13 May 2009

Più Dallapiccola

Tre poemi für Singstimme und Kammerorchester nach Texten von James Joyce, Michelangelo und Manuel Machado (1949)
I listened to this in a dreadful recording of a piano-vocal reduction by Duo Alterno; I was unable to get a hold of a score. The two outer movements, bell-like, serene, bookend a processional dark central monologue by the dead. As a whole, the work is strong with the second movement the strongest. This is the first of Dallapiccola's works to use a single row throughout and based on sketches it seems that he associated this row with his daughter - it is inscribed on a letter sent to her for her fourth birthday. With this in mind and given the deep association these poems have with death, we can read a poetic meaning within: Dallapiccola did use his rows as signifiers - the iconic use throughout his compositions bear this out - thus we can perhaps place the following on Dallapiccola: the passing of generations through birth and family is a sufficient response to the passing of generations through death.

Tre Episodi dal Balletto ‘Marsia’ für Klavier (1949)
Three sections from the piano arrangement of Marsia. If you like Marsia, you'll like this.

Job. Eine Sacra Rappresentazione nach dem Buch Hiob (1950)
I was able to play through this from a vocal score - there is a recording but it is really difficult to get a hold of. The work builds up to the great monologue of God, which Dallapiccola sets for chorus with a rumbling accompaniment in between phrases - together with this is a slower canon that uses parts of a chant. Before this big scene we have the open reveal of the twelve-tone row to the phrase - don't be afraid of man, be afraid of God and lo! when he comes ere blooming one need be afraid. The harmonic control is tight and the work as a whole is quite strong and worthy of far more performances than it gets. There is a small clip on YouTube which shows even more how strong this work is.

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22 April 2009

Some more Dallapiccola

I realize its been several months since I've posted here last, and I hope to remedy that somewhat in the future. There's been a lot of changes recently, mainly my loss of library priveleges at my alma mater, but that was scheduled to happen. In the weeks leading up to the end date, I furiously set to scanning scores and such to help me continue my listening. I guess in the rush I actually wanted some time off, so since then, about a month now, I've actually not been listening to much. I'm slowly getting back into the game and listened this morning to some Dallapiccola. Attached here are some more of my tasting notes on Dallapiccola's music - my last entry on the composer got only so far as Volo di Notte - so continuing the chronology:

Critical Edition of Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition: Piano
No information on this

Piccolo Concerto per Muriel Couvreux für Klavier und Kammerorchester
In two movements and with a prominent role for the piano this piece seems to be a mishmosh of some ideas that Dallapiccola was working out but doesn't succeed for me. The first movement is a pentatonic hodgepodge and the second explores bell like sonorities in melodic thirds and harmonic fourths in a pandiatonicism. The influences are legion - I think - sort of gamelany (though this may be my imagination) also shows the influence of Monteverdi's string writing (particularly some of the interludes from the operas) also Stravinskian rhythms and the sort of notation where each part has their own meter that you see in the Webern Cantata 2 and some early music. I wasn't able to hear the recording.

Canti di prigionia
Dallapiccola worked on these exquisite settings for choir with 2 harps, 2 pianos and percussion in the beginning of what would be World War II. They are tied together by the use of the Dies Irae chant in various guises, though oh so often audible in the counterpoint. Its opening harmonization is touching as is the stately processional pace of the works reminiscent of the last movement of Stravinsky's contemporary Symphony of Psalms with its same resigned 4/2 meter. The harmonies are gorgeous and the flexibility of the rhythm striking - in the second movement the hyperrhythm is constatly shifting losing the listener in a wash of piano arpeggios, in the others the interplay of the dotted rhythms and the straight rhythms provides a sense of unease fitting for the pieces. We can hear all the points in his earlier music still at play - Dallapiccola is constantly working with what he knows and refining it, taking it a step further with each subsequent composition. According to Fearn, Dallapiccola had difficulty in finding texts to go along with Mary Stuart's, eventually choosing from Boethius' Consolation fo Philosophy and Savonarola's meditation on the Psalm "In te Domine speravi".

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno di Ulisse in patria: Transcription/revision
According to Fearn, he modernized, and revised the work - cutting section and preparing a wartime performance. I have not seen the score.

Studio sul "Capriccio No. 14" di Niccolo Paganini - piano
Became fourth movment of Sonatina canonica. Apparently written as part of a collection of Italian piano pieces published during the war. On seeing the publication and its 80+ contributors of varying quality Dallapiccola was enraged and decided to take this little bit and make it a part of its own work.

