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Goffredo Petrassi and the Phantoms of Fascism.

This Italian Composer Has Been Neglected,


Especially in the UK. Given the Chance, Choirs Would Enjoy His Rewarding Choral Works
Author(s): Andrew Thomson
Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 133, No. 1792, Choirs and Trends (Jun., 1992), pp. 288-291
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/966067
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Choirs

and

Trends

GOFFREDO PETRASSI
PHANTOMS OF FASCISM
Andrew
article

Thomson
of the series

concentrates-on
'Strands

Petrassi's

in 20th-century

Petrassi's achievementas a composerhas been


offredo

somewhatovershadowedby the indisputablestatureof


Luigi Dallapiccola,bornthesame yearin 1904. Yet bothwrote
someof theoutstanding
choralmusicof thecentury.It is theparticularpurposeof thisarticleto discusstheformer's
worksin this
area,whichcannotadequatelybe consideredin isolationfromthe
experienceofItalianfascismin the1930s,andthesocial andmoral
problemsitraised.
Petrassireceivedthe
Thoughbornin humblecircumstances,
of
an
as
education
a
at
the
in
Schola Cantorum
advantage
choirboy
St SalvatoreLaura,Rome,whoseambienceof Catholicbaroqueart
and architecture,
withGregorianchantand theliturgical
together
musicofthe16thand 17thcenturies,
madea fundamental
andlaston him. Leavingat 15, he workedin a musicdealingimpression
er's shopforthenextelevenyears,whilehe pursuedhisownambitionsand generaleducationwithcharacteristic
energyin his free
time. Takingprivatelessonsin piano and harmony,
he becamea
student
at theConservatorio
SantaCecilia in 1928. His professors
wereAlessandroBustiniforcomposition,
and fororgan,Fernando
on J.S.Bachand Frescobaldi. At theconGermani,an authority
certsof theAugusteumtheyoungPetrassihearda wide rangeof
music,includingthemostadvancedcontemporary
compositions
interalia, Schoenberg'sPierrotLunaireconducted
bythecomposer in 1924,and DariusMilhaud'sCinq etudes. And in thebackroomofthemusicshophe couldstudythescoresat hisleisure.
He graduatedin 1932 withhis Tre Cori, whichbroughtboth
from,andlifelongfriendship
with,AlfredoCasella,the
recognition
leaderof theyoungergeneration
of composers,and an internationalist in outlook. Significantly,
Petrassi'smusicalcoming-of-age
took place in an inauspicious year, the tenthanniversaryof
Mussolini'smarchon Rome,celebrated
withan exhibition
to commemorate
thevictoriesof fascistrevolution;
therefolloweda generaltightening
of controls,
withcensorship
of playsand films,and
a demandforintellectuals
activelyto supporttheregime. By an
coincidence,Petrassi'swinningof a competition
extraordinary
(organisedby the Sindicale Nazionale dei musicisti)withhis
orchestral
Partitain Decemberthatyearmetwiththeappearance
the same monthof the Manifestoof Italian Musicians forthe

288

The

Musical

choral

music

Italian

music'.

in the second

Traditionof Nineteenth-Century
RomanticArt,a conservative
attackon progressives
likeCasella andMalipiero.Thisbanaldocfunctionaries
ument,issuedto thepressby a groupofbureaucratic
which shamefullyincludedRespighi and Pizzetti,condemned
futuristic
as experiments
conceptions,atonalityand polytonality
whichled nowhere;on theotherhand,'Yesterday'sromanticism
willbe tomorrow's
romanticism'.
The situation
indicated
theutter
confusion
whichprevailedin fascistartistic
Casella
an
enthusiastic
fascistsupporter,
himself,
policy.
advocatedneo-classicism
as a musicalstylewhich formed
a strong
with
the
as
both
order
ideologicalrelationship
regime,
represented
and 'reactionary
revolution'.WithhisPartita,PetrassishowedhimselfalliedwithCasella in his aim to createa contemporary
Italian
musicbothtrueto itstraditional
and at thesametime
inheritance,
of
drawinguponwiderEuropeandevelopments.The correctness
thejury'sdecisionas tothework'sintrinsic
merit
was confirmed
the
des
followingyearin Paris,whentheF6d6rationInternationale
Concertsawardedit firstprize;furthermore,
it was theonlyItalian
workplayedatthe1933ISCM FestivalinAmsterdam.
It is arguable,too,thatthePartitasuccessfully
holdsthecontraforces
of
in
fascism
balance.
The
traditional
dimensionis
dictory
in itsneo-baroquestyliseddancemovements,
manifest
Gagliarda,
Ciaccona and Giga. VeryItalian,too, is theopen qualityof the
thepredilection
forchainsofconsecutive
fifths
andtriads.
textures,
But theregime'sattraction
to violenceand iconoclasmalso finds
brashnessandathletiexpressioninPartita'salmostoverwhelming
motorrhythms
and contrapuntal
cism, its Hindemithian
energy
and theuse ofthepiano
heightened
by high-lying
trumpet
writing,
as an orchestral
and
instrument,
addinga cutting
edgeto thestrings
woodwind.Indeed,thepianoplaysa majorrolein Petrassi'soutputin thatdecade,apartfromitsplace in manychoraland orchestralworks;thereis a solo Toccata (1933) and Concertoforpiano
and orchestra
(1936-39),unfortunately
ignoredbypianists.
Similar qualities of energyand inventionare foundin the
ConcertoforOrchestra
(1934), whichowes itsundoubted
strengths
not merelyto stridency,
but also to theItalianatelyricalwarmth
and expansiveness
whichcharacterises
thecentralslowmovement.
Most remarkable
is thefinale. If,on a superficial
level,it recalls

