ClassicsOnline Home » TOGNI, C.: Piano Music (Complete), Vol. 1 (Orvieto)
Volume 1 (of 4) of the complete piano music of the influential Italian composer, teacher and pianist Camillo Togni features both original works and transcriptions of Mahler and Bach. Togni’s fascination with the Second Viennese and Darmstadt Schools is evident in works that are notable not only for their fine craftmanship and technical brilliance but for their poetic depth and eloquence. Acclaimed soloist Aldo Orvieto’s Ex Novo Ensemble has also recorded Togni’s chamber works (Naxos 8.572074).
Camillo Togni (1922–1993)
Complete Piano Music • 1
“You must be an excellent pianist to write like this”, commented Alfred Cortot when he saw the score of Camillo Togni’s Variazioni, (written in 1946 and presented at the Venice Festival in September of the same year). Indeed his words correspond most appropriately with the composer’s own feelings, when, in a letter to his teacher Franco Margola, he expressed his need to “find a satisfying solution to the technical-pianistic issues that follow from what I believe to be the foundations of my own aesthetic credo”. Clearly the piano was part of an intrinsic necessity in the Brescia-born composer’s personality. Already in the fervour of adolescence he had shown an extraordinary vocation which was soon to be cultivated thanks to the input of some valuable teachers. Togni studied composition with Margola and, following his advice, in 1938, went on to study with Alfredo Casella; decisive influences for the piano instead were Giovanni Anfossi and his close friendship with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, testified by the dedication of his Seconda partita corale and two cadenzas for Mozart’s concertos K.503 and K.491. Meanwhile he studied humanities and graduated from Milan University with a thesis on the problems of musical interpretation. Though his numerous early piano compositions clearly show the influence of the classics, Chopin and Bach, a leaning towards chromaticism became ever more intense and culminated in the Serenata, Op 10, which he presented to Casella in the summer of 1940. “A swing towards Vienna” exclaimed the maestro; hearing the Sonata for cello and piano of 1938–39 he had already remarked on an “exceptional nobility”, despite that work seeming to be “excessively dense in music”. This was the introduction to a remarkably coherent path that led through disturbing decadent shadows, arcane Busoni-like pondering, and visionary Scriabin-like exaltations—“I was a Mahlerian without having heard a single note by the Bohemian composer” Togni recalled—and it is recognisable in the virtuoso opening of the Fantasia, Op 25, of 1944 (the first work presented at Darmstadt in 1950) and a need for exactitude that the young Togni found in Bach, as is clearly seen in his Ricercare of 1947. This dialectic tension is akin to the urgency of expressionist poetry which Togni recognised, particularly in his beloved Trackl: “amid all the romantic excesses, he is the poet who maintains the highest peaks, but with a clarity and formal balance that is truly classic”. This preference is confirmed in important works such as Helian, Gesang zur Nacht, Sei Notturni, Tre pezzi per coro e orchestra where he uses this great poet’s words, and is emblematically epitomised in his two great theatre pieces, Blaubart and Barrabas.
It was during his tormented student years, under Casella’s guidance, which was fundamental for the young composer, though his eye was set on horizons far beyond his teacher’s neo-classical vision (Casella himself, freed from the spirits of “tonal doubt”, was seeking a new clarity), that revelation came in the form of Schoenberg: in 1938, at a concert in Brescia, the eighteen-year-old Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli played the great Viennese composer’s Opp 11, 19, 23 and 33a. It was a “terrifying” experience for the young Togni, steeped as he was at the time in the chromatic tangles of his Serenata, “music that leads to musical and existential suicide” he was to comment later. Schoenberg became the ideal guide out of such a condition, a long initiatory journey towards a clarification that did not escape Casella on hearing the Suite, Op 14, of 1942, and which was to continue on towards a progressive serial organisation of the panchromatic environment. It is along this line of development that we can set Tre Preludi, Op 28, written between 1946 and 1947 and performed in 1949 at the Dodecaphonic congress in Milan. Togni’s research was further stimulated when he participated at the Ferienkurse in Darmstadt, from 1951 to 1957, years in which Togni explored the serial experience, eschewing the temptations of the dominant neo-webernian approach, and seeking the essence of an expression objectified in the order of language.
