Violin Concerto Op. 20 (Piano reduction/Solo)
Violin Concerto Op. 20 (Piano reduction/Solo)
In the musical life of Turin in the 1920s and 30s, the composer Leone Sinigaglia cut a »traditional and ever-present« figure – so the critic Massimo Mila recalled. With his wide-brimmed hat, grey beard and heavy, peasant shoes, he had preserved the look of Brahms and his circle: »men who concealed elegiac souls in the paunchy bodies of wealthy bourgeois, prematurely aged by excessive respectability«1. The critic is unfair on one point, at least. As photographs attest, Sinigaglia kept himself trim until the end. Like Mila, in fact, he was a climber. Sinigaglia’s account of his mountaineering exploits, published in English as Climbing Reminiscences of the Dolomites, trans. M. A. Vialls, London, Unwin, 1896, is a classic of the field. But the reference to Brahms is apt. In 1895, Sinigaglia travelled to Vienna in the hope of be able to take lessons from the master.
In his native Turin, Sinigaglia had studied with Giovanni Bolzoni (1841–1919), the director of the city’s Liceo Musicale and (unusually for the period in Italy) a proponent of chamber and symphonic music. Bolzoni’s preference for non-theatrical genres evidently struck a chord in his pupil, who would become known, along with his older contemporaries Giovanni Sgambati (1841–1914) and Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909), as one of the re-founders – in predominantly Austro-German style – of the Italian instrumental tradition, following the nineteenth-century dominance of opera in the peninsula.
On arriving in Vienna, Sinigaglia discovered that Brahms did not give lessons. So he went instead to Brahms’s friend (and later editor) Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857–1929).2 During the four years he spent in Vienna, Sinigaglia got to know not only Brahms, but also Goldmark, Mahler and Dvořák, with whom Sinigaglia worked on orchestration in Prague and Vysoká in 1900–1. It was apparently Dvořák who encouraged Sinigaglia to incorporate popular melodies in his music, which he did in his Danze piemontesi, Op. 31 (1903) and the Suite Piemonte, Op. 36 (1910), both for orchestra. From 1902 onwards, Sinigaglia – like Bartók or Vaughan Williams at the same period – was active as a collector of folk songs. He notated as many as 500, of which he published only a select few, notably the six sets of Vecchie canzoni popolari del Piemonte, Op. 40 (1914–27), in which popular materials are transformed into elegant art songs by way of deceptively simple piano accompaniments.
Several of Sinigaglia’s orchestral compositions made their way into the international repertoire. For a good two decades from 1909 onwards, the Danze piemontesi and the Overture to Goldoni’s comedy Le baruffe chiozzotte, Op. 32 (1905) were firm favourites of Henry Wood at the London Proms, both pieces frequently given twice in a single season. In New York, Toscanini was still conducting the Overture to Le baruffe chiozzotte as late as 1947. The Violin Concerto, the first music Sinigaglia composed on his return to Turin in 1901, was first performed in the Beethoven-Saal in Berlin on 9 November 1901 by its dedicatee Arrigo Serrato (1877–1948). The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Josef Řebíček (1844–1904). The Concerto was published two years later by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig. According to Rognoni, it too was widely successful. Yet the work seems not to have enjoyed the genuine popularity of some of Sinigaglia’s lighter compositions. After 1945, it disappeared into obscurity, along with the rest to his output, to be revived only occasionally even in Italy (as in the celebrated bootleg recording of a splendid 1959 performance by Alfonso Mosesti with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI, conducted by Ferruccio Scaglia).
If one had to make a criticism of this Concerto, it would be that of a certain academicism. Sinigaglia’s musical language was conservative already in 1901. As Rognoni points out, he was unaffected by Wagner. Indeed, neither Brahms nor Dvořák seems to have influenced him very strongly either. To a considerable extent, his music looks backwards stylistically, to Schubert. But Schubert was no bad model! Sinigaglia’s melodic invention is unfailingly fresh, his harmony refined, and his orchestration always clear.
The sense of a return to an early nineteenth-century idiom is felt immediately, in the Concerto’s opening call to attention, which, with its tutti octaves and square phrasing, must have sounded almost archaic in 1901. The opening orchestral section gives the whole of the principal theme of this sonata form movement, arranged to modulate decisively to the dominant. Sinigaglia has to slip back into A major (at bar 25) in order launch a dominant build-up that prepares the soloist’s entrance at [A]. The soloist replays the principal theme (with a few added semiquavers), which this time remains in the tonic. At [B], rather than begin a transition, Sinigaglia moves swiftly to the relative minor, F sharp, and presents a new theme on the woodwind, with solo violin decoration. The woodwind material derives from bars 5–6 of the opening tutti; it is worth noting how the second phrase of this tutti (bars 5–8) also prepares the theme at [B] harmonically by modulating to the dominant of the relative minor.
As Schubert often did, Sinigaglia composes a three-key exposition. At the close of his F sharp minor theme, he returns to the tonic for a transition (the Animato at [C]), which combines brilliant staccato writing for the soloist with references back to the principal theme in the woodwind. Harmonically quite adventurous, the transition nevertheless remains in the tonic; the expected modulation to the dominant does not occur until the tutti at [D], which offers a lyrical transformation of the movement’s opening idea. The secondary theme enters in the cellos at the a tempo, answered by the soloist.
Sinigaglia has one final surprise in this exposition. At 12 bars before [E], the music moves to the minor and then to the flattened submediant (a very Schubertian destination). The considerably delayed return to E major takes in a stern, contrapuntal tutti (at [E]) and an answering volley of triple stops from the soloists, before a build-up over a dominant pedal leads to a final tutti at [F]: a melodic synthesis of the principal and secondary themes that takes its cue from the tutti at [D].
In the lengthy development section (from the Un poco animato at [G]), Sinigaglia treats all of the material of the exposition, apart from the principal theme in its original form. The F sharp minor theme is heard at [H], joined to a version of the opening motive from the tutti at [F]. In the following section (from [L]), Sinigaglia introduces a lyrical transformation of the woodwind material from the transition. The transition material is in fact the composer’s principal concern in the development (see also the sections beginning at [G], [M], [N] and [O]). Between [M] and [O] he works almost obsessively with a rhythm – three upbeat quavers, dotted quaver, semiquaver, quaver – that combines the string and woodwind parts at [C]. The only respite is a return (9 bars before [O]) to the rhythm of the first bar of [F].
Harmonically, the development tends strongly to the flat side. The retransition, for example (at [O]), begins by moving from the dominant of D to that of G, but soon finds its way to the dominant of A in preparation for the recapitulation at [P]. This time round, the F sharp minor theme is placed in C sharp minor, and proceeds via a newly composed passage (at [R]) to the conventional statement of the secondary theme in the tonic (at [S]). The transition material now provides a Coda (at [U]), replacing the tutti heard at [F]. A final return of the opening at [V] ushers in a brilliant conclusion.
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Solo Instrument(s) & Orchestra
225 x 320 mm
Piano Reduction & Solo Violin