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ClassicsOnline Home » PILATI, M.: Piano Quintet / LONGO, A.: Piano Quintet (Ciccolini, Circolo Artistico Ensemble)
This release champions two relatively unknown Neapolitan composers. Mario Pilati’s style was described by musicologist Gianandrea Gavazzeni as “southern Baroque, full of songlike whims and lively impulses”, and the rhythmically vital and deeply expressive Piano Quintet of 1927–28 is one of his most important early pieces. Pianist Aldo Ciccolini was one of Achille Longo’s favourite pupils as a child, and his close association with the healthily eclectic Quintet brings a special warmth to its rich timbres and joyously refined nuances. The Circolo Artistico Ensemble specialises in the revival of the unpublished work of Italian composers.
Mario Pilati (1903–1938)
Piano Quintet in D major (1927–28)
Mario Pilati was born in Naples in 1903 and was sent by his parents to a commercial school, where he qualified as a bookkeeper. He had studied Latin and Greek on his own, however, and had also started composing music. This allowed him at the age of fifteen to enter the composition class of the Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella, after a short period of study at the Naples Liceo Musicale. His teacher Antonio Savasta recognised Pilati’s natural talent, the cause of envy in his fellow students, who frequently teased him, calling him a revolutionary. His outstanding gifts also drew the attention of the director of the Conservatory, Francesco Cilea, who did much to encourage him. At the age of nineteen Pilati was awarded his composer’s diploma summa cum laude and was shortly afterwards appointed as a teacher in the composition class of the Conservatory of Cagliari. In 1925, on the advice of Pizzetti, he decided to move to Milan, a musical capital that would eventually suit better his taste and ambitions, but not without enormous initial difficulties. In Milan Pilati survived as an arranger of vocal scores for Casa Ricordi, as a teacher and as a music critic. He also gave private lessons in composition and Gianandrea Gavazzeni was among his pupils. Gradually his works came to be performed and appreciated and to win awards in Italy, with the Piano Quintet in D from 1927–28, the most important from his earlier works, exemplifying his most personal style. His name became known to leading musicians of the time, such as Ottorino Respighi, Alfredo Casella, Arturo Toscanini, Mario Rossi, Franco Capuana, Victor de Sabata and Dimitri Mitropoulos, and he was admitted to the Biennale, the prestigious Venice festival of modern music. Three important companies, Casa Ricordi, Fratelli Curci and Carisch started publishing and promoting his works.
In 1930 Pilati accepted appointment as a professor of counterpoint at the Conservatory which he had left less than a decade earlier, returning to his beloved Naples, which now furnished him with all the necessary musical inspiration. In 1933 he was nominated a professor in composition at the Conservatory of Palermo and, in 1938, again in Naples. He held this final position only a few months: the fatal illness, which had been diagnosed two years earlier, had reached its final stage. He succumbed to it on 10 December, dying at the age of 35.
The general neglect of Pilati’s music may be explained by his early death, before much exposure outside Italy, and by the fact that his promoters were confronted by more modern tendencies and by the outbreak of World War II. After the war many earlier musical trends suddenly seemed outdated. Pilati’s promoters had also had to overcome their own problems. Pizzetti, in the composer’s obituary (published in the December 1930 issue of La Tribuna), praised Pilati as one of the purest, noblest and most generous among the younger musicians of Italy. “I admired his principles”, he wrote, “his qualities as a teacher, and he could be an example through his love for art and enthusiasm for every work of beauty.” (La Tribuna, December 1930) Yet Pizzetti’s words seem little more than a mockery, with no mention of Pilati as a great composer. Pilati himself had been a great admirer of Pizzetti, especially of his opera Fedra and there are traces of homage to Pizzetti among his earlier works. It was Pizzetti who had found Pilati a job and some connections in Milan, but his later attitude illustrates one aspect of this composer’s unfortunate destiny.
