Felice Lattuada: Violin Sonatas, 12 Piano Preludes


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    The rediscovery of nearly forgotten composers of the recent past is a praiseworthy undertaking, not only for the respect and veneration we owe to those who preceded us, but also for our own sake. Very frequently, their oeuvre includes small gems, absolutely worth unearthing, and which were wrongly put aside in the name of modernism. Frequently, a generation rebels against that preceding it, and, by denying its aesthetic (or moral) ideals, virtually condemns to oblivion the works representing them. In this fashion, the good is buried along with the bad; and it is the next generation’s task that of letting the good emerge once more. And this is the case with the composer presented in this Da Vinci Classics album and the works recorded here.
    Felice Lattuada belongs in the so-called “Generation of the Eighties”: a number of Italian composers – among whom celebrated names such as those of Casella, Respighi, Pizzetti – who were born in the 1880s and whose output presents some shared elements. Their generation came after that of the great operatic composers, and had to find a new language of its own, as well as, most importantly, new contents to express through it. This task was not eased by the cultural, social, and geo-political context; these musicians lived World War I in their thirties, and then had to face the rise of fascism, followed, twenty years later, by World War II. They had grown up, musically, in the idiom of late-Romantic Italian belcanto: long melodies, moderate chromaticism, luscious orchestration. But all this seemed singularly out of tune when the carnage of World War I, the brutality of fascism, and the impossible violence of World War II erupted. It was very difficult, if not impossible, for them to reinvent entirely their idiom in order to express these tragedies – following Adorno’s famous sentence, “To write poetry [or to compose “beautiful music”, we could add] after Auschwitz is barbaric”. Thus, some of them simply reverted to styles and gestures of the musical (distant) past, gazing with nostalgia to the carefree and nonchalant eighteenth-century society.
    The musical language of Felice Lattuada actually embodies such an itinerary. In his youthful years, he sought a Verist idiom, trying, in other words, to represent life’s “truth” and its tragedies without embellishing it. But this could work only when these tragedies could be considered as “minor catastrophes”; when the tsunami of World War I devasted an entire civilization and its values, it was nearly impossible to find a voice for singing it. Thus, along with other great artists, Lattuada preferred to seek order and composure in the harmony of music, as expressed by those who lived in more intelligible times.
    Lattuada was born on February 5th, 1882, near Milano, in Caselle di Morimondo, a tiny village he fondly mentioned at the very beginning of his autobiography. His parents were both teachers, and he was channeled into a similar career; at 22, Felice – already a primary school teacher – obtained a prestigious post in the capital city of Lombardy, Milan.
    He had breathed music since his early childhood; his father was an amateur musician and an appreciated organist playing at the services of the local churches. And, probably, the love for music became increasingly compelling for Felice, who took the opportunity of his appointment in Milan to undertake a serious education as a musician there. He was already 23 when he underwent his first formal examinations, but evidently he had both talent and determination: daringly, he left his teaching post in order to devote himself entirely to his musical studies. Such was the intensity of his involvement, that he accomplished in just four years (1907-11) the course of composition, which normally took ten years to complete. In the following decade, he acquired increasing fame as a composer, and gained the admiration and approval of several important performers and composers of the era. In particular, a great musician who evidently looked with great favour to his oeuvre was Alberto Poltronieri, one of the most important Italian violinists of his generation, a famous pedagogue, and the first violin of the eponymous Quartet, one of the pillars of the newly reborn Italian instrumental culture.
    Different from other composers of his generation, however, who turned their attention entirely to this rediscovery and dissemination of instrumental and chamber music, Lattuada was by no means against the great Italian operatic tradition; instead, he wished to be part of it, with the novelty of his own language and perspective but without denying its grandeur. Thus it came to be that some of Lattuada’s most successful works were in the field of opera. His debut took place on Nov. 23rd, 1922, with an opera on a subject drawn from Shakespeare’s Tempest, premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme of Milan. His librettist was Arturo Rossato, with whom Lattuada frequently cooperated in further productions. The reception of this first opera was generally good, even though some critics expressed perplexities on both the libretto and its musical setting. In spite of this, the opera was published by the major Italian companies (Ricordi and Sonzogno) and would be honoured by performances at La Scala in 1942 and at the RAI in 1961. His second opera, Sandha, was less successful, while Lattuada’s debut at La Scala took place in 1929 with Le preziose ridicole, a short one-act opera on a subject by Molière, and with a pleasant rococo setting. Further theatrical works included a Don Giovanni (which was awarded a prize by the Ministry of Education), La caverna di Salamanca (1938) and Caino (1957). In his late years, Lattuada would also successfully try his hands at the composition of film music, particularly writing the scores for movies directed by his son Alberto.
    The pairing of opera and film music reveals Lattuada’s penchant for “visualizing” music and joining it with non-aural suggestions (literary or pictorial). This emerges clearly also from the selection of chamber music works presented in this Da Vinci Classics album. Here, quintessentially “classical” forms, and genres typical for the so-called “absolute music”, coexist (in the same work!) with indications revealing extra-musical suggestions.
    Lattuada’s Violin Sonata belongs in a series of coeval masterpieces for violin and piano, with which it fully stands comparison, but against which it also displays important differences marking its originality. His Violin Sonata has in fact some elements of polystylism, but they are successfully integrated and merged with each other; the impression is not that of an artificial pastiche, but rather that of a masterly command over a varied and composite language. In particular, Lattuada surprisingly manages to integrate trends whose aesthetic orientation is deeply inhomogeneous, such as a late-Romantic Verist nuance and an Impressionist vague, reminiscent of (and indebted to) Debussy.
    A similar reconciliation of opposites characterizes the overall aesthetic plan of the Sonata, which unites the classical Sonata form and its structure with an extra-musical content, i.e. absolute with program music. All three movements, in fact, bear suggestive titles, referring to the spheres of temporality (Giovinezza [Youthfulness]), spatiality (Nostalgia del mare [Longing for the Sea]), and psychology (I primi sogni di gloria [First dreams of glory]). Chronology is subverted, inasmuch as the composer’s present (his youthful age) is followed by a gaze backwards implying nostalgia, and by one forward, directed to his hopes for a shining future.
    In the first movement, the brio and elan are intended to evoke Lattuada’s feelings at that particular stage of life. True, for people of his generation being 35 was considered as beyond the boundaries of youthfulness; still, Lattuada was musically young, since he was a latecomer in the field of professional musicianship, and, at 35, he was still feeling the thrill and excitement of the discovery of an unknown field.
    His life experiences surface also in the second movement, which touchingly evokes the composer’s first, belated encounter with the magnificence of sea. Being endowed with little means, he could not see the sea until adulthood; the choice of taking a train from Milan to Genoa, in order to contemplate the beauty of sea, was almost the composer’s response to an inner calling. It also represented, for him, a symbol for his diving into the unknown when he left the certainty of a State job for the uncertainty of the musical career.
    The third movement poignantly represents the composer’s striving for glory, with an optimistic, joyful and energetic drive, translating into a movement with considerable liveliness and brio.
    The Debussyan influence observed in the poetic representation of water in the second movement characterizes also the twelve Preludes for the piano recorded here. Debussy had been pointed out to Lattuada by his composition teacher Ferroni, who considered the French musician as a model to be respected and admired. Indeed, there are multiple echoes from Debussy’s works in this collection, which includes exotically titled pieces (and exoticism was a typical trait for much of Debussy’s oeuvre), a Cathedral which seems reminiscent of Debussy’s Cathédrale engloutie, a snowy panorama (Nevicata, perhaps alluding to Des pas sur la neige), as well as other pieces where the homage to Debussy is more veiled and restrained.
    This album also includes the single-movement Sonata in D major, written for a Conservatory examination and premiered, in that academic context by Alberto Poltronieri (who would also premiere the E-minor Sonata, ten years later), and the touching Romanza senza parole.
    This Sonata is a true discovery, a gem which has been unearthed just for this recording; not only it lacks previous recordings, but was even neglected in the catalogue of the composer’s works and in the existing musicological literature. It is therefore an absolute rarity, but one which is fundamental in order to fully understand the personality of its composer and his artistic itinerary.
    In Lattuada’s Romanza, the suggestion from the world of singing becomes even more transparent, and this piece can be fruitfully compared with others by coeval composers (see Da Vinci Classics CD 0688).
    Together, these works constitute a valuable testimony of the worth and talent of an important Italian composer, and open the way for a thorough rediscovery of his oeuvre and aesthetics.
    Chiara Bertoglio © 2023


