Alfredo Casella - Lyrichs

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  Introduction to the CD Liriche
Reviews on the CD Liriche

CD Nuova Era producted by Rive-Gauche Concerti with the support of Pedemont Region and CRT Foundation

Interpreters: Duo Alterno - Tiziana Scandaletti soprano, Riccardo Piacentini piano

Trois Lyriques op.9 (1905)
• Soir païen (text by Samain)
• Soleils couchants (text by Verlaine)
• En ramant (text by Richepin)

Deux chansons anciennes op.22 (1913)
• Golden slumbers kiss your eyes (text by Anonymous 17th Cent.)
• Flaïolet (text by Anonymous 17th Cent.)

Sonnet op.16 (1910) (text by Ronsard)

Nuageries (1903) (text by Richepin)

La Cloche fêlée op.7 (1903) (text by Baudelaire)

L'adieu à la vie op.26 (1915) (texts by Tagore, tr. Gide)
• O toi, suprême accomplissement de la vie...
• Mort, ta servante, est à ma porte...
• A cette heure du départ...
• Dans une salutation suprême...

Tre canzoni trecentesche op.36 (1923)
• Giovane bella luce del mio core (text by Cino da Pistoia)
• Fuor de la bella gaiba... (text by Anonymous)
• Amante sono, vaghiccia, di voi... (text by Anonymous)

Quattro favole romanesche op.38 (1923) (texts by Trilussa)
• Er coccodrillo
• La carità
• Er gatto e er cane
• L'elezzione der presidente


The project

This is the third CD dedicated to Italian vocal chamber music of the early twentieth
century by “Rive-Gauche Concerti” with the support of the Piemonte Region and the CRT
Foundation in collaboration with the Carlo Mosso Music Study Centre and the Library of the
Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory of Turin.
Composers like Giorgio Federico Ghedini, featured in the first two CDs, and Alfredo
Casella are still awaiting systematic study; in this context the “Duo Alterno”, which since
1997 has been promoting Italian music for voice and piano from the early twentieth century
to contemporary musicians, is working on musicological research and concert performances,
both in Italy and abroad, in a repertoire that includes some of the genre’s most beautiful pieces
many of which have been neglected in the Italian vocal tradition.
Although this is a repertoire which is not immune to the prejudices of those who, almost
one hundred years on, still consider it a “niche”, we confidently borrow Paul Feyerabend’s
words and claim that the stereotypes of old set-ups are changing rapidly and generating new
arrangements, new stereotypes whose role has always been that of stepping over the temporary
scleroses in which culture seems to flounder…
… perhaps beyond the customary venues of the theatre, remembering that such a lot of
vocal music, splendid indeed and with no offence to the majesty of opera, has been (re)produced
“in” and “for” other settings that are no less significant or important. Why then should it be
relegated to a “niche”?
Riccardo Piacentini

