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Alfredo Casella (1883-947),

a forgotten musical genius


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Alfredo Casella (left) with Ottorino Respighi (right)


THE FIRST YEARS IN TURIN
Destined to restore the cult of absolute music to the land of opera, Alfredo Casella
first saw the light of day in one of those little islands in Nineteenth century Italy, in
which the reverence, for instrumental music had been preserved, in an almost
heretical manner. He was born in Turin, on July 25th 1883, of a family of
instrumentalists: a cellist, his paternal grandfather Pietro, close friend of Paganini;
cellists, famous throughout Europe, his father Carlo and his brothers Cesare and
Gioacchino; while his mother, Maria Bordino, was a pianist. Alfredo Piatti, one of the
greatest cellists of the century , stood as godfather to the child at the baptism, from
him the newborn received his name. When he was five years old, his mother sat him
at the piano, and for a long time Bach, Scarlatti, Hndel, Beethoven, Schubert,
Schumann and Chopin were his only musical impressions, either heard in chamber
music session at home or studied straight from the piano. It was only when he was
twelve years old, by then a skilful pianist, that he finally heard an opera. But it was
Die Gtterdmmerung, conducted by Arturo Toscanini at the Teatro Regio.
A prestigious musician, an intimate friend of the family, closely followed the boy's
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progress; he was Giuseppe Martucci, an Italian promoter of the musical German


Romanticism. But Alfredo was also fond of chemistry and of electrotechnics, so much
so that a great physicist, Galileo Ferraris, wanted to set him off on a scientific career.
Not yet eleven, he gave his first public performance. He already knew by heart the
two volumes of the Wohltemperiertes Klavier a dozen Beethoven Sonatas, six Chopin
Etudes, Mozart's Concerto in D minor, pieces by Domenico Scarlatti, Martucci and
Sgambati, and some ensemble music. He began to study harmony with Giovanni
Cravero.
AT THE PARISIAN CONSERVATOIRE
Giuseppe Martucci and Antonio Bazzini, although principals themselves of the
Music Conservatories at Bologna and Naples, were the ones who advised him to
study abroad.
In 1896 he was accepted at the Paris Conservatoire in the piano class of Louis Dimer
and then in Xavier Leroux's harmony class. In 1898 he gained second prize in the
Piano competition, in 1899 the first. In 1900 he won the second prize in the Harmony
competition and entered as an auditor Gabriel Faur's composition class, which was
also attended by Koechlin, Roger-Ducasse and Maurice Ravel, among others.
But above all, his real teachers were the most skilled of his fellow students; his
contemporaries and those a little older than him. He made close and fruitful
friendships with Georges Enesco, Alfred Cortot and Maurice Ravel. From Enesco,
among other things, he deepened his appreciation of Brahms; Cortot became his
other half, so that in the Conservatoire they were known as les deux Alfred; with
Ravel he discovered Russian music by playing it together on the piano. He worked for
the publisher Choudens and, among other things, his was the vocal score of
L'Ouragan by Bruneau.
THE FIRST COMPOSITIONS AND ENSEMBLE MUSIC
In 1902 a competition of the Figaro, in 1903 another
competition organized by the publisher Mathot procured
him the publication of three pieces: Pavane and Variations sur
une chaconne for piano, and La Cloche fle for voice and
piano.
In 1906 he composed his first work for orchestra; a Sinfonia
in si minore.
In the same year, discouraged by a defeat in the Dimer
piano competition, he gave up, for eight years, all activity as
a piano soloist, but in the meantime did not leave ensemble
music. From 1906, for some time, he was the accompanist of
Antonio Baldelli, an Ita1ian buffo who had dedicated
himself in middle age to concert performances. As an accompanist he was sought after
by the greatest artists of the time, like Lulu Mysz-Gmeiner, Ernestine SchumannHeink, Marya Freund, Victor Maurel, Eugene Ysaye, Jacques Thibaud, Pablo
Casals, and Georges Enesco. He also made close ties with Florent Schmitt. For three
years (1906-1909) he participated as the harpsichordist in the European tours of the
Socit des Instruments Anciens run by Henri Casadesus. In 1907 he married Hlne
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Kahn.
