sings a very expressive theme while the central part gives us the impression of getting close to the monks of Vallombrosa singing their anthem “Dies Irae” then coming back to the main theme fading away towards an ethereal conclusion. The third movement  “The little train” remembers the line connecting Sant’Ellero to Saltino from 1892 to 1924 and used by the florentines to go to Vallombrosa. This short scherzo describes with a lot of humor the effort of the machine to reach the peak of the mountain. The use of pizzicatos and the shape of the themes remind of Ravel. The fourth movement “Discussion and Sunset” depicts the hot discussions he had with Berenson, animated, witty or more affectionate, concluding in a serene mode where like in many other works of Castelnuovo-Tedesco all the main themes of the work are played together as an epilogue depicting the sunset and wonderful panoramas visible from Vallombrosa. The third string quartet was performed for the first time on the 16th of may 1966 by Enzo Porta, Umberto Oliveto; violins, Emilio Poggioni; viola ad Italo Gomez; cello at the Villa “I Tatti” in Fiesole, belonging to Berenson and now hosting a foreign department of the Harvard University after it inherited it from Berenson. It was played anew by the Mark Rothko Ensemble in October 2021 in Gorizia as part of the “Viktor Ullmann” festival.

    Benjamin Bernstein © 2023


    Vincenzo Sandro Brancaccio: Vincenzo Sandro Brancaccio is a classical guitarist from Napoli, the city where he had his musical formation with the world famous concertist Aniello Desiderio. Awarded as young talent of guitar at the age 15, he graduated in 2005 at conservatorio "Sala" in Benevento. In 2008 he was awarded with scholarship "Stipendium fur Kammermusik" at the Koblenz International Guitar Academy, where he continued his studies and graduated in 2010 with a brilliant execution of “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie, performed during the festival days. In 2014 he graduated with honors in guitar teaching at Conservatorio "Tartini" in Trieste. He had the opportunity to attend masterclasses with Hubert Kappel, Zoran Dukic, Carlo Marchione, Alvaro Pierri, Pepe Romero, John Dearman and many more world famous musicians.
    Has won over ten awards at both national and international competitions in the course of his career, and has predominantly performed as a soloist in Italy and abroad, including concerts for TV channels such as Sky cinema, Rai sat and BRTK, which attained him acclaim from both the audience and the critics alike.
    For BRTK, the Sanatin Sesi TV show produced two reports on his participation in the NEU international guitar festival 2017 and 2018, broadcasting the concerts and masterclasses he held at the University of Nicosia with over 20 reruns.

    The Mark Rothko Ensemble was founded in 2011 by some of north Italy’s finest chamber musicians.
    Its goal is to promote the rediscovery of lesser known repertoire from string duets to string sextets, especially of the first half of the twentieth century.
    Its components have performed Worldwide as soloists, chamber or orchestra musicians.
    Carlo Lazari and Valentino Dentesani violins, Benjamin Bernstein viola and Marianna Sinagra cello have been principals in most of Italy’s leading orchestras (Teatro Verdi di Trieste, Arena di Verona, La Fenice di Venezia, Toscanini di Parma, La Scala di Milano) as well as abroad (São Paulo symphony orchestra, Israel philharmonic orchestra).
    They have widely performed in chamber music festivals in their home country as well as producing albums dedicated to Mendelssohn, Villa Lobos, Castelnuovo Tedesco and soon Weigl.


    Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (b Florence, 3 April 1895; d Beverly Hills, CA, 16 March 1968). Italian composer, pianist and writer on music.