Alfredo Casella – Prima Sinfonia in si minore op. 5 (I. Symphonie in h-moll, 1906)
(b. Turin, 25 July 1883 – d. Rome, 5 March 1947)
I Lento, grave (p. 1) – Più mosso (p. 2) – Tempo primo, un poco mosso (p. 3) – Animando poco a poco (p. 6) – Allegro vivo (p. 8) – Stringendo – Più animato (p. 16) – Lento (p. 19) – Allegro vivo (p. 26) –
Allegro più moderato (p. 30) – Stringendo – Allegro vivo (p. 32) – Meno mosso (p. 33) –
Lento maestoso (p. 35) – Allegro vivo (p. 36) – Più animato (p. 39) – Allegro molto moderato (p. 42) – Accelerando (p. 44) – Più mosso (p. 46) – Lento, grave (p. 47) – Allegro vivo alla breve (p. 48) –
Allargando (p. 49)
II Adagio, quasi andante (p. 50) – Animando poco a poco (p. 71) – Crescendo sempre e stringendo (p. 74) – Calmato (p. 76) – Adagio (p. 77)
III Lento molto – Poco più mosso (p. 80) – Un peu moins lent (p. 88) – Più mosso (p. 91) –
Tempo primo. Lento (p. 93) – Più mosso – Allegro vivo (p. 95) – Sempre più crescendo accelerando (p. 97) – Presto quasi cadenza in tempo (p. 99) – attacca:
IV Finale. Allegro vivo, energico (p. 100) – Largement (p. 108) – Accelerando (p. 110) Tempo primo (p. 112) – Più mosso (p. 113) – Accelerando (p. 115) – Meno presto – Un poco meno (p. 118) – Accelerando (p. 120) – Maestoso (p. 123) – Tempo primo (p. 126) – Largement (p. 131) – Accelerando (p. 134) –
Allegro ma non troppo (p. 137) – Senza affrettare (p. 139) – Più allegro assai (p. 142) – Allargando (p. 145) – Lento (p. 146) – Rallentando al fine (p. 149) – Largo (p. 151)
In 1896, after his father’s death, Alfredo Casella followed he advice of Giuseppe Martucci and went to Paris – with his mother whom he owed his early music education – to study there. He stayed there until 1915. In the beginning, he studied piano with Louis Diémer and composition with Gabriel Fauré. At the time, Paris was the actual centre of the musical world, and Casella made friends with wonderful musicians such as Ravel, Enescu, Sarasate, Casals, Debussy, or Stravinsky. In August 1907, he finished his orchestration of Mily Balakirev’s ’Islamey’ that was received enthusiastically in Russia and studied diligently by his exact contemporary Igor Stravinsky. In that same year, Casella visited St. Petersburg and made the acquaintance of Balakirev, Lyapunov, Siloti, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Glasunov there. A year before he had already written his First Symphony.
For a long period in the 19th century Italian composers – under the dominance of opera – had not written any symphonic work of real significance, and in general almost no instrumental music of lasting importance. The first two composers who stood out as symphonists were Giovanni Sgambati and Giuseppe Martucci with two symphonies respectively. When Casella started composing his First Symphony in B minor Op. 5 in Paris in January 1906 this was still an extraordinary undertaking for an Italian composer. He finished the work on 24 July 1906, and in that same year 1906 it was published in print by Mathot in Paris but it was impossible to get it performed there. Casella wrote about the First Symphony in his autobiography ’Segreti della Giara’ (Florence, 1941; English translation: ’Music in My Time’, Oklahoma, 1955) that the publication came ”’all too soon,’ because this is a very juvenile work which oscillates between a strong Russian influence and those of Brahms and Enescu. At the time, I thought I had written a masterpiece. I began to perceive the reality when I showed it to Toscanini the following winter in Turin. He pointed out to me, with polished but clear words, the defects of the composition.”
In early summer 1908, Casella started composing his Second Symphony. He wrote about it in his ’Segreti della Giara’ that ”I worked with great diligence on it. This score has remained unpublished. It is a work lasting about three-quarters of an hour, behind which arise imperiously the shadows of Mahler and Strauss and—less visibly—those of Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev.”
The premiere of the First Symphony took place in Monaco on December 17, 1908, in the 5th subscription concert of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, which was given under the motto «De musique ancienne et moderne». Casella had already made his debut as a pianist with the same orchestra in Monaco in the spring of 1908, and now he introduced himself as conductor of his own work in a concert which was led by the Belgian chief conductor Léon Jehin (1854-1928). Casella’s First Symphony came in second place. It was preceded (under Jehin) by Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, and after the intermission it was followed by the first prelude from Wagner’s ’Lohengrin’, the symphonic poem ’Sadko’ by Rimsky-Korsakov, and the ballet music from ’Henry VIII’ by Saint-Saëns (under Jehin).
On December 22, the critic of the Journal de Monte Carlo praised the symphony’s invention, its orchestration and logically built form, criticizing only “perhaps a certain monotony”. (See below the excerpts from the Journal, which contain the entire review). Since Casella no longer appreciated his First Symphony after completing his Second, it disappeared completely from the repertoire. It received its first commercial recording in Rome in April 2009 by the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma under Francesco Vecchia that was released by Naxos in 2010. This was soon followed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra from Manchester under Gianandrea Noseda for Chandos Records.
Casella’s First Symphony is a typical youthful work that sparks a great drama out of relatively small substance. The orchestration is already phenomenal here, which is characteristic of the entire Casella. In the first movement there are clear echoes of the St. Petersburg school around Rimsky-Korsakov, but also of César Franck’s Symphony in D minor, and the overlong and somewhat ponderous finale allows Richard Strauss to greet us at times unmistakably. After all the orchestral powerplay, the symphony concludes in pianissimo.
Christoph Schlüren, October 2020
For performance materials please contact the publisher Salabert, Paris (www.durand-salabert-eschig.com or www.ricordi.com).