Times

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June1992

'His
fascism

attitude

to

was, at best,

'The AppianWay' fromRespighi'sPinesofRomein ambivalent;


the oath of thespiritof Verdiseemsto hoveroverthispart
ofthework.(Ex.2)
its trampof the Roman legions on the march,
Petrassi'scareercontinuedto advance. In
Petrassiavoids thelatter'smonolithic
he regarded
crudity.Far allegiance
a straightforward
to constitute
too sophisticated
1940,he tookup his newpositionas Professor
gloof fascism,its contrasting
rification
passages of an as a serious matter, and of Compositionat the ConservatorioSanta
Cecilia in Rome. At thesame time,however,
eerie phantom-likenatureseem to point up the
withItaly's entryintotheSecond WorldWar
hollownessof theregime'smeretricious an outward show of
underlying
Petrassi'sgrowingdison theside ofGermany,
massdemonstrations.
paradesanduniformed
illusionment with the fascist regime had
it would appearthathis attitudeto
Nevertheless,
conformity was
ofthesituareacheditscrisis. To theenormity
fascismwas, at best,ambivalent;the oath of allediftionhe respondedwithanotheryetentirely
and an outgiancehe regardedas a seriousmatter,
required'
ferent
choralworkCoro di morti(1940-41). In
was requiredforhim to
ward show of conformity
his choice of text, a bleakly pessimistic poem by Giacomo
pursuehis career. His nextmajor work,Psalm IX (1934-36),
scoredforchorus,strings,
brass,2 pianosandpercussion
represents Leopardi(1798-1837),it seemsthatPetrassicouldno longerdraw
hiscomposition
fromhis ownCatholicfaith.He subtitled
an outstanding
achievement,
yet,in thischoice of text,theref6r- strength
whichthecriticMassimoMila has taken
as a tribute
to Mussolini, MadrigaleDrammatico,
encesto God as a lawgiverwereintended
as an evasion of associationswithRomanBaroque Catholicism,
seen as themodemreviverof theRomanEmpire. This idealised
while preservinglinks with the Italian polyphonictradition.
vision of an 'aestheticstate' regulatedby an incomparablelegal
has undoubtedspiritualresoPetrassi'sconceptionnevertheless
was matchedby Petrassiin a
of authority,
systemand hierarchy
to hisperiloustimeswhichgo farbeyond
nancesmoreappropriate
workinspiredbothby thetriumphant
baroquecivilisationof the
thesimplemeaningof Leopardi'spoem;one can vividlysensethe
Roman Catholic Churchand by the austerityof Stravinsky's
themesofAngstand alienationin
ofPsalms. Whilethemelodicwriting impactof modemexistentialist
OedipusRex and Symphony
ofGregorian
is infusedwiththecharacter
chant,thebaroqueprinci- themusicitself,whilefaintimagesof lightamidthedarknesshint
evenperhapsa crisisof spiritual
sections. at thepossibility
of vocal and instrumental
transcendence,
ple is apparentin thecontrasts
idea ofGod.
Thereis a good deal of textural
inspired'Kierkegaardian'
passages
variety:starkhierarchical
soundworldfor
The forcesemployedprovidea mostappropriate
in 11th-century
(Ex.1), expressiveflowingpolyphoorganum-style
and disembodiedvision: a chorusof male voices
to expressthetur- thisdisturbing
ostinatorhythms
ny,and dynamicStravinskian
bulence of such verses as 'Thou hast rebukedthe heathenand
(TTBB), brass,threepianos,stringbasses and percussion. The
stateof livingdeathis superblyportrayed
theungodly'('Increpastigentes'). Notable,too, is the
by a 3-partcanon and
destroyed
in thedepthsof thepiano's register.Againstthis
responseto 'a refugein due timeoftrouble'('adjutorin opportuni- ostinatopatterns
thewarmthand dignityof thechoralwriting
momentofatonalcloudingclearsto