NEW ENCOUNTERS
In 1907 Casella arranged for large orchestra Balakirev's Islamey: this was the first
actual display of his ability as an orchestrator. During a tour in Russia with
Casadesus's group, he presented his transcription to Balakirev; the old composer, who
had previously refused permission to Saint-Saens and Cortot granted it instead to the
young man.
While in Russia he was on good terms with Rimskij-Korsakov and Glazunov; he
played twice in Tolstoj's home at Jasnaia Poliana, once alone, and once with
Kussevitzky (1909). In 1908 he began to conduct symphonic concerts in Montecarlo
and in Paris (Salle Gaveau, June: Islamey, part of his Sinfonia in si minore, Enesco's
Symphonie concertante, and two excerpts from Rimskij-Korsakov's as yet unperformed
Le coq d'or. All these works were performed for the first time ever).
In 1909 he had personal contact with Gustav Mahler, whose works although
practica1ly unknown in France, he knew very we1l; Casella managed to reconcile two
rival Parisian concert societies, so that they cooperated with one another to present
Mahler's second Symphony, conducted by the composer himself at the Concerts
Colonne. Case1la was indebted to Mahler for a warm introduction to the UniversalEdition, who later published the greatest part of his works, beginning in 1910 with the
Suite in do maggiore for orchestra. Mahler, who was planning to return to the Staatsoper
in Vienna would have liked Casella to be his substitute conductor there. But he died a
short time later, in May 1911. Nine years later Willem Mengelberg in a Mahler
Festival conducted all the Symphonies of the Austrian composer, to celebrate his own
25th anniversary as the conductor of the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam: it is significant
that on this occasion it was Casella who was invited to give the Commemorative
speech in honor of Mahler, whose music was still little performed at that time.
It was an entirely different welcome that the young Casella received in 1908 from
Camille Saint-Sans (who was not, it is true to say, very enthusiastic about his music),
as we can say from this letter:
24 sept. 1908
Certes, mon cher ami, cela m'interesserait fort, mais j'ai
dej plus de travail que de temps et ne puis m'occuper du
travail des autres.
Voulez-vous un bon conseil? Faites comme moi qui de l'age de
17 ans n'ai montr mon travail personne.
Bien vous
C. Saint-Saens
THE YEARS 1910-1915
On the 21st of Apri 1910, at the Salle Gaveau Casella presented his Seconda Sinfonia
(which he later disowned) and two symphonic works, in which, for the first time, he
drew closer to the Italian style; the Rhapsody Italia (1909) and the Suite in do (19091910). The Suite, performed in 1912 in Rome by Bruno Walter, was the first of
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Casella's compositions to be played in


Italy. In the period up to and including the first half of 1915, Casella composed other
important works, such as the ballet Le couvent sur l'eau (which was not staged until
1925 and then called Il convento veneziano), Notte di maggio (May night) for voice and
orchestra, performed in 1914 by Marya Freund at the Concerts Colonne, Nove pezzi for
piano and Pagine di guerra (War Pages) for piano four hands.
Casella at this time felt closer to the Italian musical world and considered returning to
his homeland. In 1911, after conducting a season of symphony concerts at the
Trocadero, which had little success, he declined to take the chair as Professor of piano
at the Paris Conservatory, as it would have obliged him to become a French citizen
(instead, for three years, he held a temporary position as the substitute teacher of
Cortot).
FOR THE NEW MUSIC
In Paris, in 1913, he made the acquaintance of Ferruccio Busoni, Ildebrando Pizzetti
and Francesco Malipiero; and in 1914 at the Salle des Agricultures he organized a
concert of contemporary Italian music the first of the kind enclosing in the
program notes an exhaustive manifesto. But for quite some time Casella had been
engaged in the propagation of modern music. In 1909, in opposition to the Socit
Nationale de Musique, which was very influenced by the Schola Cantorum, the Socit
Musicale Indpendente was founded on the initiative of Ravel; the president was Faur
and Casella the secretary. From May onwards for a while, Casella contributed to
Georges Clemenceau's daily newspaper L'Homme libre, and there, he took the
chance to back up avant garde musical trends. In connection with this there is a
noteworthy article about Schoenberg (15th of May), in which Casella gave a brief but
extremely admirative account of all Schoenberg's works which had been performed or
published up till then. In the following years Casella's opinion was many times
reconfirmed, especially, among other things, in the volume L'evoluzione della musica a
traverse la storia della cadenza perfetta (1923), which ends with an excerpt from the Fnf
Orchesterstiicke; this is clearly the work that Casella marked out as the musical peakpoint of his day. Worthy of note, in the same newspaper, is an article Casella wrote,
entitled L'avenir musical de 1'Italie. In this, he attacked en masse the Italian opera
composers of the Nineteenth century, labeling them as hommes d'affaires, and
along with them he criticized the veristi; he suggested as an alternative model for
the youth of Italy, the French renewal: his article provoked a well balanced answer
from Pizzetti, to which Casella replied rather feebly.