Togni’s is a slow art, the fruit of a true artisanat furieux, though handled with a secret discretion far from the youthful enthusiasm of the young Boulez: every second of listening, he would say, cost him at least ninety minutes of work (an unavoidable reminder of Klee lining up his tesserae organised chromatically in infinitesimally graded hues). Nonetheless, as Mario Bortolotto acutely remarked, such rationality would open “within a perspective that possesses the distance of vertigo”. In 1957 his Tre Capricci, Op 38, (written respectively in 1954, 1956 and 1957) were performed in Darmstadt. In these compositions Togni focuses with clear-minded terseness on serialisation as the regulating principle of form under various aspects, from rhythmic articulation in the first and extending in the other two to dynamics and especially in the third, the most ample, to the “mode of articulation”. These traits reveal the pianist’s refinement in dealing with the ambiguity of a form, such as the Capriccio, which can recall, in the words of the musician, distant, eighteenth-century traditions but also the opposite “study, the diary of a crisis and an attempt to overcome it through in-depth examination: the twisted and suffering versus flourishes and arabesques”. These words reveal how his tireless vocation to his craft was born out of a deeply rooted moral conviction, the same formal coherence seen in the works of Schoenberg (“not to lose the dignity of Brahmsian form, precisely as Busoni understood it, under the urge of Wagnerian chromaticism”), making the reasons behind the humanist Togni’s choice all the more profound; the ethical tension pervading the vision of the author of Moses und Aron seems in no way less influential.
Three more Capricci followed (for release on Volume 2): the virtuoso fourth in 1969 “Octaves”, as provocative as it was ingenious in its rehabilitation of an interval considered to be the diabolus in musica of atonal music; the fifth from 1987 (created for The International Musicological Society congress held in Bologna), a hyperbolic continuation of the Hexameron, using a micro series from Bellini’s duet “Suoni la tromba e intrepido”; and finally, the sixth, dated 1991, a homage to Bussotti on his sixtieth birthday. There are two fragments: the explosive Aforisma of 1985, on the same series as Barrabas, and a short delicate page entitled Per Maila, dedicated to a girl, the daughter of the flautist Fabbriciani, an affectionate glance towards the past which, with its three flats in the key signature, reminding us of Schoenberg’s comment on how much music there was still to be written in C major. Though engaged much less than in his earlier years, the piano remained a fundamental element in Togni’s thinking, in his commitment to the Concerto for piano and orchestra, a composition that occupied him intensely during his final years, from 1989 until his death. The work remained incomplete, but from the complex sketches, on which Paulo de Assis has attempted to assemble a reconstruction, evidence of a powerful “Grande Cadenza” has emerged from the few fragments written on the stave. We can consider this splendid page of remarkably effective instrumental writing as an ideal seal set on a pianistic vocation, hardly matched by his contemporaries, which Togni managed to cultivate while still serving a higher ideal.
This disc also contains two transcriptions (Bach and Mahler), not as mere appendices but rather elements that complete Togni’s musical vision, telling evidence of his approach to history. These transcriptions can be defined as Bella infedele, an issue that Togni tackled theoretically in his thesis on the aesthetics of Benedetto Croce. Here it is more pragmatically applied, through a rereading that explores the many virtualities locked away in the originals; melodic and harmonic aspects which, from the transcription from organ to piano of Bach chorales from the Seconda Partita, written in 1976 and dedicated to Benedetti Michelangeli, renew Togni’s need for a projection that can illuminate “that tradition which passes through Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and leads us to Schoenberg”. A similar understanding to that which delighted Togni in 1973, thinking of his adolescent attraction for Mahler though he had “not yet heard anything”, is achieved in his exploration of one of Mahler’s most celebrated though misunderstood pages: the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony. Rather than becoming engrossed in nostalgic sweetness, with a penetrating eye, akin to a disturbing x-ray, he savours the subtle but cutting snares hidden within the textures and harmonies.
Gian Paolo Minardi
English translation by Liam Mac Grabhann