Notte: Solo Harp Nocturnal Works of the 20th Century


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    Night, darkness, the unknown. Besides the natural fear they evoke in a child’s mind, these elements always subtly fascinated me. In this sense, the tales by Poe and Lovecraft were the initiation texts of my adolescence, when my passion/obsession for the harp also emerged. Since I always considered as limiting the symbolic elements attributing to this instrument qualities such as sweetness, grace, femininity, I often thought that I would like to create a project where the harp’s expressive potential could be united to a nocturnal dimension. This is as close to my feeling as it is far from those clichés.
    As I was always detached from banality and conformism, I grew increasingly interested in the aesthetic and mindset characterizing the Symbolist current: “Music is a nocturnal art, the art of dream; it rules in winter, at the time when the soul seeks refuge” (O. Redon). Thus, I favoured less obvious forms of the binomial music/night with respect to the form of the Nocturne as it was practised by Field and Chopin. “Music is by nature nocturnal; so much so, that even some ‘noon’ pieces are, under some aspects, ‘twilight’ pieces”, since “music catches that privileged movement when forms and images fall down into the indistinction of chaos”. Just as night, which “contributes to transforming every speculative problem into a lived drama” (V. Jankélévitch), music, of all arts, can represent the unconscious in the most efficacious fashion. The ineffability of musical language constitutes an ideal medium for evoking and elaborating the inner world. In this it is similar to dream which – just as daydreams – is moved by anguish and desires which are unsatisfied by reality. In the choice of the works to perform – a choice it took me ten years to perfect – I selected as my basis both the piece’s compositional qualities and their contrasting evocative features. I integrated them with elements typical for literature, visual art, psychodynamics: symbol, myth, archetype, dream, unconscious, silence, projection. The chosen works thus develop a narrative unfolding between darkness’ falling and deep night, in a dialogue between the listener’s inner dimension and the external dimension of nature and of the urban space. Music, as in general “artistic activity, if it is appreciated for its qualities of sublimation, becomes uninteresting if it expresses only the beautiful, and not enough the terrible” (J.-P. Chartier).

    By twilight [Prologo verso la notte], one leaves daily life behind. Consciousness can eventually make room for the unconscious, at the moment when senses and perceptions are remodulated and, in the psychic landscape, all becomes less defined. Night announces itself with its distinctive symbols: darkness and the moon, perceived, in myth, in its ambivalence: as a waxing moon, a shining protective Muse [Loosin yelav], and as a waning moon, a lonely woman, crazy and with an icy gaze [The waning moon]. The interpretation of the moon’s disappearance and reappearance – as death and rebirth – thus stimulates man to reflect on his own existence [Introspection]. The moon becomes intuition, light on the interior world, a vision. To the moon’s light, a shadow is juxtaposed – another self – [After the moon-viewing], while seeing the homes’ lights evokes the other, the need for sharing [Distant lights]. Daydream [Rêve d’amour] cradles desire, between passions and contrasts. Man, wriggling between what invades and what surrounds him, projects over nature his emotions [Feuille d’automne]. However, in a regressogenic process, the exterior world’s noises evoke the memory of the bogeyman [Le grand Lustucru], the persecutor who devours us. Humor [Calembredaine] thus becomes a natural defense against anguish. Instead, the feeling of guilt is inexorable [Lamentation]: the revelation that one has destroyed, due to a lack of attention or a missing act, what was loved in ourselves, in the other.
    Slumber, so long awaited, arrives, and, while offering the needed rest, it opens the doors over the unconscious through dream [Pour le tombeau d’Orphée]. Like death, it is the beginning of a new itinerary. Orpheus was able to accomplish his journey beyond death on the infernal paths, but he was dismembered by the Maenads because, having lost Euridice, he was no longer attracted by women. His head, throwed in to the Evros river together with his cithara, kept singing until it reached the island of Lesbos, becoming an oracle. Art is the symbol for immortality beyond earthly life.