tatibus'),in whicha disturbing
opaque background,
of thedead souls whichstillremainsin
reveal relaxed Milhaudesque triadicchordstreamsin contrary emphasisesthehumanity
oftheircondition.As ifto symbolmotion.
them,despitethewretchedness
in highplaces.
ise theirsearchforunderstanding,
Meanwhile,Petrassihad madeusefulconnections
widespreadchordson thepianos
includedNicola de Pirro,an
friends
As well as Casella, influential
5ths)like deep chimingbells are heardpenetrating
(superimposed
thememoriesof life,its hopes and
thedarkness.Contemplating
top-levelbureaucratwho headed theGeneralTheatre
intelligent
and syllabicwritIn additionto some harmonyand counterpoint desires,thechorusbreaksoutof itshomophonic
Administration.
onlyto fallback intohopelessness
teachingat the Accademia St Cecilia, he obtainedpen-pushing ing intoanimatedpolyphony,
of PopularCulture,and in 1936 as Secretary andresignation,
workat theMinistry
yetfreeoffearandanxiety.
to theUnionof Music Societies,whichhe carriedout in a lightis brusquely
heartedwayas a meresourceof income. But a muchgreater
bya Scherzo
disrupted
prize
This sombreatmosphere
came his way in 1937 whende Pirroinvitedhimto be General
strumentale,a swashbucklingneo-baroquecanzona for
a shadbrasswhichsoonexhaustsitselfandturnsintoself-parody:
Directorof theTheatroLa Fenicein Venice. Findinghimselfwith
he pursuedan
and unmolested
a youngstaff,
owy balletof phantomsevokedby doublebass pizzicato,muted
by stateinterference,
brassand staccatopianochordsagainstthesinister
even audacious artisticpolicy withproductionsof
tappingrhythm
enterprising,
of actualexistence
of the side drum. A symbolicrepresentation
Strauss'sElektra,Busoni's Arlecchino,Stravinsky'sPulcinella,
anda Bart6kconcertin thepresenceofthecomposer.
underfascismis beingactedoutin music. The voicesof thedead
moreforcefully
withinthevoid: withuncannyforce,a
This operaticexperienceleftits markon Petrassi'sMagnificat re-emerge
a
massive
a
vertical
transformation
of the Scherzo's
objet sonore,
(1939-40) forlightsoprano,chorusand orchestra, transitional
in
and
motive
of
thirds
extends
all
six
eclectic
octavesof the
workof increasedharmonic
rising
throughout
style
complexity,
highly
The
scherzo
a
brittle
andrhythhumilitatem
is
focused. At its core theQuia respexit
returns,
piano's register.
featuring
uncertainly
in
on the
inventive
canon
close
stretto
bel
in
which
the
soloist's
ancillae,a tenderMariolatrous
mically
Stravinskian-style
conception
and
brass.
instrumental
with
line
is
enhanced
canto
writing: pianos
celestial-sounding

June1992

The

Musical

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289

The finalsectionopens in starkmonumental


grandeuras the
dead soulsask 'Whatwerewe? Whatwas thatbitter
pointthathad
thenameof life?'. This self-questioning
reassertstheirhumanity
andbringstranscendence
of theunhappycondition
ofbothlifeand
forpianos,neideath,markedbya thirdpassageofcanonicwriting
theropaque nor brilliantas before,but limpidand crystalline
musicof thewordslietanonma sicu(Ex.3). Lastly,thehaunting
ra (nothappybutsafe) is heardagainon mutedhornsand second
piano successivelyabove a sombre2-noteostinatoon the other
pianos, basses and timpani:a mysteriouschiaroscuroeffect,
enhancedby thebitonalclashof F andF sharp,of gleamsof spirituallightwhichthedarknesscannotentirely
extinguish.Without
doubt,Coro di Mortiis of comparablestaturewithDallapiccola's
Canti di prigionia(1938-41), if less overtlya
contemporaneous
workofprotest.

