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ClassicsOnline Home » Clarinet Recital: Bosi, Sergio - LONGO, A. / BUSONI, F. / SCONTRINO, A. / FRUGATTA, G. (Italian Clarinet Suites)
Until the early 20th Century, Italian instrumental music remained overshadowed by opera. However, a number of composers born around the middle of the 19th century wrote excellent suites for clarinet and piano which brokered a ‘compromise between tradition and modernity’. Alessandro Longo’s Suite imbues
Classical form with ‘a passionate but never tormented or morbid Romanticism’, while that of Antonio Scontrino adds a dash of Debussyan impressionism. Giuseppe Frugatta’s splendid Suite paints a wideranging emotional soundscape rich in late Romantic influences; that of Busoni frames a lyrical Elegia with
virtuosic outer movements.
Italian Clarinet Suites
Alessandro Longo (1864–1945): Suite, Op. 62 • Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924): Suite, K. 88
Antonio Scontrino (1850–1922): Sei Bozzetti • Giuseppe Frugatta (1860–1933): Suite, Op. 44
Until the early years of the twentieth century, Italian instrumental music remained very much the poor relation of opera, “reduced to Cinderella status,
underrated and neglected by all”. Indeed in many cases, composers themselves turned away from it, just as audiences were turning away from the concert hall,
seduced by the bright lights and drama of the opera house. Only in the second half of the century did the first tentative attempts begin to establish concert
associations, such as quartet or orchestral societies, with the aim of reappraising home-grown instrumental music of days gone by and disseminating contemporary
European works. As part of this resurgence of interest in pure instrumental music, a group of young composers wrote a number of excellent suites for clarinet and piano, the suite, as musicologist Antonio Rostagno has pointed out, exemplifying “that compromise between tradition and modernity”.
Alessandro Longo (1864–1945) was a highly influential and strikingly versatile figure in early twentieth-century Italian musical life. He taught piano at the Naples Conservatory for around forty years, and played a key rôle in the rediscovery of Scarlatti’s harpsichord music with his critical edition of the complete sonatas. He himself wrote a substantial number of piano and chamber works, including the Suite, Op. 62, composed in October 1910 and published by Ricordi (Milan). Although dedicated to his friend and fellow-composer Camillo de Nardis (1857–1951), the Suite was probably inspired by the clarinettist Arcangelo Picone (1863–1933), whom he considered a “highly gifted teacher” (Longo, Picone and cellist Sergio Viterbini (1890–1943) performed
Brahms’s Trio, Op. 114, in Naples on several occasions). As is true of much of his music, this piece is Classical-Romantic in inspiration, and is
characterized by “ferments of a restless, fantastic, tender, passionate but never tormented or morbid Romanticism”. While the latter aspects shine through
in the Con moto and Intermezzo, the dazzling Allegro con spirito features a virtuosic dialogue for the two instruments.
The career of Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924), one of the greatest Italian pianists and composers of the early twentieth century, is much better known. A child
prodigy, son of the clarinettist Ferdinando Busoni (1834–1909) and pianist Anna Weiss (1833–1909), he began performing at a very early age in concerts given
by his parents in the principal cities of Italy, Austria and France. By the age of twelve he had begun composing works for these concerts, including various pieces for clarinet and piano, such as the Solo dramatique, K. 101 (Bolzano, 1879), the Sonata (c.1880) and the Suite, K. 88 (Op. 10) recorded here. Written in May–June 1878 in Vienna—probably under the supervision of Karl Goldmark, with whom Busoni studied for a short period—this work was first performed in Bolzano on 31 January 1879, with Busoni himself at the keyboard and his father on the clarinet. Cast in six movements, the Suite elicits a wide range of sonorities and great virtuosity, reaching lyrical heights in the extraordinary central Elegia.
Another key figure in the rebirth of Italian instrumental music, although one who has yet to receive the recognition he deserves, is that of Antonio Scontrino
(1850–1922). Having toured Europe in his youth as a double bass soloist, between 1872 and 1874 he studied classical and modern music in Munich. On his return to
Italy he tried his hand as an opera composer, but with only modest success, going on to teach at the conservatories of Palermo and Florence. He devoted all his energies in later life to writing instrumental works, which were much performed and very popular in Germany. The Sei Bozzetti (Six Sketches) on this album date back to 1909 and are dedicated to Scontrino’s pupil Francesco Paolo Lombardo, who by then was teaching clarinet and double bass at Genoa’s Civic Institute of
Music. With their endless quest for different rhythmic combinations and incessant modulations—from the delightful Adelaide, the composer’s homage to a much-loved character of Romantic literature, to the Brahmsian Didone and Walzer, and to Gondoliera, with its echoes of Debussyan sonorities, the dreaming Speranza and the fresh and virtuosic Letizia—the Bozzetti can be considered among the most representative works of Italian late Romanticism.
Just as fascinating, and virtually unknown, is the instrumental music of Giuseppe Frugatta (1860–1933), soloist, composer and piano teacher at the Milan Conservatory (1891–1930). His works, several of which were awarded prizes, have “a sense of modernity, sweeping vistas, a steady melodic flow [and] bold harmonisation”. His Clarinet Quintet in G minor, for example, received a prize from the International Society of London in 1899 and was then performed at court in Rome, in the presence of Queen Margherita, with Aurelio Magnani (1856–1921), one of the best Italian clarinettists of the day. Frugatta’s Suite, Op. 44, was published in 1901 and was dedicated to his friend, pianist and music critic Annibale Ponchielli (1877–c. 1930), son of the famous opera composer Amilcare (1834–1886). On publication its fame spread far and wide: at one time it was “even requested from far-off Denmark by
Professor Nörlung of Copenhagen”. The six movements that make up this splendid suite are created from a broad emotional palette, resulting in a wide-ranging work that successfully blends the Italian instrumental tradition and the late-Romantic trends of turn-of-the-century Europe.
English translation by Susannah Howe
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