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ClassicsOnline Home » Clarinet Recital: Bosi, Sergio - BERIO, L. / BETTINELLI, B. / BUCCHI, V. / DIONISI, R. / GABUCCI, A. (20th-Century Italian Clarinet Solos)
Opera dominated Italian domestic music-making and eclipsed instrumental writing, which often had to draw on operatic models in the shape of virtuosic paraphrases. The renewal of Italian orchestral and chamber music in the twentieth century, however, led to vibrant native schools of composition, not least for the clarinet. Some composers, such as Giuseppe Ruggiero and Nino Rota, acted as bridges between the past and the present, while others invented new ‘effects’ and sounds, such as those of Bruno Bettinelli in his Studio da concerto. Berio’s Lied reworks and simplifi es some of the technical innovations to be found in Sequenza IXa, also written for the clarinet (Naxos href="http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/product.aspx?pid=8.557661-63">8.557661–63).
20th-Century Italian Music for Solo Clarinet
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian instrumental music (both symphonic and, notably, chamber music) still has many secrets to reveal to us, having been kept out of the limelight for years not only by opera, that extraordinarily pervasive genre which has so dominated Italian musical life, but by the contemporaneous Central and Northern European instrumental repertoire.
Only recently have academics and musicians, driven by the desire both to fill in a few gaps in their historical knowledge and to enrich their own performing repertoire, turned into musical “Indiana Joneses”, uncovering long-lost treasures and reintroducing to audiences works which are turning out to be full of surprises, as can be heard in the compositions for solo clarinet that feature on this recording. Indeed, some of the greatest delights of these archaeological investigations have come from rediscovered chamber works for winds, both solo and ensemble pieces, some with piano accompaniment, some without (music often held to be of lesser importance, even by well-known composers)—in part perhaps because expectations in this area were relatively low to begin with.
In the nineteenth century the best clarinettists established and kept alive a chamber repertoire and tradition (if only on the circuits connected to the great opera houses) principally by writing and performing virtuosic variations and paraphrases on well-known operatic themes. Then, for a brief period, in the early twentieth century, when the race was on to catch up with advances made elsewhere in Europe, the focus switched to a reappraisal of the historic forms of suite and sonata. Finally, after the Second World War, the clarinet was deemed as valid a vehicle as any other instrument for exploring new idioms, investigating new forms, discovering new timbres and sonorities—in short, for doing everything necessary for the “new music” of the day to be precisely that.
The exploratory work being done at this point by composers was part of a broader context characterised by the increasingly urgent desire to open up new paths in “art” music. On the one hand this meant using original technical and expressive means, such as electronics, with all its many facets, applied to traditional instruments, on the other it meant looking at these instruments themselves for hitherto unexplored possibilities and unexpressed or overlooked potential. And added to all of this, of course, was the search for innovative formal and harmonic languages, or at least the attempt to reinterpret traditional versions with new objectives in mind. This quest for innovation also set the solo instrument free from its bond to an accompanist: the idea of looking at an instrument, in this case the clarinet, “from within” enables it to become the sole protagonist.
Therefore, while in the late nineteenth century it was more common for clarinettists to take it upon themselves to write for their own instrument, from the early twentieth century onwards composers picked up the baton and began enriching the repertoire and building relationships with great virtuoso players, directing their efforts towards creating a productive partnership between composer and performer which in turn would allow the perfect blend of inspiration and technique.
The works included on this recording provide a cross-section of the rich variety of twentieth-century Italian solo clarinet music. Drawn from a period spanning several decades, they reveal not just advances made in terms of form but also, and most importantly, the quantity and quality of the work achieved by the different composers featured here, as inspired by their own personal and varied (performing or composing) experiences.
