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ClassicsOnline Home » BOSSI, M.E.: Organ Music - Konzertstuck in C Minor / Hora mystica / Hora gaudiosa (Peretti)
Shortly before he undertook his last concert tour to America, the freelance concert organist Marco Enrico Bossi received encouragement from his friend Puccini: ‘They will get to hear how the organ really should be played!’ This disc presents a selection of Bossi’s remarkable organ music, from intimate character pieces to thrilling works in the grand manner, which show his debt to César Franck, the great German symphonic tradition and Claude Debussy’s exotic tone colourings, all filtered through Bossi’s unique artistic sensibility.
Marco Enrico Bossi (1861–1925)
Marco Enrico Bossi was born in Salò on Lake Garda in 1861, the year of Italy’s unification, into a family of musicians: his father Pietro (1834–1896) was also an organist and composer, his son Renzo (1883–1965) became one of the most renowned professors of composition in Italy. Marco Enrico studied in Bologna and Milan, where he was first awarded his piano diploma (1879), then his diploma in composition (1881). Bossi never finished his organ studies, despite years of study with the renowned organist and composer Polibio Fumagalli (1837–1908), which could be interpreted as an act of criticism against Italian organ practice of his time, which was heavily influenced by the prevailing taste for opera. Instead, he travelled throughout Europe and America, establishing ties with fellow organists Camille Saint-Saëns, Marcel Dupré, Karl Straube and others, who strengthened his resolve to bring the organ culture of his native country into line with central European standards. After nine years as titular organist at Como cathedral (1881–1890), Bossi embarked on a remarkable ‘official’ career (first as lecturer in organ and composition at Naples and Bologna, then as head of the Conservatories of Venice, Bologna, and Rome); in 1897 he was also appointed to the Commissione reale per l’arte musicale. This plethora of high-ranking offices made it possible for him to exert almost unequalled influence on the musical life of the young nation. Under Bossi’s influence, educational standards were introduced, which are in place to this day—state-certified organ classes were introduced, enhancing the artistic status of the organ as a free concert instrument, unencumbered with liturgical restrictions. From 1893 he published the Metodo teorico-pratico per lo studio dell’organo, which paved the way for modern organ practice and its literature (including J.S. Bach) in Italy. Bossi, who was never again connected to the church after his time in Como, also personified a type of artist never before encountered south of the Alps, namely the freelance ‘concertista d’organo’, and mostly played at the innumerable organ dedications which proliferated in Italy at the time of Caecilian reforms.
Apart from his ‘first love’, the organ, Marco Enrico Bossi fought (along with Giovanni Sgambati, Francesco Paolo Neglia, and Giuseppe Martucci) as composer for the establishment of an Italian instrumental music which could hold its ground independently of the all-embracing opera culture. The spread of musical theatre in the nineteenth century had led to the abolition of all symphonic institutions on the Italian peninsula: the composers named above became advocates of a chamber music and orchestra culture modelled on the French and German example, opening the way for the Generazione dell’Ottanta (Ottorino Respighi, Gianfrancesco Malipiero, and Alfredo Casella, among others). Throughout his life, Bossi had considerable success as a composer, for instance with his Trio sinfonico, Op. 123, for violin, cello and piano (1901), the Intermezzi goldoniani, Op. 127, for orchestra (1905), and the Canticum Canticorum, Op. 120, for soloists, choir and orchestra, the première of which at the St Thomas church in Leipzig (1900) made a lasting impression. Bossi’s symphonic works abruptly fell out of favour after the Second World War—the reasons for this are not only to be found in his conservative adherence to the Brahmsian tradition, but almost certainly also to his joining the Fascist Party in 1921. He died in 1925 in mid-Atlantic while returning from a tour of the United States.
Bossi’s body of compositions can be divided into different creative periods, depending on his external influences, which can be traced through the organ works recorded here. The French titles and registration instructions of the Thème et Variations, Op. 115, and the Pièce Héroïque, Op. 128, betray the influence of César Franck, who was Bossi’s first and primary point of reference in regard to the organ and who had, in turn, championed the publication of the Fantasia, Op. 64, in Paris, which Bossi had dedicated to him. The large-scale Konzertstück, Op. 130a, on the other hand, is dedicated to Karl Straube, the choirmaster-organist at St Thomas’s church in Leipzig, and is influenced by the great German symphonic tradition. Originally conceived for organ and orchestra (Op. 130), the four-part work is based on a thoroughly elaborated nucleus; in its grand gestures and extremely dense harmony the Italian here pays his respects to Central European concert rituals. Something similar could be said about Hora mystica and Hora gaudiosa from Cinque pezzi, Op. 132. The character piece seems, for Bossi as for Max Reger, to have been the favoured sphere of experimentation with new forms of composition, as is here evidenced in unexpected harmonic expansions which bear comparison with those of Wagner. Notwithstanding the italianità of his melodic inventiveness, the well travelled Bossi is revealed as a true musical cosmopolitan: as the first Italian composer of note who did not write specifically for the classical Italian type of organ, he fed on all the tonal and technological innovations which characterized European organ building around the turn of the century, and this has partly determined the choice of instruments for the present recording.
The courage to experiment, which is heralded in Opus 132, finds its greatest expression in Bossi’s late work, for instance in his Momenti francescani, Op. 140 (1922), poetical impressions based on the life of St Francis of Assisi. Fervore as well as Colloquio colle rondini evoke ecstatic contemplations on nature in the best Franciscan tradition, enticing the composer to exotic tone colourings which could even lead one to suspect the influence of Debussy. However, more careful study reveals the shadow of Madama Butterfly…‘Dear friend! What are you planning at present? Concerts, of course—I wish you all the best for your tour of America. They will get to hear how the organ really should be played!’—this is what Giacomo Puccini wrote to Bossi in 1924, before the latter embarked on his last concert tour.
© 2008 Pier Damiano Peretti
Translation: Bernd Mueller
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