Tuesday, October 24, 2006

After Bartok And Between Razionalita And Passionalita: Michael Steinberg On Goffredo Petrassi American Premiere

San Francisco Symphony Oct 25-28, 2006
Davies Hall, San Francisco

Roberto Abbado, conductor
Midori, violin


Petrassi Concerto for Orchestra No. 2
Britten Violin Concerto
R. Schumann Symphony No. 4



Second Concerto for Orchestra

GOFFREDO PETRASSI was born in Zagarolo, Italy, on July 16, 1904, and died in Rome on March 2, 2003. He composed his Second Concerto for Orchestra between April and October 1951, and the first performance was given on January 24, 1952, by the Basel Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Paul Sacher, who had commissioned the work. These are the first performances of the Second Concerto in the United States. The score calls for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings (with three sections of violins rather than the usual two).

If, while visiting Rome, you ever undertook a pilgrimage to Palestrina out of interest either in the great Renaissance composer of that name or in Thomas Mann, who began Buddenbrooks there in 1897 and half a century later set a dramatic scene of Doctor Faustus in the house where he had lived, you perhaps noticed a road branching off to the left with a sign to indicate that, two and a half kilometers along, it would bring you to the little medieval town of Zagarolo. ...

Petrassi’s catalogue grew and the range of his musical activity widened as he became a skilled conductor, a teacher, an administrator of festivals and various types of musical societies, and for three years General Director of La Fenice Opera in Venice. During those troubled Mussolini years Petrassi’s style darkened, moving away from what one writer called his “eupeptic diatonicism” toward a more chromatic and generally more nuanced harmonic language. He wrote a series of meditative vocal works on texts from the Bible, the Roman liturgy, the tormented and invincible nineteenth-century poet Giacomo Leopardi (Coro di morti, 1941), and the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross (Noche oscura, 1951). Coro di morti and Noche oscura rank high among the twentieth century’s choral masterpieces. ...

Petrassi never wrote a symphony. For him, that title was too much burdened with nineteenth-century baggage. The eight Concertos for Orchestra are the backbone of his work as a composer of instrumental music. He thought of them as “the diagram of my evolution, of all my experiences . . . the explanation of my life, of everything I have been through, all the vicissitudes”—another Autoritratto. The gap between the first two concertos—1934 to 1951—is big, and the great choral works are the bridge across that gap. The war also makes the gap even bigger in psychological time than it appears on the calendar. For a while the concertos appeared in rapid succession (1953, 1954, 1955); then they were spaced more widely (1957, 1962, 1972). With the Eighth Concerto we approach the end of Petrassi’s composing life. He was nearly blind in his last two decades, and, not able to contemplate the idea of composing by dictation (as, for example, Frederick Delius did), he drew his last actual and symbolic double bar in 1978 at the conclusion of his Grand Septuor. Though silent as a composer, he remained to the end a forceful figure on Italy’s musical landscape."

Michael Steinberg

Full program note.

San Francisco Symphony Program Notes For Adults.

Goffredo Petrassi, whose Second Concerto for Orchestra receives its long-delayed American premiere tomorrow, in San Francisco, under the baton of Roberto Abbado.

Photo credit: www.milanomusica.org. With thanks.


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