Casella, Alfredo


Casella, Alfredo

Partita for piano and small orchestra, op. 42

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Alfredo Casella – Partita for piano and small orchestra, op. 42

(b. Turin, 25 July 1883 – d. Rome, 5 March 1947)


The Partita for piano and small orchestra (oboe, clarinets, trumpets, timpani and strings) op. 42 (1924-1925) is one of the most enjoyable and successful works composed by the Italian musician Alfredo Casella and sheds light on some fundamental aspects of his biography and poetics.

Born in Turin in 1883, Casella moved to Paris in 1896 to study at the prestigious Conservatoire. He then began a successful career as a pianist, composer and concert organiser in the French capital. Nevertheless, despite living for many years in Paris, he did not obtain French citizenship and cultivated an intense relation with Italian expatriates, such as the writers Ricciotto Canudo and Gabriele D’Annunzio. His desire to return to Italy was eventually realised in 1915, when he became professor of piano at the Liceo di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Within a few years, Casella became one of the most dynamic and thought-provoking musicians active in Italy, working relentlessly to renovate and internationalise Italian musical culture. In 1917, he co-founded the Società Italiana di Musica Moderna (SIMM), a combative yet ephemeral cultural association that, in the following two years, organised numerous concerts of contemporary music. One year later, in an article-manifesto entitled ‘La nuova musicalità italiana’ and published in the SIMM’s journal Ars nova, Casella criticised the autarky of Italian musical culture, rejecting the models of musical nationalism based on the ‘ingenious’ use of folklore, in the manner of Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov or Albéniz. Casella maintained that nationality in music is an ‘imponderable’ feeling and that the ‘eternal characteristics’ of the ‘Italian spirit’ – grandiosity, severity, concision, fullness of relief, architectural balance, boldness and searching for novelty – could not be fully expressed by verismo. Casella also believed that the fundamental quality of Italian creativity was the ability to produce a ‘classical’ synthesis of the most advanced foreign techniques and styles.1 During the 1920s, Casella’s proposals for a revitalisation of Italian music found the support of the fascist regime, leading to the establishment of a new cultural association under the mentorship of D’Annunzio, the Corporazione della Nuove Musiche (CDNM) – originally named Fascio Italiano di Coltura Musicale Moderna. In an article published in the CDNM’s bulletin La prora, Casella presaged the advent of a ‘new classicism’: an ‘absolutely objective and dynamic thought’, anti-romantic and anti-impressionistic, based on ‘firmly built and designed organic forms’, ‘tonal centres’, horizontal and contrapuntal procedures and, more broadly, on the ‘return to our purest classical tradition’ – e.g. Frescobaldi, Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Rossini. An art full of joy, clarity and optimism, and sometimes ironic; an art that did not repudiate the vitality of the futurist experiments but that, at the same time, appeared remarkably different from Casella’s 1910s avant-garde works. …


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