Marsia. Ballett in einem Akt
I played through the piano reduction of this work. One can see the clear conneciton to almost all of what has come before - he has clearly reached an impasse in his compositon, or else he had to compose this quite quickly. This is Dallapiccola contribution to the rise in ballets on Neoclassical themes of which Stravinsky's Orpheus and Apollon Musagette stand as highpoints. Here again is the use of the row as an emblem of aloofness and feeling, here again is the 3+3+2+2 that is the opening of Volo di Notte, here again are the pentatonics woven together that is the bread and butter of the Piccolo Concerto. Here again we have a syncopated exotic dance in various combinations of 3+2 eighths. All in all, it is totally well-heard if a pastiche of cliches of the 1940s and Dallapiccola's own writings. There is too the potential for great rhythmic subtlety and harmonic nuance, except that he is trapped in the exotic scales of the time. It is a frustrating work for Dallapiccola has so much potential for so much more - the kind of thing that would have his compositon teacher scratching his head in disbelief.

Frammenti sinfonici dal balletto Marsia für Orchester
This is taken from the ballet. It leaves out the interesting opening of the tryptich and begins with the Magic Dance which alternates with parts of the ostinato of the prologue. The orchestration is limp giving a pastoral sensation with smooth edges. Still not my favorite.

Cinque frammenti di Saffo
I never get the sense listening to Dallapiccola - and this work is no exception - that there is an extra note or an ill-thought out passage. In this introverted work for soprano with chamber orchestra, I again have this feeling: each pitch is thought out both for its twelve-tone resonance and its harmonic sense. The works move forward harmonically and there are elegant cadences. It is almost like a neoclassical twelve-tone writing. He has a glorious way, dating back to Volo di Notte, of having a strong triad or triads over which there is a meandering twelve-tone melody. It works, we hear each note for the interval that it wants to define and I think there lies the essence of the mysticism of the row for Dallapiccola. There is apparently a strong formal sense to this work with the use of canons and a pallindrome in the third song - not particularly audible and that's not a bad thing.

Sonatina canonica in Es-Dur über Capricen von Niccolò Paganini für Klavier
Four movements, which explore (often in the tinkly range of the piano) several canonic ideas. We can see this in the context of his nascent dodecaphony, particularly the third movement with its prime versus retrograde (helpfully pointed out with arrows) - this one might even be audible. Otherwise the first is an ABA a lovely lullaby with a fast section between. The second and fourth are sparky and bring out the qualities I find most anoying in any of these Paganini inspired works, whether Brahms or what have you. The quick runs in dazzling keys - the second is particularly annoying with its rushing switches between major and minor. Challenging.

Sex Carmina Alcaei
These miniatures dedicated to Webern are real contrapuntal gems. Again there is not a spare note and again the rhyhmic flexibility is lovely. I think this rhythmic flexibility results from the use of the row combined with Dallapiccola's natural lyrical/modal sense - he needs to find a way for the counterpoint to "work" legitimately and so stretches things here and there. What we have are a number of canonic elements. The first movement for soprano and piano lays out the fifth-based row in an elegant beautiful way. The other movements are masses of mixed meters, one instrument in 3/4 another in 4/2 to bring out the connection to Renaissance polyphony, as Webern does in the Second Cantata. These are indeed lovely and elegant works.

Due Liriche di Anacreonte
These two were composed last of the three Greek lyric sets and are intended to be played second so as to create a narrative of more and more twelve-tone and canonic writing over the course of the triptych. Two movements, the first is an exquisite work that remains poised on that moment just between things, between waking and sleeping, between tonality and twelve-tonality, between fast and slow, loud and soft. Somehow he manages to do this, with the suspended bell-like Ab octaves in the piano no doubt contributing greatly. The second is more violent, though not strident. Near its two-thirds point we hear the row that will become the opening of the third set of the triptych. Dallapiccola knew a good moment within the piece when he saw one and was wise to extract this for the next segment.

Ciaccona Intermezzo e Adagio per violincello solo
I've never been a big fan of works for solo instruments, though the Bach suites and partitas are the obvious exception. These three movements for solo cello fit my general prejudice with the exception of the lovely thrid movement Adagio with its theme of open fifths. What makes the Adagio work though is the sequence at about the midway point in three and four voice harmony, it is there that Dallapiccola suceeds in moving beyond merely stating melody and actually moving the work forward hamronically. In a twelve-tone context, a solo work is remarkably challening, if we unmoor our melody from tonal backing what's to make that melody cohere? becuase for the most part a twelve-tone framework doesn't provide a strong enough aural connection between individual pitches. The Intermezzo fails in this regard - its a typical 1940s fast section with meter changes and the like, here interrupted by a slow melody. In his monograph Fearn tries to draw connections to Berg, but I don't see this at all. The opening Ciaccona loses the harmonic framework for me - here the Chaconne theme is likely the row harmonized in the first eight measures. Again, though unlike in a Bach Chaconne we lose this harmonic framework over the course of the movement. Nonetheless, this is an important work of twentieth-century solo cello writing and this could, depending on one's point of view, point to the greatness of this work or else the paucity of competition.

