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(E) Composer Dallapiccola From Pazin
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/16/2004 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(E) Composer Dallapiccola From Pazin

 

Composer Dallapiccola From Pazin

The following appeared in the London based The Guardian newspaper and
concerns a composer from Pazin called Luigi Dallapicola - I admit this
is the first I heard of him. John Kraljic

Songs of freedom

Interned in the first world war and persecuted in the second, Luigi
Dallapiccola had a deep hatred of tyranny. His groundbreaking music
deserves to be celebrated as an expression of liberation, says Misha
Donat

Friday February 13, 2004
The Guardian

On April 1 1924, Schoenberg arrived in Florence with his touring
ensemble for a performance of his expressionist cabaret piece Pierrot
Lunaire at the Palazzo Pitti. Most of those present regarded the
occasion as an elaborate April fool, but at least two people sat
listening intently. One was Italy's most famous living composer.
Although terminally ill with throat cancer, he had driven the 50-odd
miles from his home in Viareggio to hear the performance, and after it
ended he asked to be presented to Schoenberg. The other was a
20-year-old music student named Luigi Dallapiccola. Not for a further 25
years did Dallapiccola summon up the courage to write to Schoenberg and
explain how that evening had been a defining moment in his life. For his
part, Schoenberg confessed how proud he'd always been that Puccini had
come to the Pierrot concert.

There is, perhaps, something symbolic about the way the paths of the
three composers crossed for that brief moment. For it is in
Dallapiccola's music that Italianate warmth and lyricism find a meeting
ground with Austro-German contrapuntal rigour. In fact, Dallapiccola -
born on February 3 1904 - was the first significant composer in his
country to adopt the 12-note method of composition that Schoenberg had
formulated in the early 1920s as a means of unifying music that no
longer relied on the traditional major and minor keys. In so doing
Dallapiccola may be said to have brought Italian music very belatedly
into the 20th century. Not surprisingly, he was something of a father
figure to the generation of Italian composers that came after him: he
was for a brief period the teacher of Luciano Berio, and his music was
deeply admired by Luigi Nono and Bruno Maderna.

As Dallapiccola was finding his feet as a composer, Italy was going
through its darkest period, politically and culturally. Even
Dallapiccola flirted briefly with fascism in the 1930s. His eyes were
opened on September 1 1938, when Mussolini issued Italy's anti-semitic
racial laws. "I wanted to protest," Dallapiccola said later, "but I
wasn't so naive as not to know that in a totalitarian state the
individual is powerless. Only in music could I express my indignation."
Earlier that year Dallapiccola had married a Jewish woman, and the
couple were forced to seek refuge in the hills surrounding Florence. On
the day of Mussolini's proclamation, Dallapiccola began work on his
Canti di Prigionia (Songs of Imprisonment) - the first in a series of
"protest" works.

A hatred of tyranny and oppression had been instilled in Dallapiccola
from an early age. He was born on February 3 1904, in a frontier town on
the Istrian peninsula near Trieste. At the time it was part of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, though after the first world war it reverted to
Italy. (It is now in Croatia.) The composer recalled that when a train
pulled in to the local station, the guard would announce its name in
three languages: Mitterburg/Pisino/Pazin - an indication of its status
as a cultural melting-pot. The Austrian authorities were quick to stamp
on any suspected irredentist sympathies among the Italian population,
and Dallapiccola's father - a classics teacher at the only
Italian-language school - was considered "politically unreliable". As a
result the school was closed down, and the family deported to the
Styrian capital of Graz.

The experience of internment left a deep scar on Dallapiccola. The Canti
di Prigionia (scored for chorus with an instrumental ensemble consisting
of two harps, two pianos and percussion) sets texts by three condemned
prisoners: Mary Stuart, Boethius and Savonarola. Mary Stuart's fervent
prayer for freedom struck a particularly strong chord: "I wanted,"
Dallapiccola said, "the divine word libera to be shouted by everyone."
Some five years later, when his only child was born shortly after the
libera tion of Florence from the Nazi occupation in August 1944, she was
named Annalibera.

