Giuseppe Verdi. Opera Overtures

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Giuseppe Verdi
Roberto Cognazzo

Verdi’s overtures from the orchestra to the organ

One of the most baffling moment in European music history is, with no doubt, that represented by the commingling between melodrama and liturgy, that was developed in Italy between 1810 (Rossini’s debut in opera) and 1871 (Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida triumph). The hegemony of the opera on Italians musical taste, thanks to immediately popular masterpieces, soon influenced other music genres, in particular the sacred vocal production (masses, vespers, motets) and even more the organ and organ builders practice. From the end of 18th Century, in fact, the Italian organ widens its timbre, opening to orchestra-type registers (trumpet, bassoon, bass clarinet, English horn, trombone, kettledrums, Glockenspiel, bass drum, music cymbals) that make possible the opera transcription and the theatrical repertoire. For almost a century, therefore, the Italian churches sounded with melodrama echoes with real opera pieces: arias, duets, choirs and most of all overtures. Moreover passing from opera to organ is not simple. If, in the 19th Century, in full melodrama, many performing situations were more spontaneous, but more difficult was to resume this practice after more than a century, after the Cecilian reform (1903) and the consequent disclaim of the romantic organ and its literature. This radical change erased, for over half a century, every lyric trace from the Italian churches. The construction of new organs on Franco-German models and the devastating changes to 19th Century instruments, as an updating, caused a real cultural hostility until 1970, when the sharp historical sense of Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini started the philological recovery of the organs, of the repertoire and of the educational texts in which there are explicit references to the opera. Starting from Tagliavini’s lesson and from the ideas contained in Calvi, Castelli and Arrigo’s manuals, the performer of this CD started in 1972 the organ practice on the theatrical model, using photocopies. Because Giovanni Morandi, Padre Davide da Bergamo and Vincenzo Petrali do not reach the height of Rossini, Mercadante, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi, the interest in them exhausted in a short time. Who writes takes advantage of a providential recording of 1983 on the great organ Serassi in Valenza (Alessandria), restored in those years by Puccinelli (Ponte Ranica, Bergamo) in order to test some ouverture reproductions. Besides Rossini, Auber and the unknown Carlo Pedrotti, in this LP (now unavailable) there was also the ouverture of Nabucco. Study days in Valenza revealed a closeness between the orchestra and the organ, underlining that the organ was integrated with the musical habit and demonstrating the necessity of a complex technical filter between the piano version and the organ reconversion. Passages, double notes and octaves, basses, polyphonies and the dynamics in crescendo and diminuendo, so natural listening and performing the piano, became questions to be solved, rebuilding the writing without however pauperizing the musical fabric. This CD therefore reflects thirty years of work on the major sources between Mozart and Puccini (1786-1924), suggesting in particular an almost complete series of Verdi’s overtures between 1839 (Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio) and 1869 (La forza del destino). Leave then aside Alzira, Aroldo and Aida’s overtures, we can follow through the eight overtures in the CD thirty years of creativity through the sound of four instruments united by the desire of recreating a varied and seductive timbre. The orchestra adaptation, interposed by the piano version, requires a huge research, because of its variety and very often involves surprises. The successful adaptation is inversely proportional to the organ dimension and an instrument with few, but well customized registers, can give back great tracks as the Aida’s second act finale or some complex pages by Wagner or Meyerbeer. The listening of our overtures must be therefore referred to the organ experience of Verdi that started about 1820 on the small instrument of Roncole, then in Busseto and between Parma and Piacenza, until the Milanese debut in 1839. In many ways these music are echoes of the organ practice of the time, brought to great splendour thanks to Padre Davide da Bergamo (1791-1863) who, for many decades, was the organ player of the great Serassi in Santa Maria di Campagna (Piacenza). It is sure that Verdi listened to the famous friar many times and learnt from his compositions far more than from his teacher Ferdinando Provesi. His long and complex training period culminated in the Milanese three years with Vincenzo Lavigna, already assistant of Paisiello, who received and made perfect the future genius, rejected by the conservatoire. It is appropriate to consider the thirty years in the CD and to get the organ influences. The first three tracks (Oberto, Il finto Stanislao, Nabucco) are with no doubt, influenced by the contemporary keyboard writing. Most of all the amusing ouverture of Finto Stanislao (the unlucky second opera by Verdi, known also with the title of Un giorno di regno) seems to be thought for an instrument with Glockenspiel, roll, bass drum and music cymbals. And almost the same we can say of Giovanna D’Arco ouverture, crossed by rhombus and pastoral accents and, even more, for the heroic atmosphere of La battaglia di Legnano, an authentic essay of musical patriotism that, through our great nineteenth-century organs, receives a sounding likelihood as an orchestra. A different speech, in the end, for the last three tracks that, separated among them by many years, mark the progressive evolution of Verdi’s thought, even in the specific field of ouverture. The gradual deepening of the symphonic experience prevails on the previous linearity, moving away the relationship with the organ thought. However, facing such overtures as Luisa Miller, I vespri siciliani and La forza del destino, there was in the organ players of the time the desire of performing them. If the brief and very romantic ouverture of Luisa Miller, almost an homage to Carl Maria Von Weber, does not present difficulty of adaptation even for the shortness, other is the situation of I vespri siciliani and La forza del destino. Here the symphonic structure needs a deep reading in order to align the orchestra without pauperizing it or distorting it. This is a challenge that the great Italian organs of the late 19th Century take up and support, celebrating thereby the last historic episode of the almost centenary coexistence between melodrama and liturgy. (Roberto Cognazzo)

Additional info about this CD
Recorded in Overture from Oberto (1839), Organo Felice Bossi, 1853, San Giorgio Canavese; Overture from Il finto Stanislao (1840), Organo Tiburzio Gorla, 1856, Coassolo Torinese; Overture from Nabucodonosor (1842), Organo Fratelli Serassi, Op.686, 1865. Chivasso; Overture from Giovanna d’Arco (1845), Organo Tiburzio Gorla, 1856, Coassolo Torinese; Overture from Battaglia di Legnano (1849), Organo Fratelli Serassi, Op.686, 1865. Chivasso; Overture from Luisa Miller (1849), Organo Fratelli Serassi, 1873-1875, Grosotto; Overture from I Vespri Siciliani (1855), Organo Giacomo Vegezzi Bossi, 1872, Montanaro; Overture from La forza del destino (1869), Organo Fratelli Lingiardi, 1864, Gavi.
12 pages full colour booklet (Ita and Eng)
Musicology comment,
Artist biography
Full organ specs card included




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