Rencesvals. Drei Fragmente aus dem Rolandslied für Bariton und Klavier
Post-war Dallapiccola and this is essentially a scena for high baritone and piano - well worth seeking out; in three connected movements. There is a great drama in the vocal line with its angular leaps of minor ninths. The row used comes from the opening chords and the text describes a fateful battle in the Chanson de Roland. I think there is some great personal connection to this work that is hard to put into words.

Due studi für Violine und Klavier
Two very powerful movements for violin and piano. The first is labelled a sarabande, but I don't hear the rhythms, instead there is an astonishing sense of completeness to it, the row keeps recycling and it sounds more like a chaconne, with an ending that gives us the sense that we've returned from where we came from. The opening portends that it will take off and it doesn't instead it is a mysterious unease which opens into anger in the second. "Fanfare and fugue" an angular, swarthy and metrically free challenge for the players. Rough and powerful.

Due pezzi für Orchester (arr. Of Due studi)
An arrangement of the Due studi for violin and piano, this version is scored for orchestra. In the orchestral rendition I think a good deal is lost, the sarabande comes off as precious with an almost self-conscious use of klangfarben melodie. The fanfare and fugue becomes muddied, though the horns are used to good effect. Apparently a major scandal broke at the premiere brought on by a claque who were against twelve-tone writing.

Il Prigioniero
A one act opera telling the story of a prisoner who seeks escape is left with the door open and feels himself to be free, only realizing in his hope, that what he thought was a tender jailer who called him brother, turns out to be the Grand Inquisitor himself. The music is strong, though it takes some time for it to actually work itself up. The opening is powerful bold chords with the shouting of the mother, eventually breaking into a chorus at its climax. The second scene is not as strong, but the work picks up when Dallapiccola begins a series of polyphonic setpieces based on fragments of song - in this way he is able to transform the spoken sentiments - overtly political as they are - into music, first "Father, Guide my Steps" then "Brother." Twelve-tone fragments arrive in much the same way they do in Dallapiccola's earlier works as melodic moments over triads at especially important dramatic points. Rows are used as leitmotifs. Lyricism is everpresent and the final scene with a choral prayer underscoring the prisoner's suffering is reminiscent of The Godfather and Mafioso before it and its original forefather Tosca.

Incontri con Roma (music for film)

L'esperienza del cubismo (film music)

Quattro Liriche di Antonio Machado für Sopran und Klavier
Four tiny songs to poetry of Machado about the springtime. I'm not as ipressed by these works, which seem to have less of the rhythmic flexibility, I've come to appreciate in Dallapiccola and whose melody lines become more efflorescent than lyrical. This original version is for soprano and piano.

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14 September 2008


I have been impressed with the music of Luigi Dallapiccola ever since I first heard the Concerto per la Notte di Natale many years back. I was further impressed by his rhythmic use when various pieces of his were used in an atonal ear training class I took during my Masters' degree. (Now that was one of the hardest classes I've ever taken). So, I decided to give his work the chronological looksee. What follows are notes on what I've heard so far:

Fiuri de tapo. Drei Melodien für Gesang und Klavier

Exists only in manuscript


Caligo für Gesang und Klavier

Exists only in manuscript


Due canzoni di Grado für kleinen Frauenchor, Mezzosopran und kleines Orchester

Exists only in manuscript


Dalla mia terra. Vier Gesänge für Mezzosopran, gemischten Chor und Orchester.

Not available. Apparently a version of the third song exists in the Italian magazine Agorà from Turin, August 1946


Due Laudi di Fra Jacopone da Todi für Sopran, Bariton, gemischten Chor und Orchester.

Exists only in manuscript

La canzone del Quarnero für Tenor, Männerchor und Orchester

Exists only in manuscript


Due Liriche del Kalevala für Tenor, Bariton, Kammerchor und vier Schlaginstrumente.

Apparently no1 is supplement to March/April 1938 Revue Internationale de Musique

It’s a shame that this is all we have of this piece what is there is a bit for chorus with some humming and an Italian bass over it all come recitativo. Modal, and attractive.

Partita für Orchester.