    Prologo verso la notte – Prologue towards the night – , dedicated to me, has been created for this very project. The element of repetition alludes to man’s unceasing activity, which, as evening comes by, gets slower and slower until it rarefies.
    Loosin yelav is excerpted from a cycle of Folk songs arranged by Luciano Berio. Only recently did I discover that the lyrics are taken from the eponymous poem by Hakob Haghabab: “The moon rose from that mountain, from the top of that mountain, with a shiny face, a moon sea spread out on the ground. Cheers to the moon, cheers to you moon, cheers to your round fair face. The darkness did not fade away, and it didn’t fall to the ground either, haunted by moonlight, it remained in dark clouds.”
    This new version of The waning moon is the fruit of my direct cooperation with its composer. In the poem, two lines by Shelley are cited: “The moon arose up in the murky east, a white and shapeless mass”. In the eponymous poem, moon is represented as a thin dying woman, pale, crazy.
    Introspection, written a few years after the theorization of Freud’s first theories, represents, in my opinion, the psychoanalytic process. The quintuplets, almost always equal to another, are repeated in a kind of mental rumination. The theme develops in the inner voice as a narrating I which finds, time after time, some free associations. The bass’ low notes represent the containment by the therapist. In the finale, the two hands’ glissandos are indicated by the word Vision: an altered state of consciousness which allows the unconscious to surface.
    The two Haiku are made of essential musical elements, but very deep ones, just as happens to the corresponding poetic form. “After the moon-viewing, my shadow walking home along with me” (Sodō). “Distant lights; there they live this autumn night” (Buson).
    The two themes of Rêve d’amour – Love dream – stage the conflict between love desire’s sweetness and power, as well as its impossible realization. For some unexplainable reason, it is one of its composer’s less frequently performed pieces.
    Vinogradov’s Variations, rich in virtuosity and expressivity, are realized on the ancient Russian folksong Nochenka – Little night – , of whose lyrics several versions exist. “Oh, you, little night, dark night, the dark night and the autumn night. Who am I with at night, with whom am I in the fall, with whom in the rain. Oh, I’ll go. Neither father nor mother. There is only one, one sweetheart. She lives with me, but not in love”.
    Feuille d’automne – Autumn leaf – is inspired by the lines of Hugo’s La prière pour tous, which are cited on the score. “Let us pray, here comes the night! The grave and serene night! Everything suffers and everything complains. The weary nature needs sleep, prayer and love!”.
    Le grand Lustucru is an ancient French folksong, which was represented at Nazism’s ascent by Weill for his opera Marie Galante. “What is, then, in the plain, that big noise which comes to us? Sounds like chains that we drag on stones. It’s the great Lustucru which passes. It’s the great Lustucru who will eat all the children who don’t sleep. What’s that loud noise that comes all the way here from the river? Sounds like a sound of stones that we throw in a well. The angelus rings on Ballanche, a pigeon falls from the steeple, what is this noise of branches that we drag on the floor? It’s the great Lustucru that passes, and it’s me he’s looking for, me because tonight I hardly sleep, me because tonight I don’t sleep”.
    Calembredaine – foolishness, nonsense – with a tight game of rhythm and effects, is the attempt to flee fear, by exorcising it.
    Lamentation’s fiery suffering comes out from a small mourning: the death of Baron Taraky, a bullfinch, to whom the piece is dedicated. One night, Salzedo left the bird’s cage over a seemingly inactive radiator. The following morning his pet bird had therefore lost its life.
    In the finale of Pour le tombeau d’Orphée – For Orpheus’ Grave – the initial accompaniment is resumed, impressing circularity to the piece, and evoking the symbol of the uroboros: the snake biting its tail, representing eternity.
    Eternal become
    Motion immobile
    Perpetual return
    (Uroboros from Trasmutazioni, B. Grilli & G. Chiappani)
    Giuliano Marco Mattioli © 2023
    Translation: Chiara Bertoglio


