MALIPIERO: Il finto Arlecchino / Vivaldiana (Peter Maag/ Teije van Geest/ Veneto Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.555515)
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Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973)
II finto Arlecchino; Vivaldiana; Sette invenzioni; Quattro invenzioni
Judged by his hest works, Gian Francesco Malipiero was arguably the most impressive, and certainly the most original, member of that unjustly-neglected generation of Italian composers born around 1880 which in Italy is known as the "generazione dell' Ottanta". Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-75), the most celebrated Italian composer of the next generation, even went so far as to describe him, on at least one occasion, as "the most important [musical] personality that Italy has had since the death of Verdi". However, Malipiero was also exceptionally prolific, and undeniably the quality of his music is variable - as is the case, indeed, with most such hyper-productive composers of recent times: Hindemith, Martinů, Milhaud and Villa-Lobos are well-known instances.
With such composers, whose irrepressible creative urges sometimes outran their powers of self-criticism, it is important to focus especially on their best music, which alone can give the measure of their artistic statures. The most substantial of the four works here recorded is undoubtedly the Sette invenzioni (1933), which gives a fair idea of the special qualities of Malipiero's finest instrumental pieces of the 1930s and 1940s, the period when he wrote his first seven numbered symphonies and several notable concertos (including the splendid First Violin Concerto of 1932), as well as such radiantly lyrical chamber compositions as the Sonata a cinque and the Fourth String Quartet (both 1934).
The Sette invenzioni, together with the lighter and more straightforwardly tuneful Quattro invenzioni of the same year, have an unusual history which has only recently been correctly understood, thanks to the researches of Paolo Pinamonti, Fabrizio Borin and Paolo Cattelan, who have shown that the composer's own statements on the subject were sometimes misleading. It has always been known that the music in both sets of invenzioni was at one time intended for use in the sound track of a film called Acciaio (Steel), directed by Walter Ruttmann and rather high-handedly adapted from a scenario provided by Pirandello. As things turned out, only some of Malipiero's music was used in the film, tiresomely mingled (to his understandable chagrin) with commonplace light music by other hands. It was, no doubt, the subsequent urge to dissociate his music from this experience that led him to declare, in a note dated 1952, that "These Sette invenzioni were not 'composed' for a film but written just as they are in this score, and then adapted to the film more or less mechanically". "It is strange", the note continues, "but despite the suffering caused by the collaboration, this work is particularly dear to me, almost like a happy memory, whereas in fact it is nothing of the kind".
Study of the composer's sketches has shown, however, that the music of all eleven invenzioni was in fact originally written for Acciaio, and only subsequently adapted and assembled for concert use. For instance, the last of the Sette invenzioni, with its harshly dissonant opening and closing sections, was designed to be juxtaposed with the recorded noises of a steel foundry in one of the film's most visually inventive episodes. Other movements were run together from more than one distinct passage of film music, and the overall effect is undeniably discursive. Yet this is so completely in keeping with the nature of the basic material - and indeed with Malipiero's musical personality in general - that, far from being a defect, it is an important part of the music's special charm. When listening to the Sette invenzioni, one should not expect to find clear-cut musical structures: only occasionally do ideas recur significantly, the most prominent instance being the thematic cross-reference between the third movement and the fifth. Otherwise the music presents an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of evocative imagery, enhanced by a bright, crisply colourful orchestral fabric. The pervading melodic style is pastoral in tone and modal in syntax; and the third invenzione, in particular, has all the free-ranging yet relentless energy of Malipiero's best fast symphony movements.
Having been conceived for the same purpose, the Quottro invenzioni naturally have characteristics in common with the Sette. However, they are scored for a smaller orchestra (with a delightfully effective part for piano duet in the last movement); and the relatively large amount of repetition - there are even some immediate repeats of whole passages - gives them a rather more formal air, with intermittent neo?¡-eighteenth-century overtones. The openings of the second and third movements, with their drone basses and simple, clear-cut melodies, resemble Musettes in a late Baroque suite. The resultant atmosphere is rustic as well as archaic: the Quattro invenzioni were originally written for scenes in the film depicting village life, the inside of an inn, a country fair. Unfortunately Ruttmann rejected this music in its entirety, and Malipiero ?¡- exaggeratedly, though perhaps understandably in the circumstances - in due course repudiated it. Only in 1991 did the Quattro invenzioni have their first Italian Performance.
Even more frankly eighteenth-century in its associations is the music from the opera Il finto Arlecchino (1925) which the composer subsequently gathered together to from the recently-discovered frammenti musicali, recorded for the present disc soon after their long-delayed world premiere. Compared with Malipiero's major operas, such as Sette canzoni (1918-19) or Torneo nottumo (1929) or La favola del figlio cambia to (1932-3), Il finto Arlecchino is a light-?¡weight affair - not so much a convincing drama as an amiably inconsequential, deliberately "mannered" evocation of eighteenth-century Venice. The brief, slow second frammento - which is identical with the orchestral prelude to the opera's second scene - is almost a pastiche of real eighteenth-century music; while other passages -such as the brightly dissonant fast music that immediately follows, at the beginning of the third frammento - have a pungent zest which parallels neo-classical Stravinsky A strong element of parody can be sensed (even when the music is divorced from its operatic context) in the pompous fugue that opens the fourth frammento, which in the opera accompanies the absurd Don Ottavio's grotesque contribution to a song-?¡contest.
An unpretentious but logical conclusion to Malipiero's creative dialogue with eighteenth-century music is provided by Vivaldiana (1952), in which he used - and re-orchestrated - actual material from the works of his famous Venetian predecessor. Being also a distinguished musicologist, Malipiero had become president of the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, which in 1947 had begun to publish the "red priest's" complete instrumental music; he himself edited several volumes of the series. Before long he felt the need to do something freer and more creative with the material he was editing: as he characteristically put it, "I took the poor Red Priest and masked him in my own way: in my own way up to a point, that is, because nothing has been changed in the music's form, harmony or rhythm" Vivaldiana is indeed an imaginatively colourful transcription for a classical orchestra (consisting of double woodwind, two horns and strings) of excerpts from si