    , pianist and teacher, graduated in piano in 2010 with full marks and honors at the “G. Cantelli” of Novara under the guidance of V. Cerutti and in 2013, she obtained the II Level Academic Diploma in piano with full marks and honors under the guidance of L. Schieppati. She attended piano interpretation and chamber music specialization courses with P. Masi at the Accademia Musicale in Florence and M. Ancillotti at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano. In 2021 she obtained the II Level Academic Diploma in jazz piano with O. Del Barba (Conservatory "G. Verdi" in Milan). She won various chamber music competitions including the VII National Prize of the Arts, the "Nuovi Orizzonti" Competition in Arezzo, the "Città di Riccione" Competition, the "Gaetano Zinetti" Competition in Sanguinetto, the "Antonio Bertolini Prize", the Competition of the Humanitarian Society of Milan, the "Luigi Nono" Competition of Venaria and others. In Italy she has played for some of the most prestigious music festivals: Accademia Filarmonica Romana, Palazzo Reale in Genova, Palazzo Cavagnis in Venice, Serate Musicali, Piano City, Spazio Teatro '89 and the People's Theater in Milan, Sala Vanni in Florence, Conservatory of Italian-speaking Switzerland, the University of Genoa, the “Alfieri” Theater in Turin, the Magenta Opera House, the Tallone Hall in Orta San Giulio, the Government Palace in Trieste, the Zacco Palace in Piacenza, the Capitanata Courts in Foggia, the Mauriziano of Reggio Emilia, Teatro Nuovo of Verona and others. She also often performs abroad: you have played in Budapest, Eger, Pecs, Marseille, Zagreb, Cologne, Athens, Valletta, Amsterdam.

