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ClassicsOnline Home » MARTUCCI, G.: Orchestral Music (Complete), Vol. 1 (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) - Symphony No. 1 / Nocturne / Andante / Canzonetta / Giga
The foremost Italian orchestral composer of the late nineteenth century, as well as an accomplished pianist and conductor, Giuseppe Martucci was one of the first of a line of composers, which included Sgambati, Mancinelli and Faccio and, later, Casella, Malipiero, Respighi and Pizzetti, who were determined to break away from opera’s dominance in Italian musical life. If his First Symphony is stylistically indebted to Schumann and Brahms, these models are never slavishly imitated. This is an unusually wide-ranging Symphony for its time (1895), with its own individual voice, distinctive lyrical gift and keen sense of fantasy.
By David Denton
Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909): Complete Orchestral Music • 1
Symphony No. 1 • Notturno • Andante • Canzonetta • Giga
Giuseppe Martucci was born in Capua on 6 January 1856 and had initial piano lessons from his father. He gave recitals with his sister before he was nine and was a full-time student at the Reale Collegio in Naples from 1868, studying the piano with Beniamino Cesi and composition with Paolo Serrao, whose advocacy of the Austro-German repertoire, unusual in Italy for that time, had a decisive influence on Martucci. Returning to the concert platform in 1874, he gave his first Milan recital the next year and subsequently toured to London and Dublin. 1878 saw him in Paris, where his abilities as pianist and composer were warmly applauded, but more significant had been his appointment the previous year as principal conductor of the newly formed Orchestra Napoletana, which gave its first public concert in January 1881 and by 1884 was widely considered the best in Italy.
In 1886 Martucci was appointed to three major posts in Bologna, notably the directorship of the Liceo Musicale, which enabled him to develop further as an academic and conductor, championing a broad range of nineteenth-century orchestral music and appearing as a guest-conductor in cultural centres throughout Western Europe, while also acting as mentor to many younger Italian composers. In 1902 he returned to Naples to take up the directorship of the Conservatorio (formerly the Reale Collegio), in which city he continued his programming of new or unfamiliar orchestral and operatic repertoire, though his health was by now declining and he died in Naples on 1 June 1909.
From the start of his career as a pianist Martucci extended the repertoire, with Bach, Rameau and Scarlatti all prominent in his recitals. As a conductor, he helped to make Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms (the Italian première of whose Second Symphony he gave in 1882), familiar to Italian audiences, while his championing of Wagner saw the Italian première of Tristan und Isolde in 1888 and Neapolitan première of Götterdämmerung less than a year before his death. British music was also well represented (he programmed Stanford’s Irish Symphony on several occasions), while his interest in French music saw him advocate Franck, d’Indy and latterly Debussy.
Although the piano dominates Martucci’s output (notably his earlier years), he wrote several major chamber works, including a Piano Quintet, two Piano Trios and sonatas for violin and cello, with orchestral music represented by various transcriptions as well as two symphonies and two piano concertos. These latter enjoyed only limited success in Italy, but his standing as the foremost Italian orchestral composer in the later nineteenth century was widely acknowledged.
The six year period that Martucci spent writing his First Symphony (1895) attests to the importance he attached to it. Given its première in Milan on 28 November 1895, conducted by the composer, it remains stylistically indebted to Schumann and Brahms, though these models are never slavishly emulated, while certain aspects of the harmony and orchestration suggest the influence of Wagner, whose music had long been central to Martucci’s aesthetic, making the present work an unusually inclusive and wide-ranging statement for its time.
The first movement plunges straight into a forceful first theme, scored for full orchestra, before calming woodwind figures lead to its more relaxed and lyrical successor on strings. This reaches a resolute culmination, then an expectant codetta brings about an extensive development that initially touches on aspects of both themes before heading into intensive discussion of the first. This leads directly into the reprise so that it comes as a surprise when the second theme returns unheralded, proceeding much as before but now making way for a lengthy coda that builds to a climax on the first theme before turning to the second for an unexpectedly tranquil conclusion. The slow movement features a wistful main theme entrusted to cello before being taken up by the strings. A central section has woodwind and horn sounding a more ambivalent tone, but this is subsumed into an intensified return of the main theme now on upper strings, before some delectable woodwind writing sees the movement through to its contemplative ending.
The third movement is a gently-paced intermezzo whose underlying character is determined by piquant writing for strings and woodwind at the outset. This works its way round to livelier discussion of the latter part of the main theme (ongoing across the movement as a whole), but which is barely enough to ruffle the amiable mood as the piece saunters to its end. The finale opens with a slow introduction alternating anxiety and expressiveness in a way redolent of the first movement (as well as alluding to its themes), but a return of the initial gesture on lower strings launches the main section with a crescendo of Brucknerian grandeur. A resolute theme, replete with coursing strings and emphatic brass, now sets the mood for what follows. It forms the basis of a sonata-rondo whose central episode brings extensive development of the main theme, though a more inward passage finds it capable of further-reaching transformation than might have been supposed. At length, the main theme returns majestically as before, but now the music heads to a lengthy coda that takes in a soulful rendering of the theme on strings and brass, before the final surge brings a closing series of decisive chords.
Many of Martucci’s short piano works, whose orchestrations became popular encores in his concerts, are modelled on dances from the Baroque and Classical eras. The Giga (1883) is a transcription of the third of three pieces published as his Op. 61. The lightly tripping gait of its two-part form (each repeated) is tellingly underlined in the orchestration. The Canzonetta (1884) is a transcription of the third of three pieces published as his Op. 65. Here, a ruminative theme featuring clarinet alternates with a lively one for strings, with aspects of both themes coming together in the wistful coda.
Martucci’s later chamber music consists mainly of pieces for cello and piano. The Andante (1888) is the second of three published as his Op. 69, though the orchestration was undertaken as late as 1907. Against a largely accompanimental orchestral backdrop with felicitous touches for woodwind and harp), the cello unfolds an almost unbroken melodic line whose ruminative warmth recalls Bruch as surely as it anticipates Elgar, and at length building via a sustained climax to an eloquent restatement of the main theme.
Among Martucci’s later piano pieces, none is more significant than the two Nocturnes (1891) published as his Op. 70 and intriguing for being in the enharmonically related keys of G flat major and F sharp minor. The composer orchestrated only the first of these, but the way that he sustains its mood of rapt introspection, not least by the fastidious orchestral texture (listen for a passage around a third of the way through in which cello and oboe share a plaintive duet), makes this unassuming Notturno one of his most perfectly achieved and stylistically representative works.
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