CIARDI: Music for Flute
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Cesare Ciardi (1818-1877)
Music for Flute
The Italian flute and piccolo virtuoso Cesare Ciardi was born in Prato (Tuscany) in 1818. Even as a very young child he displayed a remarkable gift for music - before the age of seven he was apparently making his own little reed pipes on which he would improvise "melodies that were simple and untutored, yet not without charm nor unpleasing to the ear…" He was taught by Giuseppe Nuti, a pianist and composer, and Luigi Carlesi, a flautist, both from Prato. Ciardi made his first public appearance in the autumn of 1827 at Genoa's Palazzo Reale, where he was presented to the royal family and the audience by Nicolò Paganini. This proved to be the start of a concert career that soon took him to many of the country's most prestigious stages, his incredible technical and expressive ability winning him, deservedly, the epithet of virtuoso. A contemporary of his, Enrico Montazio, a journalist and music critic, wrote in glowing terms of the flautist's talents and considered him one of the greatest soloists of the age.
Ciardi began to divide his time between performing and composing from 1838 onwards. He wrote principally for his own instrument, but also counted an opera among his compositions. His fame soared at home and abroad during the 1840s, and in 1847 he took part in a successful tour of London, appearing to great acclaim at Covent Garden, among other venues. In 1853 he moved to St Petersburg, becoming chamber flautist to the Tsar and professor at the Imperial Chapel, the Theatre School and the St Petersburg Conservatory, where Tchaikovsky was later among his pupils: they became close friends and Ciardi taught Tchaikovsky the flute. It was during Ciardi's years in Russia, where he remained until his death (in 1877), that his undisputed artistic merits and his professionalism gained him a reputation as the finest flautist in Europe.
By all accounts Ciardi was a truly great performer, comparable to Paganini in his love and understanding of his instrument, and an influential representative of nineteenth-century Italian flute-playing. For years the dominant form of opera had (for commercial rather than artistic reasons) pushed instrumental music more or less into oblivion in Italy, and so as well as being a star soloist,
Ciardi the composer also played an important rôle in the instrumental revival that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Ciardi composed only one flute concerto, the Gran Concerto in D, Op. 129, for flute and piano. He recast the work for flute and orchestra, but it was never published in this version and no copy has yet been found. Op. 129was written in about 1859, when Ciardi had already been in St Petersburg for some time, and it brings out all the qualities peculiar to the flute, from its sublime lyrical expressivity to its dazzling agility, giving the soloist wonderful opportunities for virtuosic display. The first movement is in sonata form, and the flute part provides highly inventive variations on the theme. There follow an Andante sostenuto in F major and an Allegro scherzoso finale, marked by an overall lightness and melodic fantasy which make it a delight to hear.
Even as a young student Ciardi had shown a great interest in Tuscan folk-music, collecting and transcribing a number of stornelli for flute and voice. When composing for his own instrument, he wrote some pieces for teaching purposes and others of medium difficulty for amateur players, but it is the works he conceived for really skilled players that particularly stand out in his catalogue. They give flautists plenty of scope for virtuosity, and Ciardi used them as the basis for his own concert performances. His preferred form was the Fantasia, for the formal and stylistic freedom it offered, allowing him to choose thematic material at will and to improvise variations in a range of styles and keys. L'eco dell'Arno, Op. 34, is one such piece. A fantasia based on traditional Tuscan themes, it was dedicated to the Florentine tenor Carlo Baucardè (1825-83). It is steeped in Tuscan colour and character, and its folkbased roots clearly, and delightfully, demonstrate Ciardi's strong attachment to his homeland.
The works for flute and piano that followed Op. 34provide further evidence of Ciardi's talent for developing beautiful melodies and evocative, virtuosic writing for the flute. He placed particular importance on creating catchy and inventive melodic lines, alternating familiar themes with bravura passages and virtuosic variations: all in all, music that audiences loved and that made the most of his beloved instrument, as well as reflecting his own exceptional talents. The Rivista musicale di Firenze, reviewing one of Ciardi's performances in the 1840s, called him an "admirable player … who broaches the most abstruse difficulties with clarity … and [who] performed one variation at such speed and with such perfection as to give the audience the impression that three instruments were playing all at once". It is easy to see why he became known as the "Paganini of the flute".
Another stunning example of instrumental virtuosity is to be found in Le Rossignol du nord, Op. 45, a set of brilliant, song-like variations on a popular Russian theme. Similarly impressive is Carnevale di Venezia, Op. 22, for flute and strings, a scherzo based on the canzonetta 'Cara mamma mia', further proof of Ciardi's love of folk-music and the inspiration it so often brought him.
Sospiro del cuore, an elegy for flute and piano, is almost a romanza, its intense and expressive lyricism giving it the style and feel of a vocal piece. Di chi?, a polka-mazurka, and La smorfiosetta, a capriccio, meanwhile, create an almost (ante litteram) fin-de-siècle atmosphere, with their light-hearted and mannered writing for an elegant flute.
Translation: Susannah Howe