    Since 2014, the duo Gjikondi – Canale has successfully tackled the great literature for violin and piano and has carried out research in less explored repertoires, including that of Balkan composers and the chamber production of Felice Lattuada. The work on Lattuada's production began in February 2019 with the interpretation of the Sonata in E minor for violin and piano, of the 12 Preludes for piano and the world premiere of the "Romanza" for violin and piano. At the GATM International Conference in Rimini on 30 October 2021 they presented the world premiere of Felice Lattuada's Sonata in D major for violin and piano, unknown so far to the public and to musical literature.

    Pirro Gjikondi, violinist and teacher, graduated in violin with honors in Durres (Albania). He continued his studies in Italy with O. Scilla, D. Gay and C. Barbagelata at the “G. Verdi” Conservatory, where he brilliantly obtained the II Level Academic Diploma in Violin, later perfecting himself with F. Gulli in Novara and S. Accardo in Cremona. He was a member of the Milan Symphony Orchestra “G. Verdi”, with which he has performed under the guidance of famous conductors such as V. Delman, R. Muti, C. M. Giulini, R. Chailly, G. Pretre, A. Francis, D. Gatti, M. Rostropovich and others. For more than twenty years he has been collaborating with the "Pomeriggi Musicali" Foundation in Milan. He takes part in various concert seasons in Italy (Lago D'Orta Chamber Music Festival and the chamber music seasons of the Vigevano and Piacenza Foundation) and abroad (the Ljubljana Festival, the "Mozartsaal Wiener Konzerthaus” in Vienna and the “Kammermusiksaal of the Berliner Philharmoniker”). As a soloist he has performed in various halls and theaters including: the “Ponchielli" in Cremona, "Cagnoni" in Vigevano, Verdi hall of the Milan Conservatory, "San Dionigi" auditorium in Vigevano interpreting the most important pages of the violin repertoire, including the concert in E minor by F. Mendelssohn the concert in G major by Bruch. In the field of musical analysis studies, he obtained the 1st level Master's Degree in Analysis and Music Theory at the University of Calabria with full marks with the thesis: "The Sonata for violin and piano by Felice Lattuada (1919): analysis and reflections on style and interpretation”. Since 2018 he has been a member of the GATM (Analysis and Music Theory Group) with which he collaborates by participating as a speaker in International Conferences (Rimini 2021 and Salerno 2022). He plays the violin "Antonio Sgarbi 1891" which belonged to the famous piedmontese violinist Teresina Tua (1866 - 1956) and the violin "Roberto Collini 2007".


    Felice Lattuada
    (b Caselle di Morimondo, nr Milan, 5 Feb 1882; d Milan, 2 Nov 1962). Italian composer. He embarked on a teaching career in primary schools in Milan and was at first self-taught musically, but in 1907 he entered the Milan Conservatory where he studied composition with V. Ferroni, graduating in 1912. In 1928 his opera Don Giovanni won the Concorso Nazionale della Pubblica Istruzione, judged by Alfano, Casella, Gasco and Mascagni. He was director of the Civica Scuola di Musica in Milan from 1935 to 1962. From his earliest works Lattuada showed a preference for a musical idiom deriving from late-Romantic tradition. In his theatre music his style remains close to verismo and is often emphatic, as Riccardo Allorto observed (Ricordiana, 1957) about his opera Caino. In his orchestral and chamber music his position as a follower of existing trends is confirmed by the Sinfonia romantica of 1912, his String Quartet, which won the Concorso Certani in Bologna in 1918, and his Violin Sonata, all works of a strongly lyrical, expressive character. The subjects and rhetorical tone typical of Italian music between the wars are exemplified by such works as the symphonic poem La consacrazione del bardo (1931) and the Canto augurale per la Nazione eletta for tenor, chorus and orchestra (1933) on D’Annunzio’s lauda dedicated to Mussolini. Lattuada’s son Alberto (b 1914) is a well-known film director and their collaboration, developed during the 1940s, led to a large number of soundtracks, in which the composer’s style frequently diverges from the director’s innovative approach.