MAURICE RAVEL
Casella kept in contact with Ravel. In collaboration with him, he had published a
collection of musical parodies entitled A la maniere de... (an earlier booklet had already
been published by him alone). For another few years the two friends performed each
other's music in public together. Moreover Casella, who in Paris in 1911 had
conducted the first performance of the orchestral version of the Pavane pour une infante
defunte, evidently enjoyed Ravel's total confidence in him as a pianist: it was he, in
fact, who played the piano for the first performances of the A la maniere de... (1914), of
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the Trio (1915), of La valse in the version for two pianos (1920, partnering the composer
himself) and of the Chansons medecasses (1926).
IGOR STRAVINSKY
On the 14th of February 1915 he conducted for the first time in his own country, at the
Augusteo in Rome, establishing himself without doubt as at promoter of modern
music: all the works included in the program were new to Italy and among them
stood out the suites of Petrouchka and of Daphnis et Chloe (second series). Three days
later, at the Sala accademica of Santa Cecilia he played at the piano other modern
masterpieces: Jeux d'eau and La cathedral engloutie, as yet unknown in Italy. At the
concerts were present Diaghilew and Stravinsky.
THE TONAL DOUBT
In the period roughly from 1913 to 1920, the composer, struck by his discovery of
Schoenberg, was roused by what he was to call later the tonal doubt. Casella drew
closer to Expressionism, above all in Notte di maggio for voice and orchestra (1913),
Move pezzi for piano (1914), L'adieu a la vie for voice and piano (1915, arranged in 1926
for voice and 16 instruments), Sonatina for piano (1916), Elegia eroica for orchestra
(1916) and A notte alta for piano (1917, arranged for piano and orchestra in 1921, on the
advice of Busoni). Yet, Casella's Expressionism is not necessarily anguished nor
nightmarish; it also resolves itself by way of astonishing hallucinations, irony or
evasive elegance: this can be seen already in some of the aforementioned works (like
the Sonatina or some of the Nove pezzi}, and more clearly in other works, like the
Pupazzetti for piano for four hands (1915, afterwards arranged for different
ensembles), or in short pieces for piano like Deux contrastes (1916-18) and Inezie (1918),
and even in Cinque pezzi for two violins, viola and cello (1920). However, with the
brilliant Undici pezzi infantili for piano (1920), partly inspired by the Easy Pieces of
Stravinsky, together with some songs and with the Concerto for two violins, viola and
'cello (1923-24), Casella drew towards a new phase in his music, which is
characterized by tonal clarity and rhythmical vivacity: it should be mentioned that
these two components were not entirely new to Casella's music for they are already
traceable both in earlier works and in Sicilienne et burlesque for flute and piano (1914,
arranged in 1917 for viola, cello and piano).