texture
based on a 4-notegroupB-C-G#-A#
turnsintoits
gradually
as
the
inner
in
the
seeker's
heart
bums
with
increasopposite:
light
the
textures
become
looser
and
the
vocal
lines
aerated,
ing clarity,
morefluidand mobile,and thetonalintervals
ofthethirdand fifth
beginto emergeprominently.
A centralsectionmarksthedivisionbetweenthetwo halvesof
thecomposition
attheclimacteric
pointinthepoemwherethenight
the
lover
to
the
beloved
themeach into
bride,
'joined
transfiguring
theother'. (Oh, nocheque juntaste/Amado
con Amada/Amada
en
el Amadotransformada!').The intensemingledpain and joy of
in harshbitonalgrindings
of B and
mysticalunionfindsexpression
C minorin thechoralwriting
out(Ex.4) and in massiveorchestral
burstsin whichthefour-note
motiveis treatedsimultaneously
in
in
fifths
and
with
shatterstretti,
organum-style
parallel
overlapping
in its draing effect.This magnificent
conceptionis comparable,
maticpowerand sublimatederoticism,
to Bernini'sEcstasyof St
n thefollowing
becamePetrassi's
mainpre- Theresa- a celebratedBaroquestatuegroupin thechurchof Santa
decade,thetheatre
ballet
di
and
Two
La
Follia
Orlando
Maria della Vittoriain Rome,displayingthe Saintpiercedto the
scores,
occupation.
di Don Chischiotte
drawupontheliterary
Ritratto
of
heartbya cherub'sdart.
masterpieces
Ariostoand Cervantes:thelatteralso providedthesubjectforthe
The secondhalfbringsa markedchangeof atmosphere,
as the
one-actoperaII Cordovano. And a Spanishatmosphere
is present poet entertains
theloverasleep in his heart,fannedby thebreeze
in theSonata da Camera forwoodwind,stringsand harpsichord, fromthecedartrees.A mysticdancein triplemetre,pulsating
with
withitsechoesofFalla's Harpsichord
Concerto.Yet tempting
as it
reiterated
harmoniccomplexes,soon generatessweepingbel canto
was to lingerin theGoldenAges of Italyand Spain
vocal lines,which,withtheaccompanying
woodwindchatter,
undoubtedly
sugthose
of
and
the
wind
'which
wounded
me
on
the
neck withits smooth
reconstruction,
years politicaldisintegration
during
gests
Petrassididnotevadecriticalcontemporary
issuesandmoralprobhandand suspendedall mysenses'. Finally,thefour-note
motive
lems. His secondone-actoperaMortedell'Aria(to a textby Toti
to bringtheworkto a stateof stasisreflecting
thedarkness
returns
of self-oblivion,
withall caresforgotten
Scialoja) deals withthe questionof preservingone's personal
amongthelilies.
at
an
all
costs:
inventor
of
a
unable
to
Noche
is
with
Coro
di
formsthepinnacleof
morti,
oscura,
integrity
flyingapparatus
together
to makea publicdemonstration
revokehis commitment
of it,and
Petrassi'soeuvre.Yet an adequatediscussionofhisfurther
developthereis a certainsimimentin thefollowingdecadeswouldrequirean articlein itself.It
knowingly
jumpsto hisdeath.Interestingly,
tomention
theremaining
sevenConcertos
forOrchestra
laritywiththesubjectof Dallapiccola'searlieropera,Volo di notte mustsuffice
novel,in whicha courierpilot
(1939) based on Saint-Exup6ry's
(1951-72) whichdisplay an increasingdegreeof innovationin
theservicethrough
violentstorms.
12-notetechniques,
andexploration
athematicism
ofnovel
perishesin hisdutytomaintain
atonality,
Ten yearsafterCoro di morti,Petrassihad regainedsufficient sonorities.The early1950switnessed
hisinternational
as
reputation
confidence
tomakea musicalreaffirmation
oftheCatholic
a compositionteacher,drawingpupilsfromoutsideItaly,among
spiritual
faithwithNocheoscura(1950-51)forchorusand orchestra.Now
themPeterMaxwellDavies and KennethLeighton.At thattime,
he turnedto thetradition
of Spanishmysticism
in his settingof the
to MessiaeninParis
indeed,Petrassiappearedas a viablealternative
divine
love
la
of
de
del
Monte
Carmelo
as
initiator
into
radical
new
methods
of
subida
an
poem
great
Canci6n
composition.
his careera livelysenseof
by San Juande la Cruz (1542-91),one who had suffered
persecuClearly,he has preserved
throughout
tion and imprisonment
forhis beliefs. For Petrassi,San Juan's
thecontemporary,
to refuseor withdraw
intoisoan unwillingness
his
absolute
of
the
detachment
absolute
love
as
a
and
lation.
But
he
had
found
himself
world,
if,
negation
youth,
sweptalongby the
his owninnerstruggle
to purgehimself virtuallyirresistible
momentum
of fascism,his naturaloptimism
maywell have symbolised
of thepsychologicaltaintof fascism,to whichDallapiccola was
and enthusiasm
was counterbalanced,
as we have seen,by ruthless
also comingtotermsin hisCantidi liberazione(1955).
and
If he producedsomeouta
sense
of
tradition.
self-questioning
The imageryof darknessis fundamental
to bothCoro di morti standing
worksduringtheeraofMussolini,thiswas hardlyan aberand Noche oscura; but whereasin the formerit is an immense ration.A flowofrecentpublications
and exhibitions
havereminded us of itssolidachievements
in literature,
artand architecture,
as
weightofdespairwhere'fatedenieshappinessto thelivingandthe
'moredelightful
thanthe
well as music. Amongsuchnamesas Montale,Moravia,Casorati,
dead', San Juan'snightis, by contrast,
dawn':forall itsdesolationand terrifying
it is thenecesand
Petrassitakeshisrightful
mystery,
place.
Carrt Dallapiccola,
sarypathforthediscoveryoftheDivineLover. InsteadofCoro's
of risingand fallingback,thereis in
pessimisticcycleof rhythms
Mainsources
Noche a constantfeelingof renewalthrough
organicgrowth.The
Sachs,MusicinFascist
1987)
Harvey
Italy(London,
organisationof his musicalmaterialreflectsPetrassi'sgrowing DenisMackSmith,
Mussolini
1981)
(London,
interestin Schoenberg's12-noteserialism,but handledentirely John
Petrassi
S.Weissmann,Goffredo
(Milan,
1957)
withcompletefreedom.An atonallinearity
of
non-dogmatically
& Co (London)
Ltd.
reproduced
bypermission
ofG.Ricordi
conception- the evocationof nightby a close-knitcontrapuntal Musicexamples

