Friday, March 16, 2018

today is the 50th anniversary of the death of the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

For those of us who play classical guitar and compose for the instrument Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is one of the giants of 20th century music.  The works he wrote for Segovia are a lot of fun.  His style could be described as "Hollywood" but Hollywood in the old, golden classic sense.  Given that Castelnuovo-Tedesco influenced the likes of Henry Mancini and John Williams (of Star Wars fame, not the John Williams who is a classical guitarist, though he's not excluded), this is a composer whose work has more influence than people might realize, even if a lot of his influence is more indirect than readily known.

There's a website up now, finally, dedicated to his life and work (3 April 1895 – 16 March 1968).

Being a guitarist I have focused more on his solo and chamber music for guitar but he's also known for his songs and setting of Jewish texts.  As anti-Semitic sentiment and policy began to escalate in Italy he emigrated to the United States and settled in California where he composed film music and continued to compose for more traditional concert music idioms.  His cycle of 24 preludes and fugues for two guitars is a gorgeous mountain of a musical work for the classical guitar literature, one of the touchstones I drew inspiration from when I was composing my cycle of preludes and fugues for guitar from 2007 to 2012.   

Here's a video of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Quintet for guitar and string quartet.

The guitar gets overwhelmed in a few places because of the audio and the room's sound but the overall performance of the first movement is so lively that it's about as good an introduction to the work as I could find on short notice on Youtube.

And here's an Andres Segovia recording of the second movement from Castlenuovo-Tedesco's Guitar Sonata op. 77

and here's a performance of a trio he wrote for flute, English horn and guitar I'm particularly fond of.

His Sonatina Op. 205 for flute and guitar is one of my favorite works in the whole flute and guitar literature.

The music is effervescent and sparking in a lot of ways that ... I guess if I'd have to pick a way to describe Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work it's kind of an anti-Mahler.  For the record, as a composer I can respect Mahler as someone who's work is unavoidable for a serious consideration of the last century and a half of symphonic literature but I've never really enjoyed Mahler. Whereas Castelnuovo-Tedesco's music seems full of life and charm. 

I've been hoping to write some about Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work since the start of this year as it is and I hope to write stuff about his Quintet and about his Sonata.  I blogged about his magnificent Fantasia for guitar and piano several years ago as part of a tagged set of posts called "chamber music week".  If I were to suggest a 20th century composer to people who love classical music and aren't sure anything from the 20th century is even worth bothering with, Castelnuovo-Tedesco is one of the ones I would pick, and I say that as a long-time admirer of Haydn.

That was ... wow ... six years ago when probably the majority of people who were reading the blog were only reading it about Mars Hill stuff.  I used to get angry comments once in a while claiming "all you ever do at this blog is rip on Mars Hill" or "every post here just speaks of your hatred for Pastor Mark."  No, that's never been true.  Even back in early 2012 when I felt obliged to write about what I thought was going wrong at Mars Hill I was also posting about my affection for the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.  So today isn't the centennial of his death, but I frankly doubt I'll live long enough to see that day fifty years from now.  I couldn't not post something about this composer today.  I hope you enjoy his music (because if you don't all the comments here have been in moderation and I'll admit I won't publish comments where people rip on Tedesco's music since I feel that strongly about his work).  Just giving you a fair warning.

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