Pilati was about a quarter of a century younger than Respighi, Pizzetti, Malipiero and Casella, the so-called Generazione degli Ottanta (Generation of the Eighties) who, in those years, dominated the musical life of Italy. He belonged to the generation of such disparate personalities as Goffredo Petrassi, Luigi Dallapiccola, Giovanni Salviucci, Vittorio Rieti, Virgilio Mortari, Giacinto Scelsi and Nino Rota, composers followed some ten years later by revolutionaries such as Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono. Pilati’s music seems like a cross-over between neo-classicism, post-impressionism and modern tendencies, but by simply using these terms we try to categorize him, which luckily is impossible, since he died too young to allow us a complete overview of his work. Doubtless there would have been more surprises and more exciting music, if he had lived longer. Nevertheless his output over a period of only eighteen years is already full of surprises and of great maturity, leading the present writer not to hesitate in regarding him as a genius.
The list of Pilati’s compositions is quite large for such a short period of time. His orchestral works include the Concerto for Orchestra (1931–32), Three Pieces for Orchestra (1929) and Suite for Strings and Piano (1925), recorded on Naxos 8.570873, as well as shorter pieces, including Sei Bagatelle (Six Bagatelles) for chamber orchestra, published in 1940, the orchestral Preludio, Aria e Tarantella of 1937, and Quattro canzoni popolari italiane (Four Italian Folk-songs), for small orchestra, from the same year. His chamber works include the magnificent Piano Quintet in D from 1927–28, a String Quartet (1931), a Flute Sonata (1926), and Sonatas for violin and for cello, both from 1930, and various smaller pieces. A dozen pieces, some orchestrated later, and a series of transcriptions of Paganini’s Capricci make up the series of piano works. There are also about forty compositions for solo voice or vocal ensemble, including songs with piano and with orchestra, madrigals and other choral works a cappella, with piano or orchestral accompaniment. A series of transcriptions of works by Bach and Scarlatti and harmonizations of Italian folk-songs may also be mentioned. The almost exclusive use of popular poetry from Southern Italy, or modern poetry inspired by it are testimony of the composer’s deep interest in and love for the culture of his native region. Two years before his death, Pilati had started working on an opera entitled Piedigrotta, based on a libretto in Neapolitan dialect, concerning a Meistersinger-like song contest between different quarters of the city of Naples. Unfortunately only the first act of this work was completed. Last but not least, Pilati can be considered the only great composer to rouse the city of Pergolesi and Scarlatti from a slumber of nearly two centuries, a reawakening that it may be hoped a renewed knowledge of Pilati’s music may accomplish.
(edited by Keith Anderson)
Today, in the here and now, performing or listening to the music of Mario Pilati means rediscovering his freedom of outlook. Today, we can look back at Pilati’s day, a period in which his star shone brightly but all too briefly, with the benefit of hindsight, of knowing what has happened in the world of music since then—now, in short, that it is no longer important to know what language to use, but how to use it.
Gianandrea Gavazzeni was among the first to take a critical interest in Pilati’s music. In a tribute he wrote in 1939, soon after the composer’s death, he used a particular phrase to define his music, one which has since become something of a touchstone when discussing Pilati’s music: “A southern Baroque [style] full of song-like whims and lively impulses”—an image primarily concerned with trying to find the historical roots of the instrumental music whose powerfully innovative quality was establishing itself in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s. There is something else, something more, however, which prevents us from reducing a creative experience such as this to its local, geographical dimension: during that same period, so important for post-Puccinian Italian music, the idea of the individuality of the composer was beginning to reassert itself.
The Quintet in D demonstrates an inspired familiarity with the most significant experiments of the time, particularly in its deliberate prioritisation of the rhythmic element throughout. The urgency of the writing takes us straight to the heart of the music, as if the music itself were already there and we, the audience, were coming in to pick up the threads of an ongoing conversation, and to be captivated by its tonal and atmospheric variety.
Pilati’s music can be violent at times, as shown by the opening of the second movement: an episode of memorable quality. He goes for percussive pianism, favouring sonorities which have no qualms about taking the instruments to the verge of a rough, jagged expressiveness. Bartók would have loved this sense of violence, sounds which certainly cannot be resolved in a Neo-classical, late-Impressonistic dimension. If anything, what emerges here is a fauvist Pilati, clearly aware of a classical formal solidity which can now only be used in quotations or allusions, not as a path to be followed in the future.