290

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June1992

GOFFREDOPETRASSI AND THE PHANTOMSOF FASCISM


Ex.1 Ex1

Adagio

.. ..K'

-n4..

F"I. . . .

... .

" 1:

-\? J;
ilfo
Ex.2

cil

an

_ _uguale
_

lae,

La
I
j*J4=?n-?
WARWICK
FESTIVAL
Warwick 1-12
July1992
&Festhival

GOFFREDO
PETRASSI

The Bury
ChurchStreet,Chesham,BucksHP5 1JG

Threedozen excitingconcertsin GeorgianWarwickand Regency


twoidealFestivaltowns.Highlights
include:
Leamington,
1 JulyCity of London Sinfoniawith Michael Collins playing
Clarinet Concertos by Weber and Richard Rodney
Bennett.
2 JulyRichardRodneyBennettsolo show& Brisk(Holland).
3 JulyMichael Collins and Parisii String Quartet premiere
RichardRodneyBennettClarinetQuintet.
4 JulyFireworksConcertat WarwickCastle.
5 JulyCamerataBernwithThomas Furi.
6 JulyPascal Roge and Parisii StringQuartetplay all French
programmeincludingFranckpiano quintet.
7 JulyStuttgart
Piano Trio.
8 JulyStamicStringQuartetand Camerataof London.
9 Julyand 10 JulyMartinuEnsembleand membersof Stamic
ofWarwickwithSouthBohemia
Quartetlaunchtwinning
Music Festival.
11 JulyEuropeanCommunityChamberOrchestrawithTasmin
Little.
12 JulyOpera Restor'dwithLa ServaPadronaand The Ephesian
Matron.

Telephone(0494)783311
Fax:(0494)784427

Make contact now with Warwick Festival Box Office,


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Tel. (0926) 496277 or 410747

by
published

RICORDI

G. RICORDI & Co. (London) LTD.

June1992

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291