THE RETURN TO ITALY
When Italy entered the war, Casella played music for two pianos with Debussy, at a
charity concert in Paris, for the benefit of the Italian Red Cross (4th of June 1915). In
July he was appointed professor of piano at the Musical Lyceum of Santa Cecilia, and
in that October he finally settled in Rome. Casella taught at the Lyceum of Santa
Cecilia from 1915 to 1922; and in 1919 he brought out one of his essential teaching
works; the revision of the Beethoven Sonatas for piano. From 1917 to 1919 he set up
his first organization for the propagation of contemporary music: the Music National
Society, afterwards renamed Italian Society of Modern Music, which presented
concert performances of many new works, and also published a review, Ars Nova,
which became fad's musical manifesto. When the society was established, Casella was
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supported by Malipiero, Pizzetti, Respighi, Gui, Tommasini and Perinello; the


president of the society was the Count of San Martino, president of the Academia of
Santa Cecilia. He was the man who had originally called Casella to Rome and was the
one who courageously upheld Casella's activity for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, in
his musical career, Casella met with strong hostility: the invasion of foreign music was
deplored by many, they resisted innovations and, as a result, Casella, who was
considered the principal culprit, became a general scapegoat. His works often stirred
up hysterical reaction. Rhene-Baton conducted the Elegia eroica at the theatre
Augusteo only to be drowned by a storm of shouting (21st of January 1917). Two
months later the same thing happened to the Sonatina, performed by the composer
himself at the Sala accademica of Santa Cecilia; soon after the concert, walking in the
street arm in arm with his mother, Casella noticed a girl whispering astonishedly to
her friend, while pointing at him: Look! He even loves his mother!.
FUTURISM AND FUTURIST
The atmosphere of provocation and of controversy surrounding the performances of
Casella's music, the aggressive and hyperbolic tone of some of his own statements,
drove some to assimilate him with the Futurists. It is a fact that Casella was a friend of
Marinetti; he welcomed the signatures of some Futurists in the pages of the review
Ars Nova, upheld ideas which can be called futuristic (for instance that really
prophetical one, that forebodes the advent of a kind of music consisting only of
timbres). Moreover, he happened to conduct the music written for a show like Balli
plastici, based on the splendid puppet-robots of the futurist painter Fortunato Depero
and on the music of Casella himself, of the English composer Gerald Tyrwhitt (better
known as Lord Berners), of Bartok (under the name of Chemenow) and of Malipiero
(Roma, Teatro dei Piccoli, 1918). But although he was ready to agree to some of the
Futurists' postulations and to accept some of the results of that movement, Casella
considered Futurism as an exclusivist sect, and this was repugnant to his principles.
Casella affirmed this positively in an article published in Ars Nova.
THE VIRTUOSO PIANIST
In 1914 he once again took up his virtuoso career, which he carried on fairly
intensively for ten years or so; after that he devoted himself (save for some of his own
works) to the career of conductor and of pianist for ensemble music. The high point of
his international success as a virtuoso was the triumphant tour in the United States
(1921). He went there with Yvonne Muller, the pupil he had just married that year,
after getting a divorce from his first wife; she played with him in one of these concerts,
as second pianist, in the Pupazzetti. In New York Stokovski conducted the first
performance of the orchestral version of A notte aha, with Casella at the piano.
FERRUCCIO BUSONI
When he had been invited to take chair at Santa Cecilia, Casella did not know that
Ferruccio Busoni had hoped for the same position. Their reasons for wanting to teach
there were not very dissimilar: Busoni also would have liked to return to Italy and to
be in a position to contribute to the renewal of the musical tradition in his country of
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origin. However Busoni did not bear Casella a grudge: he accepted, along with
Toscanini and M. E. Bossi, the Honorary Presidency of the Societa Italiana di Musica
Moderna, he sent Casella advice, he invited him to play in Berlin, he dedicated to him a
composition for piano and orchestra, Romanza e scherzoso (1921); even if later it
happened that he didn't declared his hostility towards Casella's Internationalistic
tendencies, taking side with Pizzetti, a nationalist above all else.
LA GIARA
With La Giara (1924) Casella finally began that which was to be called his Third style
and, at the same time, he obtained his most long lasting success. Rolf de Mare was
looking for an Italian ballet to be danced by his Ballets Suedois, to counteract the
Spanish success that Diaghilew's Ballets Russes had had with the three-cornered hat
of de Falla-Massine Picasso; de Mare planned to ask Francis Poulenc to write the
music, but Erik Satie persuaded him to turn instead to Casella. The Italian composer
accepted the proposal and he chose as a subject, suggested by Mario Labroca, the one
act play La Giara by Luigi Pirandello. The Sicilian playwright helped to draft the
adaptation and Casella composed the music in 45 days, making use of Sicilian
folktunes. The ballet was staged at the Theatre des Champs Elyses on the 19th of
November; it was choreographed by Borlin, with scenery and costumes by De
Chirico. After overwhelming success the ballet soon toured all over the world,
inspiring many new choreographies, and the music was played again and again, in
Suite form, in innumerable concert halls. The idea was to transfer the spirit of Opera
Buffa into instrumental and dance terms, in a style at that time completely original: it
was an historical moment in the development of Italian musical theatre.
