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ClassicsOnline Home » GHEDINI, G.F.: Piano Music (Complete), Vol. 1 (Bianchi)
It was not until his fifties that the fiercely independent Giorgio Federico Ghedini came to be acknowledged as one of the finest Italian composers of the 20th century. This first of Naxos’s two-disc survey of Ghedini’s complete piano music begins with the fresh and spontaneous early works composed between 1908 and 1916. These world première recordings use manuscript sources donated to the Conservatory of Turin by the composer’s daughter Maria Grazia Ghedini, who writes “As I listened to these pieces being played by Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi, I was reminded of something my father once said: ‘This is my credo: music is not a passing fashion, it is everlasting…As society becomes ever more technical, there is a great need for genuine sentiment, which is why music too must be animated, at its core, by a dramatic, romantic impulse…only thus can all its magic be conveyed.’”
By Robert R. Reilly
Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892–1965)
Complete Piano Music • 1
Giorgio Federico Ghedini was born on 11 July 1892 in Cuneo, his father, a civil engineer (and fervent admirer of Wagner), having moved there from Bologna. He began his musical studies at a very young age with Evasio Lovazzano, a highly respected teacher and organist. In 1905 he moved to Turin, where he studied the cello with Samuele Grossi at the Liceo Musicale, and composition and harmony privately with Giovanni Cravero. In 1911 he graduated in composition from the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, then under the directorship of Marco Enrico Bossi. Over the next few years Ghedini conducted opera seasons in various northern Italian cities and gained further experience as assistant conductor at Turin’s Teatro Regio, but he soon decided to devote himself to composing. His teaching career also began at this time, and in 1922 he joined the staff of the Liceo in Turin, where, over time, he was promoted to increasingly more prestigious positions. The Liceo had a vibrant, stimulating atmosphere, and some of the figures he met during his time there were to have a great influence on his work (Guido Maggiorino Gatti, Andrea Della Corte and Romualdo Giani, among others). He went on to teach composition at the conservatories of Parma (1938 to 1941) and Milan. He was appointed director of the Milan Conservatory in 1951 and became the key architect of that institution’s rebirth after the dark years of the war. His pupils and colleagues there included some of the greatest names in Italian music of the last century: Berio, Castiglioni, Cantelli and Abbado were among the former, while Vidusso, Donatoni, Manzoni, Canino, Ballista and Giuranna were among the latter. In the meantime Ghedini’s own fame as a composer was growing—his works were now regularly issued by Italy’s major publishers and performed at home and abroad by some of the greatest musicians of the day (such as De Sabata, Karajan, Celibidache, Giulini and Cantelli). His later years were overshadowed somewhat by his bitter disputes with the avant-garde and by his unhappiness with retirement in 1962. He died in Nervi, near Genoa, on 25 March 1965.
Ghedini never adhered to one particular school, remaining “in isolation” and jealously guarding his compositional liberty, although he was always aware of musical developments around him. The only elements he took from contemporary idioms were those which would coexist with his own poetics, unconnected to any “programme”: for him, exceptional technique was always to be deployed in the service of expression. Ghedini’s models were sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury Italian composers (he created wonderful transcriptions of works by the two Gabrielis, Monteverdi and Frescobaldi), but also Bach and, his ultimate ideal, Beethoven. Given his proud independence, critical reception of his music has been somewhat mixed, swaying between praise and censure. At different points in time, Ghedini has been judged both a modernist and a conservative, and the ideological polarities of the midtwentieth century certainly did him no favours. Today, however, his production, which took in all genres and is yet to be fully explored, is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. His reputation rests principally on the Concerto dell’Albatro of 1945 and a few other oft-cited but seldom performed works, such as the Partita (1926) and Architetture (1940). Much of his music, however, merits revival, including his stage works (Maria d’Alessandria, Re Hassan, La pulce d’oro, Le baccanti, Billy Budd and Lord Inferno), those of sacred or religious inspiration (Il pianto della Madonna presso la Croce, Cantico del sole, Concerto spirituale de l’Incarnazione del Verbo Divino, Concerto funebre per Duccio Galimberti, Credo di Perugia), the evocative, highly original revisitings of earlier instrumental models (the Olmeneta, Alderina and Belprato concertos and the formidable Contrappunti for string trio and orchestra), and his consistently excellent chamber music. The recent Naxos release “Ghedini conducts Ghedini” (Naxos Historical 8.111325) is a significant step in the right direction.
