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ClassicsOnline Home » SIVORI, C.: 12 Etudes-caprices / La genoise / Folies espagnoles (Luciani, Motterle)
Camillo Sivori was Paganini’s only acknowledged pupil, and a musician in his master’s mould, a virtuoso of incredible brilliance. He was also a composer of distinction. His Caprice-Studies are superbly realised examples of grace, lyricism and exceptional digital difficulty drawing on the resources of a prodigious technique. La Génoise consists of a theme and seven variations with violin and piano equal partners in a breathtaking display of brio and bravura. Folies espagnoles is a descriptive marvel, a parade of narrative ‘engravings’ that summon up Spanish sights and sounds.
Camillo Sivori (1815–1894)
12 Études-Caprices, Op 25 • La Génoise • Folies espagnoles, Op 29
“Sivori played once again, as always, some extraordinary little pieces.” (Clara Schumann, 4 November 1841)
“Sivori played once again, as always, some extraordinary little pieces.” (Clara Schumann, 4 November 1841)
“Paganini reincarnated”, “Paganini, idem et alter”, and even “Paganini without the flaws” are just some of the enthusiastic phrases applied to Camillo Sivori by European music critics during the violinistʼs lengthy tour of Austria, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Russia, France, Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands between 1841 and 1845. During his travels he met the best-known composers of the day—Mendelssohn, Schumann, Berlioz, Spohr and Thalberg—took part in hundreds of concerts, competed with other celebrated violinists—Bériot, Ernst, Ole Bull, Artôt, Alard, and Vieuxtemps—and confirmed his status as Paganiniʼs successor, at a time when memories of the great man, who had only died in 1840, were still very much alive in the musical world.
Sivori, in fact, could rightfully claim to be the “unique élève de Paganini” (Paganiniʼs only pupil). Like him, he had been born in Genoa (on 25 October 1815); he had studied with Paganiniʼs former teacher, Giacomo Costa, and later with his friend and disciple, Agostino Dellepiane and, most important of all, he had met the man himself and made such an impression that between October 1822 and May 1823 Paganini gave the young Sivori lessons. The great virtuoso wrote a number of pieces for his pupil, “to shape his spirit”, and even provided guitar accompaniment when Sivori gave private performances of these works. It was a relationship of almost parental affection and regard, as can be seen from the many mentions of “Camillino” to be found in his correspondence. When Paganini left Genoa, he continued to follow Sivoriʼs progress, recognising him as his student (“the only one who may call himself my pupil”, he wrote in 1828). Shortly before his death, he summoned Sivori and gave him a violin: a replica of his favourite Guarneri del Gesù, “Il Cannone”, made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. For their part, Sivoriʼs family fully encouraged their prodigy to follow in the Masterʼs footsteps, and he undertook his first European tour at the age of twelve (1827–28), performing in London, with Giuditta Pasta, and in Paris, where he met Rossini, Cherubini, Baillot and Kreutzer, as well as playing alongside the seventeen-year-old Liszt.
Sivoriʼs performing career lasted a good six decades, and his fame spread as far as the Americas: on tour between 1846 and 1850, he visited 67 North American cities, appearing on some occasions with the pianist Henri Herz, before travelling south to Cuba, Jamaica, Lima, Valparaíso, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. Once back in Europe, as a tireless “musical voyager”, he criss-crossed the continent from the hub of Paris, the city he had made his second home. He went to Spain and Portugal (1854–55), to Baden Baden and other summer haunts of the European aristocracy, and visited London many times (the last in 1873), as well as making appearances in Germany (1863 and 1871–73) and Russia (1875–76). Considered “one of the most astonishing concert virtuosi” (Fétis), with a “prodigious command of difficulties” (Grove), he was fêted by Berlioz, Rossini and Mendelssohn, the last entrusting him in 1846 with the English première of his Violin Concerto, Op 64.
Sivori was not acclaimed only as a great virtuoso in the Paganini mould, however, but as a talented interpreter of the Classical-Romantic repertoire, while it was still establishing itself. He had played chamber music since childhood, making his quartet début in 1834 in London, with the Queen Square Select Society. In 1843 he made a great impression in Paris, performing masterpieces by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and in 1845 and 1846 he returned to London to take part in the very first complete performance of Beethovenʼs quartets, at the home of Thomas Alsager, together with Vieuxtemps, Hill, Sainton and Rousselot. In Italy, meanwhile, he took an active rôle in the work done by various quartet societies with the aim of popularising instrumental music and, in 1876, Verdi invited him to perform in the Paris première of his E minor Quartet. Sivori was, then, a true virtuoso, cut from the same cloth as Paganini (held up by many as a matchless model). Yet he also proved himself to be a modern performer able to put himself entirely at the service of other peopleʼs music. In his case an astonishing command of technique was not just a vehicle for beguiling audiences with breath-taking displays of virtuosity, but, when required, a tool of great musical intelligence. Sivori died in Genoa on 19 February 1894.