HIS MUSIC ALL OVER THE WORLD
Over the next four years, Casella had a series of international successes with the
Partita for piano and orchestra (1924-1925), Scarlattiana for piano and 32 instruments (a
divertimento based on Domenico Scarlatti's music, 1926) and the Serenata for 5
instruments (1927, transcribed in 1930 for small orchestra). This Serenata won in 1928
the competition run by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia coming equal first
with Bartok's Third Quartet. Partita and Scarlattiana were performed for the first time in
New York, the former conducted by Mengelberg and the later by Klemperer; both
times Casella played the piano. Other innumerable performances took place all over
Europe and in Russia as well, under the most prestigious batons of that time. The
Partita was also conducted by Furtwangler both at the Philarmonica in Berlin and at
the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. In New York took place the World Premiere of the Concerto
romano for organ and orchestra, composed in 1926; Casella conducted it himself, the
soloist was Ch. M. Courboin.
The very prince among interpreters of the Partita was for many years Walter
Gieseking. He was and will always remain an intrepid apostle of Casella 's music. In
Rome, 1925, Casella and Gieseking gave a performance playing music for two pianos
which had been proceeded only by ten minutes of rehearsal. It was after a
performance of the Partita at the Augusteo in 1930, that Gieseking himself, by way of
replying to the disruptive hissing of some in the audience, announced and played as
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an encore the first movement of the Sonatina, Many choreographers took great interest
in the score of the Scarlattiana, above all Bronislawa Nijinska, she drew from it the
ballet Les comediens jaloux (Montecarlo 1932); for the ballett, she also made use of the
transcription for small orchestra that Casella had taken specially for the occasion, from
three Scarlatti Sonatas. Among the choreographers Aurel M. Milloss should be
remembered in particular; he used different titles for the performances: Neapolitansk
Pastiche in Stockholm (1949), Escenas burlescas napolitanas in Buenos Aires (1949),
Deliciae populi in Paris (1951), and then elsewhere.
In 1928 in Moscow, Joseph Szigeti performed the World Premiere of Casella's
Concerto per violino in la minore, with the Persimfans (the orchestra without a
conductor).
THE TOURS IN THE USSR
There were not many Western composers who presented their works in person in
Ussr. Casella however was one of the few: he went there twice on tour, in 1926 and in
1935, and was received with great honor, the press paid much attention to him. Some
of his writings were translated into Russian and after the concerts he gave in 1926,
Igor Glebov (that is Boris Asaf'ev), the greatest Soviet music critic, wrote a booklet
about him. Also in '26 Glazunov, principal of the Conservatory, dedicated a
performance of Dargomyzskij Stone Guest to him. It was staged by the students of the
Conservatory and the performance was reserved for him alone.
THE SNAKE WOMAN
In 1918 Diaghilew's designer M. Larionov painted and gave Casella a figurine of the
woman-serpent; he wanted to persuade the Italian composer to write the music for a
ballet based on Carlo Gozzi's La donna serpente (Woman-snake). But at that time the
standard of ballet in Casella's Italy was low: it was only later, when Aurel M. Milloss
came to the country, that ballet recovered its former dignity as an art. On the other
hand, Casella's hostility towards operatic singing and towards Nineteenth century
Italian melodramma, especially Verdi's, had decisively lessened; a remarkable fact
considering he had been so averse to it only ten years earlier. At times his hostility
even tended to disappear, especially after hearing some of Toscanini's performances at
La Scala. Thus it was an opera not a ballet, that he finally adapted from Gozzi's fable,
with Cesare Vico Lodovici as librettist (1928-31). The opera was staged on 17th of
March 1932 at the Teatro Real of the Opera House of Rome, conducted by the
composer himself and produced by Giovacchino Forzano, with scenography and
costume design by Cipriano Efisio Oppo. The performance was not very satisfactory
and had a luke-warm reception. But by contrast La donna serpente was given a worthy
reception in Mannheim in 1934, at La Scala in 1942, in Palermo in 1982; even if it never
became very popular. The opera was written as an alternative to Romantic musical
drama: it is a piece of fantasy, rich in choral work, action, rhythm and gaudy color, in
which comedy and tragedy are together combined in an unreal framework.