The three faces of Alfredo Casella

Born in Turin in 1883, Alfredo Casella moved to Paris at the age of thirteen in 1896, in
order to study music in a great European city of music. His destiny in art was marked by this
choice. He stayed in Paris until 1915, absorbing all the exceptional stimuli that the city could
offer. He enrolled at the Conservatory, passing the entrance examination under the scrutiny
of a jury presided over by a very strict Théodore Dubois. He studied piano with Louis Diémer
and also had the chance to attend Gabriel Fauré’s composition class. In the Parisian milieu
he made friends with such legendary performers as Alfred Cortot, Pablo Casals and with
leading figures of 20-century modernism: Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel.
The chamber lyrics included in our recording enable us to follow the stages in Casella’s
creative evolution: three aspects of a notoriously eclectic production, reflecting the uneasy
search for a personal stylistic identity. This search – a frequent feature in composer-performers
– is rooted in the horror vacui of Casella’s psychology and in his reaction to a phase of
profound historical and cultural upheaval.
Speaking in his autobiography I segreti della giara about Paris at the turn of the century,
the composer recalls the important role played by the publisher Albert Zunz Mathot in
promoting the music of young composers. His shop on the Boulevard Haussmann was a
meeting place for many of them, including Huré, Inghelbrecht, Ravel, Schmitt and at times
Erik Satie. New music was also encouraged by the aristocratic-bourgeois salons of the city
– we are thinking perhaps about the Godebskis, linked to Ravel and his circle – which hosted
performances of instrumental and vocal chamber music.
The tradition of French mélodies for voice and piano, which expressed the refined
relationship between music and poetry characteristic of the nineteenth century, was able to
develop in these circumstances. The genre is known to have flourished in the circles that
Casella frequented in these years. The trend of decadence drew composers towards the
symbolist poetry of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine or, with a taste for the archaic, towards
medieval and renaissance poetry. Among many examples we recall the Ariettes Oubliées
(1888) and the Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire (1889) by Debussy; Faurés La bonne chanson
(1892), or Ravel’s Epigrammes de Clément Marot.
The lyrics of Casella’s youth, published chiefly by Mathot, are set in this cultural-musical
context with particular reference, in their predictable influences on composition, to the figure
of Fauré.
Nuageries (1903) and En ramant (1905) set to music texts taken from the collection La
Mer by Jean Richepin (1849-1926), a strange writer figure whose stormy life seems to seek
to follow the cliché of the poète maudit.
In La Cloche fêlée (1904), on a poem by Baudelaire, and Soleils couchants (1905) from
Verlaine’s Paysages tristes, Casella tackles two works by major poets. The composer succeeds
in grasping the extraordinary expressive climax of Baudelaire’s text, which passes from an
initial melancholic evocation of the night to an almost expressionist finale, with a vocal line
that moves in crescendo to a final G sharp scored fortissimo.
No less aptly, Casella renders the typical Verlaine langueur of Soleils couchants through
a static accompanying pattern, barely stirred by the chromatic ruffles of the voice. In Soir
païen (1905) the text written by Albert Samain (1858-1900), a symbolist writer to whom
Fauré also turned, presents a typical feature of decadent poetry: a Hellenic, arcadian-mythological
setting. Casella follows the succession of images, lacking in any narrative
continuity, providing each with different accompanying figures, dense in harmony and timbre.
Sonnet (1910) on the other hand, on a text by Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), matches the
madrigal nature of the verses with an economy of means that seems to foreshadow future
neo-classical developments and shows a more contained musical texture and vocal line.
Les deux chansons anciennes, published by Mathot in 1922 but in reality written for a
competition staged in 1912 by the “Maison du Lied” in Moscow dedicated to the harmonising
of folk songs on given melodies (one of which chosen by the composer), bear witness to
Casella’s interest in popular music, which had already been seen in the symphonic rhapsody
Italia (1909). Interest in folklore, rooted in the musical nationalism of the late nineteenth
century, emerged in the new century in approaches that differed in their cultural awareness
and handling of material: we may think of the exceptional and original case of Bartók. In
Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, a lullaby of the seventeenth century and Flaïolet, by an
anonymous 13-century writer, we perceive his intention to treat the folk material with a
harmonic accompaniment that is certainly measured but “knowing” and enriched with sounds
that are extraneous to the harmony..
The decisive two-year period 1912-13, with performances of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire
and Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps, opens a new phase in Casella’s output. In 1913 with
Notte di maggio, for voice and orchestra on a text by Carducci, and even more markedly with
the Nove pezzi (1914) for piano, the composer absorbs and elaborates the new idiom of
modern music. He himself was to define this creative period, which moreover coincided with
his return to Italy in 1915, as a crisis dominated by “tonal doubt”, by chromatic exasperation
that drove him to the verge of Schoenberg’s atonality. At the same time he was not loath to
adopt, in an eclectic manner, percussive stylistic features of Bartók’s or polytonal
superimpositions derived from Stravinsky.
The four lyrics that make up L’Adieu à la vie (1915) belong to this phase. Casella chose
four poetic prose pieces by Rab_ndran_th Tagore (1861-1941) an Indian writer who won
great international celebrity when he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1913.
From the work G_t_ñjali, which was considered worthy of the Nobel prize, the musician
chose four lyrics in André Gide’s translation. In Caselli’s reading of Tagore’s texts it is
difficult to grasp that serene acceptance of death as a natural passage, even one that is desired,
to attain God, which is a typical manifestation of the poet’s pantheistic mysticism. What we
do find in Adieu à la vie is an anguished stupor, behind which flow the tragic events of the
war, translated into a harmonic drifting without a haven, in a search for sound qualities that
is dulled and free of any smugness.
With his Undici pezzi infantili (1920) for piano, Casella turns his back on the “tonal
doubt” and in the wake of the post-war ideological call to order, launches his neo-classical
project. The idea of an Italian path to modernity – differing “both from French impressionism
and from Strauss’ decadence, from Schoenberg’s cold scepticism, from Spanish sensuality
and from the bold fantasy of the recent Hungarians”, as he wrote in the review “Ars nova”
in 1918 – became his new aesthetic credo. This modernity was to take on the clear, linear
forms of Italy’s landscape and art.
This direction is to be seen in the archaism, aiming for essential lines and a diatonic
tendency, of the Tre canzoni trecentesche (1923) on texts by Cino da Pistoia and by anonymous
poets, or again in the popular good humour of the Quattro favole romanesche of Trilussa
(1871-1950) where the sharp irony of the verses is echoed in the dry clarity of the music.
Raffaele Pozzi

Some reviews on the CD Liriche

From “Musica e Scuola” – 15th June 2005

“Duo Alterno's activity, both in concerts and CDs, goes on [...] The chances are the intense “Liriche da Tagore [Songs from Tagore]” by Franco Alfano or the beautiful “Songs” by Alfredo Casella [...] or the “Canti e Strambotti [Songs and Strambotti]” by the refined Giorgio Federico Ghedini. Tiziana Scandaletti and Riccardo Piacentini are two interpreters specialized in this sort of repertoire [...] The Duo Alterno, sure point of reference in the view of modern and contemporary music, brings [...] all over the world [...] a literature of XXth Century which otherwise remains in the drawer.” (Michele Gioiosa)

