Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco | Complete Guitar Concertos

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)
Complete Guitar Concertos
Brilliant Classics 7615 (2005)

Lorenzo Micheli / guitar
Massimo Felici / guitar
Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese
Michael Summers / conductor

Recording location: L’Aquila, Teatro Comunale, 21-23 October 2004
Recording & Digital Editing: Renato Campajola & Mario Bertodo
Sleeve Notes: Lorenzo Micheli


Concerto in G, op. 201 for two Guitars and Orchestra (1962)
1. Un poco moderato e pomposo
2. Andante (semplice e quieto)
3. Rondo mexicano
Lorenzo Micheli & Massimo Felici

Concerto no. 1 in D, op. 99 for Guitar and Orchestra (1939)
4. Allegretto
5. Andantino. Alla romanza
6. Ritmico e cavalleresco
Lorenzo Micheli

Concerto no. 2 in C, op. 160 for Guitar and Orchestra (1953
7. Allegretto
8.-14. Sarabanda con variazioni
15. Fiesta. Allegretto vivace (ma non troppo)
Massimo Felici

Liner Notes

“I found that the form of the Concerto did better correspond to my spiritual position. The Symphony, in fact, with its large employment of orchestral means, seems to be the best form to express general, collective feelings; but, honestly, I do not think I am very inclined to these; quite the contrary, I am a hardened individualist (I can’t tell whether this is a good or a bad thing). Therefore a solo instrument, or an instrument associated with the orchestra, better suits my personality; because in the relation between the soloist and the instrumental mass I can find the exact equivalent of the human individual condition, sometimes in keeping, sometimes in contrast with the world around him.”
Born in Florence to a Jewish family in 1895, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco began studying piano with his mother, Noemi, and was later admitted to the Florence Conservatory in the piano class of Edgardo del Valle de Paz. As early as 1915, he was studying counterpoint and composition with one of the major Italian composers and masters of vocal polyphony, Ildebrando Pizzetti. Soon after graduating in Bologna, Castelnuovo-Tedesco started to establish himself as one of the leading young Italian composers. Alfredo Casella, who played a major role in the Italian musical life of the time, was an enthusiastic advocate of his early piano works music. In 1926, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s first opera, La Mandragola, was performed in Venice. Around the same time, some of the world’s most famous musicians, such as Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Gieseking, and Toscanini, began showing interest in his works. In 1932, the Spanish guitarist Andr?s Segovia asked Castelnuovo-Tedesco to compose a piece for him. This was the beginning of a long collaboration that was to be broken only by the composer’s death. Henceforth, the guitar would become one of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s favourite instruments.
By 1938, anti-Semitism was rising in many European countries and the persecution of Jews was increasing. The Italian government of Mussolini, in order to please the Nazi regime, promulgated harsh anti-Semitic racial laws. Castelnuovo-Tedesco made the dramatic decision to flee from Italy with his family. Aided by Toscanini, Heifetz, and the American violinist Albert Spalding, he sailed from Trieste on the 13th of July 1939 to that “New World” that was to become his homeland. A few years earlier, between Christmas 1938 and January 1939, Castelnuovo-Tedesco had completed his first Guitar Concerto, Op. 99: the first movement of which was written with the collaboration of Segovia. By making the most of its light and colourful instrumentation, the Concerto, premi?red in Montevideo on October 1939, is a successful example of perfect balance between the guitar and orchestra. According to the composer, the first movement has a simple and graceful, yet solid, neoclassical style akin to that of Boccherini. The lyrical, touching Andantino alla romanza, whose main theme is first played by the guitar and then developed by the winds, with its reminiscences of Tuscan folksongs, somehow represents the composer’s farewell to his native Florence. A conclusive Ritmico e cavalleresco, with its bold and solemn gait, suddenly plunges us into the Spanish atmosphere of a poem of chivalry. In the orchestral reprise after the cadenza, one can hear two of the most characteristic stylistic elements of his compositional style: the extended use of the canon (which the composer himself regarded as his own musical signature), and the superimposition of the thematic materials.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s exile in America was a deep wound, a “death before the death”, the grievous state of the mind of somebody who had been forced to live in an abstract and far away space: the mental, emotional and cultural space that stretches “between two worlds” (using the composer’s words). After some months spent in Larchmont, NY, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco settled in Beverly Hills, California, where he soon began his long and prolific career as a film composer for MGM, Columbia, and other studios. He also became much in demand as a teacher.
Between February and March 1953, he wrote his Second Guitar Concerto in C, Op. 160, which was commissioned by Segovia. The core of the piece is the grand, monumental Sarabanda con Variazioni. Like in a suite of dances, the Sarabande (presented by the guitar) undergoes a series of rhythmic transformations that generate a Pavana, a Minuetto, a Gigue, an Aria, and finally a Fugue, which is followed by a powerful reprise of the original dance. The Sarabanda is framed between two movements: a delicate Allegro, reminiscent of a romantic interlude, and the sparkling Fiesta. The latter movement is of Spanish or Mexican flavor (perhaps a recollection of a 1947 visit to Mexico, during the composition of the ballet The Octoroon Ball), and is built up on a catchy tune sung first by the piccolo, then by the oboe, the trumpet, the guitar and finally by an orchestral tutti. The last cadenza is enriched by all the percussion instruments (including a grotesque tubular bell in B flat).
The Concerto for two Guitars, Op. 201, is the last of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerti. Unlike the previous works, it was dedicated to the French duo Presti/Lagoya in 1962, who gave the premi?re of the piece in Toronto in the same year. Comprised of three movements, it begins with a pompous moderato marked by two vivid themes with dotted rhythms. Hidden in the development and the cadenza of the first movement, one can hear the embryonic cell that later will generate into the theme of the Rondo Mexicano, an explosion of pure physical joy inaugurated by the trumpet on the texture of strings, winds and percussion (including maracas). The second movement, as in Op. 99, possesses a quiet and peaceful song-like quality, to which the atavistic tone of the opening horn confers an almost epic dignity.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco died in March 1968, thousands of miles away from his beloved Tuscany. His artistic inheritance include, among others, piano and chamber works, songs, operas, cantatas, ten concertos, four oratorios and the eleven Shakespeare Ouvertures, as well as some thirty major guitar pieces.

Lorenzo Micheli