THE TALL OF ORPHEUS
After La donna serpente Casella composed a one act piece of quite another kind. The
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second Festival of Venice (1932) wanted to dedicate two musical evenings to the
recent international trend for chamber opera and so Casella set to music Poliziano's La
favola d'Orfeo which had already been adapted as a libretto by Corrado Pavolini. The
music is light, cold and crystal-clear and it catches the humanistic flavor of Poliziano,
with modern detachment. La favola d'Orfeo was staged at the Teatro Goldoni on the 6th
of September, conducted by the composer and produced by Guido Salvini, who also
designed the scenery and costumes.
THE MANIFESTO OF 1932
By now the critics and public accepted much more benevolently Casella and his
propaganda. However it must be said that his propaganda was now not half so
aggressive as it had once been. The writings collected in his volume 21-26 (1930) are of
quite another tone compared with those in the aforementioned review Ars nova.
But, at the end of 1932, his opponents struck out at the eleventh hour: on the 17th of
December, in the two most important Italian daily newspapers, they had published, a
manifesto which contained ten signatures (among them, those of Pizzetti, Respighi
and Zandonai) claiming that the Nineteenth century musical tradition was still valid
and raising against the new music the typical objections of the ordinary man in the
street. The manifesto (that Franco Alfano and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco had
refused to sign) was implicitly but clearly directed against Casella and Malipiero, and
it provoked hostile reactions even on the part of people above the conflict such as the
critic Andrea Della Corte. However the manifesto had practically no consequences
with regard either to public opinion or to political authorities. Moreover, a year later
Pizzetti, substantially even though not formally, disowned the document, by writing
an ample essay entitled Questa nostra musica (This our music), published in the
review Pan on the 1st of February 1934.
THE YEARS 1932-1942
In the next decade the composer carried on the style that he had already defined in the
years between '24 and '32. Applying his foremost imperative of being Italian and
European at once, Casella now stressed the first of these terms while in the past he
had paid more attention to the second one. But at time he recalled some typical
features of this past. He produced in this period some of his most enjoyable works:
Due Ricercari sul name B.A.C.H. (end 1932), Ricercare sul nome Guido M. Gatti (1942),
both for piano; the children's ballet La camera del disegni (also entitled: Un balletto per
Fulvia, Casella's twelve year old daughter, who danced in the first performance, in
Rome, Teatro delle Arti, scenario and choreography by Milloss, scenery and costume
design by Orfeo Tamburi, conductor Casella himself, 28th November 1940;
Paganiniana, divertimento for orchestra based on themes of Paganini, composed for
the centenary of the Vienna Philarmonic (performed by them, with Karl Bohm as
conductor, 15th April 1942). Some critics considered Paganiniana to be Casella's
masterpiece. One should also remember: Introduzione, aria e toccata for orchestra
(1933), Concerto per trio e orchestra (1933), Introduzione, corale e marcia for brass and
percussion (1931-35), Concerto per violoncello e orchestra (1934-35), Sinjonia, arioso e
toccata for piano (1936), the mistero in 1 act // deserto tentato (libretto by Corrado
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Pavolini, Florentine Musical May 1937, conductor Antonio Guarnieri, producer


Lothar Wallerstein, choreographer Margherita Wallmann, sets by Gianni Vagnetti,
costumes by Maria De Matteis), Concerto for orchestra (1937), Sonata a tre for piano,
violin and 'cello (1938), Sinfonia for orchestra (1939-40). On the 28th of June 1937 he
was appointed as a foreign member of the Accademie des Beaux-Arts, succeeding
Glazunov who had died the year before. In 1941 he had published his autobiography,
I segreti della giara.