From “Studi Piemontesi” – June 2003: Alfredo Casella’s Songs. The new CD by Duo Alterno

"[...] The excellent CD makes it possible to appreciate in the best manner Casella’s stylistic evolution [...] One hour of music which you can listen to without pause, seduced by elegant phrasing, the play of colors and timbral reverberations obtained from the two interpreters [...] Scandaletti, encouraged from Riccardo Piacentini’s piano, careful to realize every nuance always without hanging over the melodic line, can take out a variegated and multifarious vocalism which well suits these songs [...] in the exacting cycle, "L’Adieu à la vie" written in 1915, the climax of this graceful anthology, Scandaletti reveals a rare cleverness in going through different expressions, where Casella’s writing becomes sharp, sometimes livid: her voice gets into the high regions with sureness, but without sourness, and changes itself to softness like velvet in the middle register, while the piano now intervenes with fast fragments, now with distant bell-like sounds, now with punctuations like thin stalactites, in a phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of images. Also very appreciable is the idea to insert the "Tre canzoni trecentesche op. 36" [...] The CD concludes with the cycle composed in the same year "Quattro favole romanesche op. 38" [...] The agreement between the two performers is total in this case too; so you can find a tasty "divertissement", made precious [...] through a vocal emission where charm and malicious underlinings are mixed with a practically perfect symbiosis, stylistically close to the "esprit" of Casella’s music [...]" (Attilio Piovano)

From “l’Opera” – July-August 2003: Alfredo Casella. Songs for soprano and piano

"[...] a very interesting CD [...] a «necklace» of little pearls threaded with intelligence and philological fairness [...] which takes us among the details of the production of a composer that made the continue stylistic search the principal characteristic of his own music. And it is just this force going across various stylistic stages that makes even more appreciable the malleability of the two performers of Duo Alterno. Riccardo Piacentini, at the piano, accompanies with total precision and with ccoloristic attention that is very rare in piano accompanists. Tiziana Scandaletti, soprano with an appreciable musicality, performs the different songs with a remarkable interpretative transport [...]" (Enrico Ercole)

From “La Stampa” – 26th April 2003: Casella, a way to modernity. The Duo Alterno reads again the composer from “La Cloche” to “L’adieu à la vie” to the “Favole romanesche”

“[...] Piacentini and Scandaletti have a double merit: to continue in project of making us known a rare and significant repertory and to propose it through a well measured passion, that appears to be the rightest interpretation.” (Sandro Cappelletto)

From “Il Giornale” – 22th April 2003: Voice and piano for Casella’s lyrichs

“[...] One hour of music which you can listened to without pause, seduced by an elegant phrasing, a precious joke of middle dyes and timbrical reverberations obtained from the two interpreters [...] Scandaletti, encouraged from Riccardo Piacentini’s piano, careful to realize every slightest nuance always without hanging over the melodic line, can take out a variegated and multiform vocality that well suits these pages [...] Scandaletti reveals a rare cleverness in going through different expressions, where Casella’s writing becomes sharp, sometimes livid: her voice gets on the high regions with sureness, but without sourness, and changes itself to softness like velvet in the mid register, while the piano now intervents with sharpness now with far pealing, now with punctuations like thin stalactites, in a phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of imagines [...] the agreement between the two performers is perfect [...] charme and malicious underlinings are mixed with a perfect symbiosis.” (Attilio Piovano)

From e-mail of the musicologist Fiamma Nicolodi on 10th April 2003

“[...] beautiful CD with Casella’s lyrichs! It is a meritorious work of which we felt the absence [...]” (Fiamma Nicolodi)

From e-mail of the musicologist Enrico Fubini on 4th April 2003

“[...] wonderful CD [...] really important also from the cultural point of view (Casella was always forgotten by the discography!) [...] very good pianist [...] very good singer [...]” (Enrico Fubini)

From “La Stampa” – 12th September 2002: Impressionism for voice and piano

“Strange and very interesting program that one proposed from Settembre Musica at the Piccolo Regio Theater in Turin. The Duo Alterno, formed from Tiziana Scandaletti and Riccardo Piacentini, performed four Alfredo Casella’s cycles of songs with strong intensity and passion [...] “Favole romanesche” on texts by Trilussa and “Deux chansons anciennes” show Casella’s sensibility in miniatures inspired from popular songs, while “L’adieu à la vie” written in 1915, on texts by Tagore, reveals a really impressive tragic sensibility [...] one of the most precious things in the 20th Century Italian chamber music which the Duo Alterno since many years cultivates with success through CDs and live performances [...] Concert full of people and smart success.” (Paolo Gallarati)


Rive-Gauche Concerti
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Strada degli Alberoni 12/22, 10133 Turin (Italy)

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Created March 14th, 2003
Last update October 12th, 2005

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