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ClassicsOnline Home » TOGNI, C.: 3 Studies on Morts sans sepulture / Flute Sonata / Violin Sonata / String Trio (Ex Novo Ensemble)
Since its foundation in 1979, the Ex Novo Ensemble has explored the international panorama of new music, particularly works that, although very beautiful, remain little known. For its début Naxos recording this virtuosic ensemble presents a selection of chamber music by the influential Italian composer, teacher and pianist Camillo Togni, whose fascination with German Expressionism and the Second Viennese School is evident in finely crafted, lucid compositions which are notable for their eloquent restraint and striking instrumental sonorities.
By David Denton
A piano pupil of the legendary Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and composition student of Alfredo Casella, Camillo Togni became one of Italy’s most progressive composers in the second half of the 20th century. He had embraced all of the doctrines of the Second Viennese School, to which he was to add the current trend of an element of tonality. The main part of the disc covers his chamber music from the 1950s, the basic sound being typical of the style adopted by so many composers in Western Europe, long passages of sparsely scored music suddenly giving way to brief activity. Where there is thematic material it is lost on the innocent ear and replaced by music that is interesting, but would take time to enter your memory bank. That would be true of much music of that time and stylistic genesis. The opening work, Three Studies on Morts sans sepulture, for soprano and piano is an attractive introduction, while the sonatas for flute and violin both have a piano accompaniment are in a conventional three movement structure, the general feel being of conversation rather than association. Of this group, I like the gentle Five Pieces for Flute and Guitar, but found myself struggling to get to grips with the String Tio, a generally jagged score that erupts with dynamic impact. It is performed by the Italian group, Ex Novo Ensemble, founded in 1979 and dedicated to the promotion of Italian Chamber Music. I will have to take their performances and interpretation at face value, but it is highly persuasive, while the British soprano, Lorna Windsor, is the fine soloist in the ThreeStudies. Exemplary sound engineering.
Camillo Togni (1922–1993)
Camillo Togni stands as one of the most representative figures of twentieth-century Italian music. His patient and distilled creative development—essential and uncompromisingly independent from both aleatoric music and the integralism of the Darmstadt school, where he attended the Ferienkurse from 1950 to 1955—could be defined as a quest to strike a balance between exacting formal coherence and the broadest imaginative freedom, while composing with rare and extraordinary craftsmanship.
While reading philosophy at Pavia University, Togni studied piano under Giovanni Anfossi and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and composition with Franco Margola and Alfredo Casella. He soon became aware of his distance from neoclassicism, feeling more affinity with late-romantic tradition, chromaticism and the difficult and inner expressivity of Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic technique. His firm belief in the ethical value of artistic endeavours led him to in-depth studies of literary and poetic texts by Jean-Paul Sartre, Charles d’Orléans, T. S. Eliot and ultimately his beloved Georg Trakl, who inspired some of his chamber works (Helian and Gesang zur Nacht) and his two operas Blaubart (1977) and Barrabas (1985). In 1965 he won the SIMC prize for chamber music with Rondeaux per dieci for soprano and nine instruments. Between 1978 and 1988 he taught at the Conservatory of Parma and from 1989 he held advanced courses at the Fiesole music school.
The compositions recorded here provide an overview of his work that spans some thirty years, from 1950 to 1980: starting out from a relatively ‘immature’ serial technique, influenced by Busonian style and a propensity to ‘draw some tonal aspects from serial practice’ and finally reaching absolute variation within an integral chromatic environment, excluding any motivic processes. In achieving this absolute approach, Togni supported his rationalisation by extending serial functions from the intervals to several other parameters, including the formal structure.
In the Three studies for ‘Morts sans sépulture’, Op. 31, for soprano and piano, dated 1950, Togni used a text by Jean-Paul Sartre for the first time, from the homonymous play dealing with specifically existentialist themes. The work is in three movements corresponding to three textual extracts: Andante (from Tableau I, Scène II), Quasi passacaglia (from Tableau III, Scène II), and Comodo (from Tableau IV, Scène III). The compact and densely polyphonic texture is classically through-composed, starting from a four-note figure based on the first four notes of the tone row: spanning a minor third and extended symmetrically:
The serial technique employed is not yet orthodox while the declaimed vocal melos reveals influences of French music and the teachings of Casella. A new series, derived from the first, adopts a thematic value of its own in the second movement, employing the metric pulse of the Passacaglia without evading a Dallapiccola-like diatonic essence. In the third movement there is yet another series behind the motif presented on the piano, which is the origin of the ostinato marked pp uguale e poco staccato depicting le bruit de la pluie, Togni’s tribute to symbolism.