THE NEW MUSIC CORPORATION
Going back a moment, let's look at Casella as an organizer. In 1923 he established,
along with Gabriele D'Annunzio and Malipiero, The Corporazione delle Nuove
Musiche. Through this institution Casella proposed to open new paths in Italian
music life. The association was founded with the help of some generous patrons,
chiefly the American Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and the Italian industrialist
Riccardo Gualino. For sometime the Corporation was housed in Pirandello's Teatro
d'Arte in Rome and carried on for five years, intense and important activity: about
seventy concerts in different towns (some abroad), open to the best contemporary
music of all trends; unforgettable experiences for the public, for the cultural world and
for Italian musicians them selves. The Corporation of Modern Music as soon as it was
founded, joined the ISCM, that is the International Society for Contemporary Music,
representing the Italian section. For a short while the CDNM published a review, La
prora.
THE ITALIAN TOUR OF PIERROT LUNAIRE
One of the most memorable undertakings of the CDNM was the tour of Pierrot lunaire,
in 1924, performed in seven Italian towns, by Erika Wagner and a first rate
instrumental group led by Schoenberg. The order of program for the concerts was
with Schoenberg following Casella's Concerto for two violins, viola and 'cello. In
Florence, on the 1st of April, Giacomo Puccini was in the audience; but he didn't take
to the music, whatever Casella might have tried to prove later, in an article written for
the Anbruch of Vienna. Puccini, however, was not the only one to misunderstand
Schoenberg's music; on the most part critics and public from the seven towns didn't
appreciate either.
THE TOURS OF LES NOCES
Another of the CDNM's unforgettable enterprises was in 1927, with the tour of Les
noces through Italy. Stravinsky's work was given in concert performance, conducted
by Casella. The vocal soloists were Rachele Maragliano Mori, Ghita Lenart, Marcello
Govoni and Giorgio Lanskoy, the pianists Oscar Adler, Dante Alderighi, Mario
Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Virgilio Mortari, with the chorus of the Camerata Varesina
del Madrigale, chorus master Romeo Bartoli. The performance was revived in 1928 in
Siena during the Festival of ISCM and in 1930 in some towns in Spain, but for them
there was a partial change over of performers (the chorus was from Barcelona and the
pianists now were Alderighi, Mortari, Vittorio Rieti and Nino Rota).
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THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR CONTEMPORARY MUSIC


As a representative of the CDNM Casella was one of the most active members of the
ISCM: five times he was on the jury that chose the music to be performed for the its
annual Festival; as a conductor or as a pianist, he took part in almost all the pre-war
Festivals. He organized in person those Festivals charged to the Italian section: Venice
1925, Siena 1928, Florence 1934; and the first two of these (his right hand man being
Mario Labroca) ended up as some of the most important ones in the history of SIMC.
In the conflict between Latin and German trends, which often loomed up, within the
Society, Casella sided with the former group. This however never prevented him from
understanding and defending the works of the opposing group, as Schoenberg, Berg
and others acknowledged.
THE VENICE FESTIVAL INTERNAZ1ONALE DI MUSICA CONTEMPORANEA
Encouraged by the success of the ISCM Festival in Venice in 1925, Casella came up
with the idea of firmly establishing in Venice a Festival dedicated to contemporary
music, promoted by CDNM and connected with the Biennale. There are two
documents that bear witness to this: Casella's typewritten plan, and a letter in which
Manuel de Falla thanked Casella for inviting him to perform for the occasion El
retablo de maese Pedro. The Festival of Venice finally began, in 1930, when the CDNM
was no longer in existence; however Casella still played an important role in
organizing almost all these pre-war Festivals on 1937 he was its director, with Mario
Corti. Regarding this we should remember, among other things, the devise he
employed in order to assure in 1934 the presence of Alban Berg's music. The projected
performance of the Lyrische Suite had been cancelled, because of the rule which
excluded compositions previously performed in Italy (as with the Lyrische Suite), but
Casella, backed up by Malipiero, managed to include instead, in a rather improper
context, Der Wein.