Dallapiccola's progress towards 12-note music was a gradual one, and it
was made difficult by the lack of performances of the music of
Schoenberg, Berg and Webern in Italy. But he managed to acquire a score
of Berg's Wozzeck and, in 1934, he heard the same composer's
concert-aria Der Wein at a contemporary music festival in Venice. The
two works left an indelible impression on him - as did Lulu, of which he
heard the first broadcast performance in 1937. At that time Dallapiccola
was working on his own first opera, Volo di Notte (based on
Saint-Exupéry's novel Vol de Nuit), and Berg's influence can be heard
throughout: in the opera's symphonic musical forms; in the casting of
one of its scenes as a "pezzo ritmico" (an idea that harks back to the
"monoritmica" that reaches its climax with the suicide of Lulu's husband
in the first act of Berg's opera) and in the Movimento di Blues, which
echoes the off-stage jazz band interludes that punctuate the scene in
Lulu's dressing-room.

Dallapiccola lived in Florence for more than 50 years, the majority of
them in an apartment in the Via Romana overlooking the Boboli Gardens,
and his exquisitely executed scores have an air of Florentine
craftsmanship about them. Even the look of the music on the page carries
symbolic significance, as it occasionally does in Italian renaissance
music. In his one-act opera Il Prigioniero, set during the Spanish
Inquisition, a prisoner is led to believe that freedom is at hand. He
manages to escape his cell but as he emerges into a starlit garden, only
to fall into the arms of the Grand Inquisitor, he understands that all
the events leading to his escape have been pre-arranged as the ultimate
torture - hope. In the music, a complex web of ricercars, or intricate
contrapuntal studies, seems to reflect the labyrinth of Saragossa's
subterranean corridors through which the prisoner stumbles.

In the beautiful late piece Sicut Umbra ... for mezzo-soprano and
chamber ensemble, Juan Ramón Jiménez's lines "Hay que buscar, para saber
tu tumba, por el firmamiento" ("You have to search the firmament to know
your tomb") are mirrored by melodic lines based on the shapes of various
constellations, which Dallapiccola "draws" in the score. And the Cinque
Canti of 1956 for baritone and chamber ensemble use a 12-note row whose
sinuous line suggests the shape of a crucifix. At the work's mid-point a
single "tutti" chord in an otherwise sparsely scored passage enables
Dallapiccola to "draw" an actual cross on the page. The listener may not
consciously be aware of such symbolic devices, but they nevertheless
cast a metaphysical shadow over the music.

At the heart of Dallapiccola's art lie elaborate canons of every
conceivable kind. They are heard at their most serenely simple in the
Wartime Series of Greek Lyrics the composer wrote as a mental refuge
from the turmoil that surrounded him. More complex are the Goethe-Lieder
of 1953 for voice and three clarinets, based on poems from the
Westöstlicher Divan. In one, the character of Suleika contemplates her
reflection: "The mirror tells me I am beautiful. You tell me it is also
my fate to age." Dallapiccola writes a mirror-canon, with the answering
voice not only upside-down but also in a refracted rhythm that suggests
the process of ageing, as though in a distorted looking-glass.

There is in Dallapiccola's art a touching faith in the 12-note system,
almost as a way of life. That faith is one that is deeply unfashionable
today. Thirty years ago, at the time of the composer's 70th birthday, I
produced a retrospective evening of his work for Radio 3, and I remember
asking him what was being done in Italy to mark the occasion. "I think
nothing," he said, with a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

At least this time round, on his centenary, there will be performances
of his music in Rome and Florence. But over here there have been
precious few attempts to spark a revival of interest in recent years,
other than a rather ill-judged production of Il Prigioniero at English
National Opera. It's difficult to know why this hauntingly beautiful
music remains so little known to all but a small circle of admirers.
Certainly, it is undemonstrative in its perfection; but that very
perfection is a quality we should treasure.


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