As a composer, Sivori wrote more than sixty works that inventively marry virtuosity and melodic beauty. They include two violin concertos (1839 and 1843), numerous fantasias and bravura variations, both on themes from well-known operas by Paisiello, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Gounod, and on traditional tunes, various transcriptions and reworkings, a number of highly melodic pieces and descriptive works, and the 12 Études-Caprices for solo violin, Op 25, the complete set of which are recorded here for the first time, and which were dedicated to Sivoriʼs friend the Belgian violinist Hubert Léonard.
Capriccios are compositions characterized by showy display and a relaxed attitude to the rules of music: works in which fantasy is given free rein. In use from the sixteenth century onwards, the term was initially applied to keyboard music, then to works written for unusual instrumental groupings, before it was adopted for a number of virtuoso pieces for solo violin during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When such works were really studies aimed at developing a particular aspect of technique, they were known as “étudescaprices”, an ambivalent form in which two usually contradictory forces, technique and creativity, seek to achieve a kind of synthesis. The genre reached its apogee with Paganiniʼs 24 Capricci, Op 1, published in 1820, an extraordinary compendium of the art of the violin. The perfect combination of artistic beauty and technical challenge, these pieces spurred on the Romantics, including Schumann, Chopin and Liszt, to achieve new goals, as well as setting a benchmark for all violinists to aspire to ever since. It was inevitable that Sivori would also try his hand at the genre, even though he faced a dual challenge in exposing his music to comparison not only with Paganiniʼs masterpiece but with the works of his violinist contemporaries. The autograph of his Opus 25 has been lost, making it impossible to date the collection with any certainty: the first edition was issued in Paris in 1880, but its contents may have been composed much earlier than that. Capriccio No7, for example, had been published in 1869, and there is documentary evidence to show that some of the caprices were performed in 1860; furthermore, since as early as the 1840s, Sivori had been in the habit of giving his admirers short works entitled “Capricci” or “Capriccetti”.
With their wide-ranging inspiration and breadth of technical difficulty, the 12 Études-Caprices together form a single work representing the many different facets of the composerʼs art. The first of them is an Allegretto scherzando in C major, in which bowed demisemiquavers alternate with chords played with the bow and pizzicato together, using a complex technique which demands both decisiveness and grace from the performer. In No 2, Moderato in G major, a melancholy melody is underpinned throughout by triplets, both tune and accompaniment requiring perfect legato. No 3, Allegro in E flat major, features arpeggios, passaggi and rising and falling chromatic scales in fast-moving slurred semiquaver quadruplets, in the style of a moto perpetuo, with a central section coloured by rapid modulations. No 4, Allegretto scherzando in F major, opens with a “Paganinian” melody built on staccato notes and chords, while in another central section strongly marked by modulation, rapid demisemiquaver quadruplets alternate with dramatic chordal passages that also employ harmonics. The subsequent Andante religioso in B flat (a simplified version of which also exists for violin and organ/piano) is a study in polyphony and in triple stopping, for which Sivori uses an incredibly difficult fingering. No 6, Allegro moderato in G, is based on the alternation of staccato notes and chords with chromatic passages in sixths and thirds. No 7, Cantabile in A minor, gives the set an inspired “heart”: unsurprisingly, Sivori also published a slightly simplified version of it, entitled Adagio. There are countless challenges in this freely inspired fantasy: different bowing techniques, pizzicati, double stopping, tenths, an accompanied melody, harmonics, rapid arpeggios and demisemiquaver scales. A heart-rending melody unfolds in the middle section, introduced by a recitative and followed by a rhapsodic finale. In No 8 Maestoso (Tempo di marcia) in D, the martial element, characterized by a dotted quaver-semiquaver rhythm alternating with rapid scales, is contrasted with a polyphonic section in which two lines entwine in an accompanied melody reminiscent of both Boccherini (the Grave of the Quartet, Op 39) and Beethoven (the opening of Op 132). No 9, Allegretto in G minor, is a study in double stopping, thirds and sixths in particular, interspersed (with syncopated effects) with a bass line that at times becomes a pedal-point; the agitated finale again features the use of harmonics. No 10, Allegro in B flat minor, forms a pair with No 3 with its vertiginous moto perpetuo pace, arpeggios, scales and slurred semiquaver figures that follow on from one another without a break. No 11, Agitato in C minor, is a dramatic capriccio with an unconventional construction in which a frantic section, marked Con fuoco and energico in the score, underpinned throughout by massive, almost violent chords which are interrupted only by rapid arpeggios, gives way, in the central section, to a delicate, dreamy theme, marked dolce, embellished with trills. Towards the end, the first theme makes a reappearance, ending with a Poco più lento, but the gentler music can now be heard in among the energetic chords. No 11 would have worked well as a finale, but Sivori preferred to seal the set with an unusual piece, a study in unisons (one of the most difficult things to play on the violin), based on the elaboration of a lament-like theme. He also complicates matters in Capriccio No 12, Comodo in A major, by using an abstruse fingering in order to leave the pedal-point for the middle line, thereby achieving a very curious kind of resonance.