THE SIENA WEEKS
For Casella the renewal of Italian musical culture also meant the revival of
Seventeenth and Eighteenth century Italian music. Along these lines, his most relevant
undertaking was in 1939, with the founding of the Settimane Senesi (Siena weeks), at
the Chigiana Academy, the institution established six years earlier under the
patronage of Count Guido Chigi-Saracini. The widespread popularization of Vivaldi
in concert halls all over the world began, without any doubt, with the first Settimana
Senese. Here a great many of Vivaldi's unknown masterpieces were brought to light.
In the following years the Settimane Senesi were dedicated to the Scarlatti (1940), to the
Venetian School (1941) and to Pergolesi (1942).
THE POPS
Casella loved every aspect of music, whether complex or simplistic, whether for the
initiated or for popular appeal. He was therefore fond of the America of the Berkshire
Festival; and at the same time conducted, for three whole seasons (1927-1929), the
popular concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, commonly known as the Pops,
presenting innumerable pieces of every kind, including about two hundred Italian
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ones.
THE ITALIAN TRIO
Worthy of special mention, concerning Casella's concert activity, was the Trio
Italiano. Casella founded it in 1930 with the violinist Arrigo Serato and cellist Arturo
Bonucci; at the end of that year Serato left the group and was substituted permanently
by Alberto Poltronieri. From then on, until 1942, the group gave about five hundred
concerts all over Europe (except for the USSR) and in many places in North America.
THE TEACHER
Casella taught almost throughout all his life. Besides private teaching, from 1932
onwards Casella gave an advanced course for pianists at Santa Cecilia in Rome (first
at the Conservatory and from 1939 at the Academy); he gave another series of summer
courses, from 1933 onwards, at the Chigiana Academy (where he also taught
conducting in 1938-39, aesthetics, history and culture of music from 1940 to 1944). The
vast experience Casella had both as a listener and as a performer, backed up by his
incredible memory and by his broadminded attitude towards every musical style,
made him an incomparable teacher (Cortot later wrote that he had never known any
musician with such a good ear and a such good memory as Casella, apart from the
unsurpassable Enesco). Casella's skill as a teacher left a great mark not only on his
pupils but also, indirectly, on Italian musical taste in general.
THE YEARS 1942-1947
In the August of 1942, Casella was stricken with an intestinal occlusion, that was
diagnosed as an inoperable neoplasm, so that the emergency operation he had was
only interlocutory. Another operation, instead, in June 1943, was radical and
ascertained that the first diagnosis was wrong; nevertheless the operation did not stop
the damage caused by the abscess that Casella had suffered from over the last ten
months; an incurable cystitis which he bore until his death on the 5th of March 1947.
From the beginning of his illness until his death, for more than four and a half years,
Casella suffered from atrocious, incessant physical pain; but he bore it without any
complaint, continuing his work. He was given permission by the principal of the
Academy of Santa Cecilia to carry out his teaching at home; he still appeared many
times in public on the rostrum and at the piano; he wrote in collaboration with
Virgilio Mortari a treatise on instrumentation, and also a very remarkable book on
Stravinsky (which Emilia Zanetti edited immediately after his death); for the season
1946-47 he was the artistic director of the Academy Filarmonica Romana (that he had
already led in 1932-34). He continued to compose until the end of 1944; soon after his
first operation he added further to Paganiniana in order to create a ballet based on
ideas and choreography of Milloss. This ballet, La rosa del sogno, was staged at the
Rome Opera House on the 16th of March 1943, conducted by Serafin, with scenery
and costumes by De Pisis; there followed in 1943 Tre canti sacri for baritone and organ
(straight away arranged for baritone and small orchestra); Sonata per arpa; Concerto per
archi, pianoforte, timpani e bateria; between 1943 and 1944 Sei studi per pianoforte; and
lastly, in the second half of 1944, the Missa solemnis pro pace for soprano, baritone,
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chorus and orchestra, no less than the richest concert work in the whole of his career.
None of these works bears any trace of anguish: they are ruled by a perfect serenity, at
times open to joyfulness, so that they become a testament of human moral strength.
Casella also left another spiritual testament in the editions of classic for the keyboard
that he prepared in the last two years of his life: eight volumes of Bach, six of Chopin,
two of Mozart, in addition to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an exhibition. These are the
summa of his art as a teacher and as a performer, recovered from the sources of his
juvenile training; and at the same time, they are his closing farewell to those he loved
the most, his own disciples.

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