The Sonata for flute and piano, Op. 35, dated 1953, in three movements Comodo, Recitativo and Rondò, was performed in August 1954 at Darmstadt by Severino Gazzelloni and the composer himself on the piano. The work’s motivic character is still Brahmsian and the serial material is enriched with formal implications: the note durations of the thematic pattern, which first appears on the flute, are correlated to the amplitude of the intervals.
The dodecaphonic technique employed here is more refined: the series is subdivided into two and four independent sections while the inversion transposed down a fourth is employed as complementary material:
Though only one year separates Op. 35 and the Sonata for violin and piano, Op. 37, (in three movements: Moderatamente sostenuto, Sarabanda, Rondò), this new work represents an unconditional negation of thematic principles in favour of absolute variation. Only the repeated reference to the traditional dance-like forms of the Sarabande and Rondò betray Togni’s inclinations towards a ‘classicism’ in the Schoenbergian mould. In the first movement (four episodes), the prime and retrograde forms of the series—an Allintervallreihe containing each one of the six possible intervals twice—are superimposed on the complementary inversion form and its retrograde:
In the Sarabande the series is divided into two independent groups of six sounds and entrusted to the piano, while in the Rondò the truncation technique is developed further with the hexachords divided between the two instruments.
The rarefied writing, with frequent and extreme shifts in register, the extraordinary variety of articulation and sharp contrasts in intensity in the [Piece] for guitar and cello (1959) reveal clear influences of Pointillism, and perhaps also a certain structuralism of the post-webernian avant-garde. Through a radicalisation of the dodecaphonic medium the composer definitively overcomes classical forms. The process of rationalisation is also applied to the formal organization of the composition: the work is significantly divided into twelve sections—reorganised into three groups of four, three and five—length is determined by the number of repetitions of serial forms, corresponding in order to the width of the intervals in the series and linked to an equal number of durations and intensities (pp, p, f and ff):
The Trio for strings, written between 1978 and 1980, is in three parts; the titles Angry, Tortured and Burning were suggested to the composer by Stravinsky, who used the same adjectives to describe Arnold Schoenberg’s facial expression. Finally free from formal schemes, Togni gives full rein to his creative fantasy, which expands superbly engaging his material in total variation and employing the maximum contrasts of articulation, agogic accent and intensity. The trio shares its intrinsically dramatic language with Togni’s opera Blaubart, which also dates from this period, and employs the retrograde form of the tone row of the opera:
The Five pieces for flute and guitar, written between 1975 and 1976 are based on a dual programmatic input: a tribute to Luigi Dallapiccola (1904–1975) and a rereading of the lyric poet Anacreon of Teos. The serial material is directly taken from the opening bars of a sketch for Dallapiccola’s last incomplete composition,
while each of the pieces has a title from a fragment from the Greek poet (Rondine garrula, Fermamente, Intreccio, Fiore di cinnamomo, Compianto). Architectural proportions, rhythmic figures, durations, horizontal densities and levels of dynamic intensity are all direct consequences of the dodecaphonic structure; nevertheless the extraordinary freedom and decidedly improvisatory style of the work is directly proportional to this extreme coherence.
The Two Preludes for piccolo were written in 1980 and performed in Perugia the same year by Roberto Fabbriciani. Togni’s composition here seems to be more concise, employing extremely sparse expressive means. The gradual acquisition of the full chromatic range is immediately perceived in the first piece: the series—characterized by five repetitions of the tritone—is progressively exposed, broadening the distance between the sounds, which are separated by ever more frequent recurrences of the previous sounds:
The second Prelude, on the other hand, is based on an Alleintervallreihe derived from the three initial notes of the previous piece, developed by always alternating the semitone with one of the other five intervals. The unity behind the compositional gesture is immediately clear: a gradual dynamic crescendo starting from the initial sottovoce, coupled with a progressive rhythmic acceleration achieved by systematically reducing note values up until the ‘cadenza’ with rapid notes played ad libitum and the brief closing section.
© 2008 Mauro Ferrante
English translation: Liam Mac Grabhann
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