    Giuliano Marco Mattioli
    Born in 1980, Giuliano Marco Mattioli began playing the harp at 18. He graduated with full marks at the “Conservatorio di musica A. Boito” in Parma in 2005; two years later he obtained a master’s degree Cum Laude in Harp Performance. He subsequently specialized in baroque and classical performance with Mara Galassi at “Scuola civica di musica C. Abbado” in Milan. Mattioli attended several masterclasses with well-renowned musicians: Mario Falcao, Alice Giles, Kumiko Inoue, Ieuan Jones, Skaila Kanga, Judith Liber, Isabelle Perrin, Fabrice Pierre, and David Watkins.
    He has been awarded first prize at many national competitions, such as “Riviera della Versilia” Camaiore, “Rotonda di S. Biagio” Monza, “Arcangelo Corelli” Riccione, “Carpineti in musica” Reggio Emilia, “Giovani arpisti” Padua, “Brahms competition” Alessandria. In 2006, he was chosen to participate at the 16th edition of the prestigious “International Harp Contest in Israel”, placing himself among the first 16 contestants. He was invited to perform in various international music festivals, such as “Festival des Arts et Vignes” Die, “La nuit aux torches” and “La nuit lyrique” Chatillon-en-Dios, “Harpae” Isolabona, “Arpa viggianese” Viggiano, “Armonie fra musica e architettura” Reggio Emilia, “Note per Lucia” Siracusa, “Dischi e tasti” Teatro alla Scala. Alongside his solo career, he proved himself an orchestral harpist of good quality, working with orchestras such as “La Verdi”, “I Pomeriggi musicali”, “Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana”, “Orchestra 1813 - Teatro Sociale of Como”, “Orchestra Sinfonica di Lecco”, “Lake Como Philharmonic Orchestra”, “Accademia orchestrale del Lario”. He performed Mozart's Concerto K299 for harp and flute with “Orchestra Guido D'Arezzo” and Debussy's Danses with “Ensemble Hornpipe”. With the theatre company “Teatro all’Improvviso” of Mantua, he premiered the show Felicità di una stella in 2008 at the “Festival du Theâtre d'Avignon”. This led to an intense tour which saw him perform in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Portugal. Mattioli began training his voice at 16, at first with the jazz singer Cristina Benefico, then with Andrea Tosoni; working on classical repertoire and technique with Arturo Testa, Annamaria Castiglioni at the Accademia di Alto Perfezionamento Musicale “Città di Castellanza” and Corrado Cappitta. Four recording projects have been completed by far: the first in 2005, Harp… and Voice; in 2009, the live album of the French tour Harpa Lyrica, followed by The harp asks pleasure first in 2017. De la musique avant toute chose..., played on a 1908 Érard harp, appeared in 2019. It is his first historically informed recording, and it contains three world premiere recordings.
    Mattioli’s passion for the harp led him to reasearch its history and construction. In 2021, he opened his own restoration and conservation workshop, focusing on historical pedal harps. He also works as a researcher and harp historian. His contribution on the relationship between the Bonaparte family and the harp maker Érard was presented in the 2021 international convention “Entre Milan et Monza: la cour napoléonienne et ses relations internationales”. In 2022, he published his essay on the most famous family of piano and harp manufacturers with Zecchini Editore: The Érard family. A historical journey through documents and musical instruments. It is the first study ever carried out by analysing the company's French and English ledgers, patents, letters and historical instruments. In 2019, during his psychoanalytic work with Paola Ferri, Mattioli started training as a psychodynamic music therapist at Centro Musicoterapico of Milan.


    Albert Heinrich Zabel
    (b Berlin, 22 Feb 1834; d St Petersburg, 16 Feb 1910). Russian harpist and composer of German birth. Through a scholarship obtained for him by Meyerbeer, he completed his education at the Berlin Institut für die Ausbildung von Organisten und Musiklehren, where he studied the harp under Ludwig Grimm. From 1845 to 1849 he played with Josef Gung’l's band in Germany, Russia, England and the USA. Returning to Europe, he was solo harpist with the Berlin Opera until 1851, and in 1855 he moved to St Petersburg to become solo harpist with the Imperial Ballet, a post which he retained for life. When Anton Rubinstein founded the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1862, Zabel was engaged as harp teacher; he was subsequently named professor in 1879 and honorary distinguished professor in 1904. Among his pupils were his daughter I. Zabel-Raschat, K. Walter-Kühne, D. Andrev, N. Amosov, I. Polomarenko and I. Pomansanski. He published a pamphlet Ein Wort an die Herren Komponisten über die praktische Verwendung der Harfe im Orchester (Leipzig, 1894), a Grosse Methode (Leipzig, 1900), a Harp Concerto in C minor op.35 (Leipzig, 1904–5) and about 40 solos and transcriptions whose brilliance assured their success.