First of all, there are those composers who, basing their work on what they had learned as musicians and teachers, kept one foot in the past to create music that was novel in content but still reliant on traditional compositional and technical idioms. Giving voice to a new musical world using existing means presents a genuine challenge, and in this respect composers such as Giuseppe Ruggiero (1909–1977), Renato Dionisi (1910–2000), Agostino Gabucci (1896–1976) and Giacomo Miluccio (1922–1999) act as a “bridge” between past and present, as well as providing an essential point of comparison in terms of “performance tradition”.
Ruggiero, in Episodi, uses his own teaching experience as a starting-point from which to explore the possibilities of the instrument. As its four sections unfold, there is a gradual but perceptible acceleration in tempo and a parallel increase in technical intensity, from the initially more prominent rôle played by expressiveness to the moto perpetuo of the finale. By contrast, Dionisi’s Monodia plays predominantly with chromaticism and the different registers of the clarinet. Gabucci’s Improvviso is based on instrumental variety, each movement written for a different type of clarinet, while his sweeping Fantasia orientale takes delight in reinventing the East, alternating contrasting agogic accentuation with a deft use of chromaticism. Similar oriental touches, here, however, mixed with the sounds and rhythms of the composer’s native city of Naples, add to the vitality of Miluccio’s Rapsodia. This work, benefiting from the complete freedom offered by his chosen form, retains its links with tradition at a time when everyone else had forgotten the past as they sought out new horizons.
Composers such as Nino Rota (1911–1979) and Carlo Savina (1919–2002), meanwhile, were attracted by the extramusical associations of “applied” music. Although both men wrote for the concert hall and opera house, they are primarily known for their music for stage and screen and this visual sensibility informs both the “spectral” effects of Rota’s Lo spiritismo nella vecchia casa (Spirit-raising in the Old House), incidental music for a production in Rome of one of Ugo Betti’s plays, and the variety of atmospheres created primarily by changing dance rhythms in Savina’s Trittico (Triptych).
These are “traditional” pieces which became “revolutionary” at a particular moment in the course of twentieth-century music precisely because of their rejection of the most radical innovations and discovery of the previously unsuspected potential of historic idioms. Those composers then who, while not abandoning the lessons of the past, express their art through their searching and investigations, find new paths and sounds “within” the instrument in order to express themselves, and offer listeners a new deal, inviting them to alter their own expectations and habits of “music consumption”—they, to all intents and purposes, are revolutionary.
Milanese composer Bruno Bettinelli (1913–2004) employed, even invented, various new clarinet effects in his Studio da concerto. In an introduction he wrote to the work, he said the following: “These effects, such as different kinds of vibrato, voice plus the sound of the instrument, quarter tones, tetrachords, are becoming more common. But they all have a precise musical meaning and are therefore ‘interpreted’ and not viewed as amorphous superstructures or as mannered technical virtuosity.”
The same desire to reveal every new possibility to be found “within” the instrument, by playing with physics and not electronics, lies behind the Lied that Luciano Berio (1925–2003) wrote as a birthday present for his nephew Edoardo, then a clarinet student. In it Berio reintroduces, reworks and simplifies some of the “discoveries” he had used in Sequenza IXa, also written for clarinet.
Jubilus I by Florentine composer Flavio Testi (b. 1923) is characterised by a wide variety of sonorities, colours and dynamics, effects such as flutter-tonguing and glissandi, which are taken to their physical limits, and a series of incredibly virtuosic demands on the performer towards the end of the piece. Finally, Concerto by Valentino Bucchi (1916–1976) is notable for its breadth of inspiration and structure, and for its composer’s use of new techniques to achieve maximum expressiveness. Although divided into four sections (Moderato-Presto-Andante-Epilogue), a single sweep of thought sustains the work—Bucchi himself wrote in the following terms: “I wanted to initiate a productive dialogue with listeners, without limiting this to the linguistic experience as an end in itself, but drawing definitively on the resources offered to us by the present in order to affirm reality and reclaim certain fundamental values.” Here, in conclusion, is a link between past and future that has come to symbolise “new music”, understood in both the most elevated, and the most profound, sense of the term.
Maria Chiara Mazzi
English translation by Susannah Howe
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