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ClassicsOnline Home » MARTUCCI, G.: Orchestral Music (Complete), Vol. 2 (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) - Symphony No. 2 / Theme and Variations / Tarantella / Gavotta
Described by Gian Francesco Malipiero as “the beginning of the rebirth of non-operatic Italian music”, Martucci’s Second Symphony is his masterpiece. Drawing on his abiding love of Brahms and Schumann, and initially championed by Toscanini, this attractive work has sadly become a rarity on the concert platform. The remaining pieces, all originally for piano and predating the symphony, highlight different facets of this fascinating composer whose personal style, while recalling those of many others from Beethoven to Bax, is nonetheless distinctive and rewarding in its own right. Martucci’s Symphony No. 1 is available on 8.570929.
By Robert R. Reilly
By David Denton
Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909): Complete Orchestral Music • 2
Symphony No. 2 • Theme and Variations • Gavotta • Tarantella
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.
Although it occupied him for over five years, and is the only large-scale work of his last decade, the Second Symphony (1904) has claims to being Martucci’s masterpiece. He conducted the première in Milan on 11 December 1904 and several times thereafter, but it was also taken up by Arturo Toscanini, whose advocacy was to remain unstinting. While the last two symphonies
of Brahms may serve as a reference point, both the work’s musical idiom and its handling of the orchestra are as personal as they are elusive.
The moderately-paced first movement begins with an expressive theme approaching as if from afar and culminating in a majestic passage for full orchestra. The second theme is more capricious in manner and features some imaginative scoring; this reaches a brief climax
before the exposition is repeated in full. Second time around, the development sets in with a searching and often tonally oblique discussion of the material, before a gradual crescendo on the first theme brings a subtly varied reprise. The second theme is extended into a coda that winds down pensively before regaining impetus for a surging but not decisive close. The Scherzo opens with a repeated-note idea on horn that gives rise to a syncopated motion on upper strings and also lively exchanges between woodwind. This intensifies during a central section of no mean rhythmic subtlety, before the horn gesture heralds a return to the initial music and a
conclusion that is all of a piece with the movement’s unpredictable character.
The slow movement begins with a heartfelt melody on strings which draws in much of the orchestra as it increases in expressive range and depth. This is followed by an undulating theme carried initially by solo clarinet and building up to a luminous discord on strings; after which, the latter theme is made the basis of an intensive climax over rushing strings with brass to the fore. Aspects of this theme emerge before the music turns to its predecessor for a thoughtfully understated presentation that sees the movement through to its serene ending. Beginning almost nonchalantly, the finale quickly assumes a lively gait that takes in a suave theme on lower strings and woodwind as it moves toward a brief climax. These themes are further alternated as if in a perpetuum mobile, one enhanced by imitative writing between the strings, and this contrapuntal activity extends throughout the orchestra as the movement works round to the subsidiary theme. This then makes way for an extensive coda in which the underlying rhythmic motion generates a momentum that is suddenly cut short, only for elements of both themes to make a speculative reappearance as the work heads to its triumphal close.
Apart from two concertos, Tema con variazioni is Martucci’s only other work for piano and orchestra. The piece has a complex history: initially written for solo piano in 1882, it was reworked for two pianos in 1900 and then issued in a further revised version for solo piano in 1905. The orchestral version is undated, though its instrumentation indicates it as contemporary with the
original version, and was published only recently. The theme is unfolded in a slow orchestral introduction, before piano enters with an animated rendering that constitutes the first variation. The second and third variations are respectively lively then wistful, the fourth
variation is a spirited Allegro and the fifth is a scintillating Vivace. The sixth variation is a restless Moderato, while the seventh is a piquant scherzo with a more lyrical trio section. Marked ‘alla Chopin’, the eighth variation is an Adagio largely entrusted to the piano; followed by a Finale, Allegro molto e con fuoco, with some hectic interplay between soloist and orchestra; culminating in a broad restatement of the theme and then rounded off by an effervescent coda.
The Gavotta (1888) is a transcription, made in 1901, of the third of three pieces Martucci published as his Op. 61 (where it was called ‘Tempo di gavotta’). The strutting outer sections frame a more relaxed theme with an atmospheric ‘drone’ bass, while the coda deftly elides between the two. The fourth of six pieces published as his Op. 44, Tarantella (1880) was orchestrated as late as 1908 (and retitled ‘Danza’), making it his last transcription and the most forward-looking in its instrumental freedom that emphasizes the rowdiness, verging on aggression, of the underlying dance rhythm.
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