    Salzédo [Salzedo; Salcedo], Carlos (Léon)
    (b Arcachon, 6 April 1885; d Waterville, ME, 17 Aug 1961). American harpist and composer of French birth. He graduated from the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 16, an unprecedented winner of the premier prix in two instruments. In 1909 he moved to New York, where he was engaged as the first harpist of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under Toscanini for four years. In 1913 he founded the Trio de Lutèce and in 1917 the Salzédo Harp Ensemble; he also played in and helped to found and promote other ensembles worldwide. A champion of contemporary music, he assisted Varèse in organizing the International Composers’ Guild (1921) and was active in ISCM, the New Music Society of California (under the direction of Cowell), the Pan American Association of Composers and Pro-Musica. He established the harp department at the Curtis Institute of Music (1924), founded the Salzédo Harp Colony in Camden, Maine (1931), and taught at the Juilliard School. Other activities included serving as editor of the Eolian Review (later Eolus) and president of the American Harp Society. In 1931 Lyon & Healy (Chicago) began to produce the first Salzédo Model Harps.

    Kurt Weill: (b Dessau, 2 March 1900; d New York, 3 April 1950). German composer, American citizen from 1943. He was one of the outstanding composers in the generation that came to maturity after World War I, and a key figure in the development of modern forms of musical theatre. His successful and innovatory work for Broadway during the 1940s was a development in more popular terms of the exploratory stage works that had made him the foremost avant-garde theatre composer of the Weimar Republic.

    (b Oneglia, 24 october 1925; d Roma, 27 may 2003). Italian composer. At a relatively early stage in his career, he succeeded in transcending the closed world of the European avant garde to address a wider public. The vivid, gestural idiom that he developed in the 1960s, and the creative consequences that he drew from other, often extra-musical aspects of the culture around him, established for him a world-wide reputation that has sustained his subsequent exploration of a wide, and sometimes challenging, arc of musical resources. Of formidable creative energy, he has proved one of the most prolific composers of the later 20th century.

    Marius (Hendrikus) Flothuis
    (b Amsterdam, 30 Oct 1914). Dutch composer and musicologist. After studying musicology with A. Smijers and K.P. Bernet Kempers at Amsterdam University he was assistant to the artistic director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra (1937–42). During the later years of the war he was interned in concentration camps. After the war he worked as a librarian and music critic before returning to the Concertgebouw in 1953; two years later he was appointed artistic director. In 1974 he left this post to become professor of musicology at Utrecht University until his retirement in 1982. From 1980 to 1994 he was president of the Zentralinstitut für Mozartforschung in Salzburg. Although Flothuis had no instruction in composition, in 1922 he wrote a cadenza for Haydn’s keyboard concerto in D, and this was followed by several piano pieces and an incidental score for Sophocles’ Philoktetes; all the music composed before 1934 has been withdrawn. Important works of the 1940s and 1950s include the Horn Concerto (1945), the charming Four Trifles (1948) the Sonata da Camera for flute and harp (1951) and the lyrical String Quartet no.1 (1952), winner of the Professor van der Leeuw Prize. Symfonische muziek (1957) is a brilliant score somewhat in the vein of César Franck. The first three movements are cyclical, with a single motif linking a vivid scherzo-like Allegro, a funeral march and a tempestuous Allegro agitato, while the finale is a passacaglia built on a related theme. In the symphonic song Hymnus, awarded the Johan Wagenaar Prize, Flothuis presents an accurate musical realisation of the hope and despair permeating Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem An die Sonne. Flothuis’s music is in general lyrical and intimate, tonal and extensively contrapuntal.

    McDonald, Susann
    (b Rock Island, IL, 26 May 1935). American harpist and teacher. After training in Chicago and New York, she studied from the age of 15 in Paris, at first privately with Henriette Renié, then with Lily Laskine at the Conservatoire, where she gained a premier prix in 1955. She won second prize at the first Israel International Harp Contest in 1959. Technically impeccable, she has played as a soloist in Europe, Australia, Japan, Israel and South America, as well as in the USA and Canada, and gives many masterclasses. She has recorded much of the more neglected harp repertory, and given first performances of many works composed for her, including Joseph Wagner's Fantasy Sonata, LaSalle Spier's Sonata, and Camil Van Hulse's Suite, all for solo harp. A teacher of great distinction, she succeeded Marcel Grandjany at the Juilliard School in 1975, continuing to teach there until 1985. From 1981 she also taught at Indiana University where she was chairman of the harp department and where, in 1989, she was named Distinguished Professor of Music. She has been artistic director of the World Harp Congress since its inception in 1975 and is founder and musical director of the triennial USA International Harp Competition.