The Neapolitan composer was a master in the art of versatile and surprising instrumental dialogue, thanks to his highly unsettling use of dynamic relationships and expressive effects between the different lines, and the intense, theatrical disorientation created by his transformations of the dominant, recurring motif. This music tells not one, single story, but many stories simultaneously, on multiple, Pirandellian levels. It frequently resorts not to song, but to uproar, not to long panning shots but to the sudden violence of close-ups in sound or narrative. And the editing of these sequences defies our expectations, so that just as the sense of anxiety is subsiding, hints appear suggesting that it will not be long before this island is once again submerged. The formal structure of the final movement, the brief and open-ended coda, is exemplary in its exposition and controlled tension.
The Circolo Artistico Ensemble restores to the score its original scale and significance, still valid today: clearly its rediscovery is long overdue.
English translation by Susannah Howe
Achille Longo (1900–1954)
Piano Quintet (1934)
During the years of Fascist rule, Italy was, officially at least, dedicated to celebrating nationalistic ideals and warning against their contamination by modernist or foreign influences. Happily, Achille Longo departed from the norm, keeping himself equidistant from all existing stylistic trends or schools of thought, to his creative benefit. Pianist Aldo Ciccolini, as a young child one of Longo’s favourite pupils, has emphasized just how difficult it is to find a direct frame of reference for the Neapolitan composer. This, in an economic and cultural context chronically inclined to seek reassurance in labels and brands, has played a part in sidelining his music, despite the interest to be found in his well-structured catalogue.
The Quintet dates from 1934 and represents one of the composer’s most successful incursions into the world of chamber music—these were few and far between, adding even greater value to the best among them. The writing is dense, its melodic invention remarkably fresh in inspiration. As a whole, the piece achieves a fine balance between a misleading informality (in the Hausmusik sense of the term) and the rigour to be found in its meticulous attention to detail and characterized throughout by tasteful and personal nuances. The Quintet tells us something of the composer’s curiosity about and awareness of the new music of the twentieth century: the unpretentious prominence given to timbre, for example, or the choice of rhythms which, especially in the finale, begin to venture into the realm of jazz (a choice that may be deliberate or the result of a French influence)—such elements reveal a healthy open-mindedness in this musician and teacher. As for the idiom adopted, it is clear that here, as elsewhere, Longo does not reject the teaching bequeathed by tradition, or, therefore, established formal models. These are neither slavishly imitated, however, nor reduced to the status of quotations, but seen as internal points of reference around which to develop an original discourse. In the sense, above all, that the phrasing benefits from a certain sophisticated imprecision, enjoyable in expressive terms but achieved by means of a strictly rational musical elaboration, it seems legitimate to talk about the work’s modernity.
In 1934, the year in which the Quintet was written, Longo was 34 and Ciccolini only nine. Exceptionally, he had just been given special permission to study composition at the Naples conservatory by its director, Francesco Cilea, thanks to an application submitted by Longo himself. “He was my spiritual father,” the pianist recalls today. “Everything I know about music, I learned from him.” He adds, “Not long after we met, Longo began work on the Quintet: it’s a piece I love, partly because I was there at its birth…” This is just one more reason to enjoy this recording—one born of love, not just academic interest.
English translation by Susannah Howe
The son and pupil of the pioneering Scarlatti editor Alessandro Longo, Achille Longo, named after his composer grandfather, was born in Naples in 1900. After earlier lessons with his father, he studied with Antonio Savasta at the Naples Conservatory, qualifying in piano, organ and composition, as his father had done before him. He soon abandoned a concert career in favour of teaching, journalism and composition. From 1926 to 1930 he taught counterpoint and harmony at the Conservatory and between 1931 and 1933 taught at the Parma Conservatory. From 1934 to 1940 he taught counterpoint and fugue in Naples, and from then until his death in 1954, composition. He served as a music critic for a number of publications and, unlike his father, did much to promote contemporary music. As a composer he wrote vocal, orchestral and chamber music, and contributed a number of film scores, including music for Giorgio Simonelli’s 1943 film Non mi muovo!, with Eduardo, Peppino and Titina De Filippo, and Luigi Chiarini’s last film, Patto con il diavolo, with a cast that included Ave Ninchi.
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PILATI, M.: Piano Quintet / LONGO, A.: Piano Quint...