La Génoise, 1er Caprice, in D major, was published in 1845 but, if the label of “Op 1” is anything to go by, may well date back as far as the early 1830s. It is a composition of considerable breadth, cast in the form of a theme and seven variations. These are preceded by an Andante maestoso introduction and followed by an Andante sostenuto ed espressivo, then a Brillante finale. Unusually, between the sixth and seventh variations, there is an intense Recitativo. The most remarkable aspect of La Génoise is the perfectly balanced relationship it establishes between the violin and piano. The latter is a true co-star, its part written in concertante style, full of brio, verging at times on pathos. The two instruments take it in turns to vary the theme, creating a fast-moving, often dovetailing dialogue—further proof of Sivoriʼs skill as a composer. The theme, La Génoise, is more redolent of an urban dance (an Allegro da salotto according to the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung) than a folk-tune, yet it conserves the simplicity and immediacy of the latter. From here, Sivori develops a series of bravura variations—these are digitally demanding, with a little touch of the Biedermeier at first (as in Variations Nos 1 and 2, which re-use the final bars of the introduction as a kind of refrain), before a more in-depth exploration of the theme begins. The level of virtuosity continues to rise until it peaks in the workʼs centre of gravity, the beautiful No 6, Adagio assai ed espressivo, in which Sivoriʼs inventiveness and legendary talent for melody are displayed to the full. After the Recitativo a piacere, the last variation and the finale once again highlight the carefree, salon-music nature of the original theme.
Paganiniʼs Carnevale di Venezia had become one of Sivoriʼs warhorses: he played it on many occasions as a “Souvenir of Paganini”, even before it was published, incorporating his own variations into it and arguing with Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst about authenticity of interpretation. In the catalogue of his works a further four “Carnevali” are listed (the first three of which are lost): the Carnevale americano (or Yankee Doodle), the Carnevale del Chilì, the Carnevale di Cuba (which included a spectacular imitation of a mockingbird) and the Carnevale di Madrid (for violin, strings and timpani). He clearly had a liking for this free “form” which allowed him to go from variations on a theme to music full of melodic, virtuosic or descriptive episodes. Folies espagnoles, published in 1886, is the same work (with minor variations) as the Carnevale di Madrid Sivori composed in the Spanish capital in June 1854 while touring the Iberian peninsula. The division of movements matches, while the programme (mentioned in a number of enthusiastic press reviews) can be described thus: “Procession of masqueraders to the Prado. Country dance to the sound of the bagpipes. Storm and prayer. Return of fair weather. Repeat of the dance, now joined by old peasant women.” Sivori incorporates a number of Spanish tunes into his piece, including El noi de la mare (The Son of the Virgin), El vito (a variation on which also appears in the finale), and the well-known Aragonese jota. This is a masterpiece of descriptive music, expressed, as the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano wrote, “with a truth which can only be grasped after the performance”. Its different scenes succeed one another like a sequence of engravings in a gallery, inspiring the composer to create a musical tale full of imitation, fantasmagorical effects and incredible instrumental feats. It is impossible to draw up even an edited list of the technical repertoire displayed by the violin, finalised during performance, but the high point—in terms of virtuosity—comes in the Orage (Storm) section. While the history of music is rich in storm-inspired works, Sivoriʼs stands out for its impressive adherence to naturalistic detail: rarely has a chamber piece summoned up such lifelike gales and elemental force. This is a true collectorʼs item and fully merits its return to the repertoire.
Flavio Menardi Noguera
English translation by Susannah Howe
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