Ghedini wrote his piano music over a fifty-year period (1908–1958), making it particularly useful when it comes to tracing the arc of his compositional career. This album consists exclusively of world première recordings of manuscript works preserved at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin and the Giorgio Federico Ghedini Conservatory in Cuneo (thanks here are due to Andrea Lanza and Giuseppe Giusta). Though these are early, and highly enjoyable works, they are by no means simple. They were written between 1908 (when the composer was only sixteen and still at school) and 1916, when he was still torn between composing and a more promising career as a conductor. These pieces also underline his independence from any school or trend: his gaze is fixed firmly on the past, his aim to assimilate the pianistic secrets of the Romantics, while keeping Bach very much in mind as well—not to imitate them, but to acknowledge their lessons in a fresh and spontaneous way. This particular focus is new and unexpected: Ghedini, in declaring his predilection for the composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (“our blood, our spirits, homebred”), claimed to have “skipped nineteenth-century Germany entirely” (in his Notes for an autobiography). In the light of his juvenile piano production, this claim appears to be completely untrue. We also need to correct the critical judgement that until the 1920s Ghedini’s works had no clearly defined character of their own. While it may still be experimental in nature, the composer’s voice emerges quite clearly from these early works, as demonstrated, for example, by the adagios that seem to “dissolve” into timbral haloes, as if even then sound colour were a definitive element of his music.
The Mazurka, dated “Turin, 10 June 1908”, is dedicated to his friend Ludwig Valter, and is the earliest of Ghedini’s piano works to have survived. Clearly indebted to Chopin, it is in ternary form and attests the composer’s deftness and sense of formal awareness even at this stage of his career.
The 29 Canoni were written between December 1909 and May 1910, when Ghedini was studying harmony and counterpoint. That might lead us to see them as exercises in the most rigorous form of imitation rather than as a complete cycle, and yet they are surprisingly successful: while they do indeed explore the huge potential of canonical writing, the overall work is sustained by a constant inventivity. The highly polished writing is married, in some of the canons, to an unusual expressiveness, with quasi-dramatic touches, anticipating what many years later would be defined as the “demone sonoro ghediniano”, or genius for tone colour (cf Canons 16, 19, 22 and 23, for example). Handwritten notes on the autograph score suggest that the composer had a concert performance in mind for these pieces.
The next piece is the Tema con variazioni sulla parola «Fede» (Theme and variations on the word “Fede”, 1911). Although “fede” in Italian means “faith”, there is no religious significance here—it is simply the diminutive of Federico, and corresponds to the notes F, E, D and E. The music is built around this theme, which is intoned in a somewhat melancholy manner, then subjected to four dazzling and harmonically sophisticated variations, with Schumannesque echoes.
The following miniatures—the waltz La ballerina del Circo equestre che salta sulla corda (The Skipping Circus Dancer), the Minuetto del galletto nano (The Bantam Cock’s Minuet) and the Gavotta—were composed in Cuneo in the summer of 1912 at a get-together with friends. They reveal a lesser-known side of Ghedini, his affability and sense of humour, strange in a composer famous for his depiction of icy, metaphysical landscapes. Listen out for the “difficult moment” (as it is marked in the manuscript) when we hold our breath, afraid the dancer is about to fall, for the crowing of the bantam cock and for the Gavotta’s delightfully carefree Musette¹ section.
All of the Nove pezzi (Nine Pieces), written between 1913 and 1914, remained unpublished except the Tempo di Valzer (Waltz Time) which was issued after winning a composition competition organized by the journal La Riforma Musicale. The set opens with a sorrowful Elegia, then continues with a Quasi scherzo with sognanti harmonies; these are followed by Alla ritornello, characterized by pastoral dance movements, and a delicate Notturno. Next come the lively Pagina d’Album in ternary form and Arabesca, this latter almost a rhapsody alternating rapid arpeggios with a chromatic ostinato motif. The final three pieces are the “soft, caressing” Tempo di Valzer, a wild and frantic Umoresca, and the Preludio alla fantasia, with virtuosic writing (featuring rapid passages in octaves and alternating double notes) in which two intense, recitative-like Adagios are set within a sweeping, Brahmsian Allegro vivo e con fuoco.
Bringing this album to a close is the Minuettocaricatura of 1916, dedicated to Ferruccio Negrelli, the pianist and conductor who two years later became his brother-in-law (Ghedini married Negrelli’s sister Laura). This piece is unusual for its dreamy progression and for intelligent rhythmic solutions which call Gershwin to mind. The minuet is marked “comically sentimental”, a reference which is lost on us today but must have meant something to the composer and dedicatee, while the trio plays on a series of repeated staccato notes. The ending is somewhat enigmatic, another token of Ghedini’s aforementioned sense of humour.
– Flavio Menardi Noguera
Translation by Susannah Howe
¹ Ghedini wrote the following on the manuscript: “The Musette mimics the rustic bagpipes played by shepherds in the mountains. The shepherds wear skins to protect them from the cold…These are then used to make fur coats, much loved by the fair sex, and especially by the Signorina to whom this merry piece is dedicated. That’s why I wanted to include a musette within the gavotte!…”
“As I listened to these pieces being played by Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi, I was reminded of something my father once said: “This is my credo: music is not a passing fashion, it is everlasting…As society becomes ever more technical, there is a great need for genuine sentiment, which is why music too must be animated, at its core, by a dramatic, romantic impulse… only thus can all its magic be conveyed.”
– Maria Grazia Ghedini
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