This appears to be the first work of Dallapiccola that I can get my hands on, it’s a large orchestral work, readily transparent, that is recorded only in a live recording from the 1960s on an old Stradivarius CD that is quite hard to get - the recording quality is poor. As for the piece: in four movements ending with a broadly lyrical soprano lullaby. It shows some sign of promise, with securely competent and confident writing throughout. The opening passacaglia is totally clasical in style beginning in quiet drumbeats working up to a fury and then returning. The second movement Burlesque is loud and angular melodically in a way that recalls Hindemith and other exercises in quartal harmony. The lullaby itself is quite lovely if overlong. Shows interest in neoclassical techniques and an almost Respighi-like neo-gregorianism. Dallapiccola must have been thinking laudi with the closing lullaby. Keen ear for harmony - trichordally derived.


Tre studi auf Texte aus dem Kalevala-Epos

Exists only in Manuscript

Estate für Männerchor a capella auf ein Fragment des Alkaios

For men's choir with big strong chords in an almost neo-gregorian modality that then expand into something far more chromatic. Has an almost sense of antiquity to it in a fascist manner.


Rapsodia. Studie zu La Morte del Conte Orlando für eine Singstimme und Kammerorchesterauf

No information


Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane - Malmaritate, Malammogliate

Two works for mixed choir on bawdy lyrics of Michelangelo the younger - the sculptor's nephew. The flavor of Istria is apparent in the repetition of the names of relatives and the household busybodiness. Musically thought they are quite tame in a style that is 1930s tonal, I don't know how else to phrase it. More modal than chromatic, with an occasional quartal flair. Not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination.


Divertimento in quattro esercizi für Sopran, Flöte, Oboe, Klarinette, Bratsche und Violoncello

Very nice in four movements for the interesting combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, viola, cello and soprano. Uses baroque dance forms - note the closing Siciliana and the third movement Bouree. Harmony is astringent, yet modal. Plays with division of the measure simultaneously as 3, 2, and 4.


Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane- Balconi dela Rosa, Papavero

This is the second series of Michelangelo choruses, here scored for Sopranos and Contraltos with instrumental ensemble. There is no recording. The score shows a work almost like a pastorale, filled with open fifths and slow changes of harmony. The second movement has some almost bell like sonorities and shepherd pipe type wind gestures. It is no doubt a lovely work still in the style of Resphigi.


Musica per tre pianoforti (Inni)

Conservative work for three pianos, though probably could be arranged to be played by two. Three movements, makes use of that easy mix of quartal harmonies and a pandiatonicism reminiscent of Pulcinella.


Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane - Coro degli Zitti, Coro die Lanzi Briachi

If only there were a recording of this work for orchestra and chorus, my playing through of the score can only give a hint to what is a constantly forward-looking tonally directed success. The opening chorus moves over an alternating major third-minor third bass line that alternates with fugal passages and some quartal harmonies. The second is third oriented much in the way that "Inni's” opening is, however the harmonies are well thought out and the lines lyrical. One gets the sense of each section of the work moving toward a larger and higher goal.


Tre Laudi für hohe Stimme und Kammerorchester auf Texte aus dem Laudario die Battuti di Modena von 1266

It took my quite some time to sit down and actually play through this taut setting for soprano and orchestra - in a reduction for soprano and piano. It has some beautiful harmonies - the final chord is quite lovely. Two slower movements that surround a quicker movement in the staccato style of Inni. He is moving toward a more refined melody, with notes truly well chosen. I look forward to hearing a recording someday.

Volo di notte. Operneinakter nach dem Roman Vol de nuit von Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Based on the same story that would become the actually-quite-good American film "Only Angels Have Wings" this is the sort of opera that only a young idealistic composer could write. The story is ludicrous, the mail must be delivered in South America and we learn over the radio (which is a major character in this) that a pilot has disappeared. The muisc is consistently solid particularly in the set pieces - Dallapiccola, borrowing from Berg (a little too much at times) is able to unite the various scenes around musical forms: there is a chorale and variations, an invention on a rhythm, and others. These though work and give coherence to the overall. Other elements include a good deal of sprechstimme (notated as Berg does) and the twelve-tone row borrowed from the Tre Laudi, which is presented over a B major triad and which is intended to be symbolic of the heavens: it appears at the beginning and end of the work as well as at the moment we lose the pilot - thus twelve-tone writing becomes an emblem for something beyond human comprehension. Otherwise there is no systematic twelve-tone writing, it remains a lot of quartal harmonies. I'd be interested in hearing a recording as my struggles with the piano-vocal score are not always so successful.

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