Founded in 1985 by Raymond Dessaints, the Ensemble Amati is composed of remarkable musicians: most of them obtained a Premier Prix from the Conservatoire de musique du Québec. Moreover, with the [...]
Selected works for string orchestra
They spoke about it
Respighi: Antiche Danze ed Arie per Liuto, Suite No. 3
Among the Italian composers of his generation, it was Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) who achieved the greatest international success. This success was heightened when Toscanini began to give frequent performances of Respighi’s symphonic poem Feste romane, a triptych based on Roman themes. Despite the fact that his recognition was attributed mainly to his symphonic music, Respighi had been interested, since his youth, in early Italian music, and his style underwent a transformation after compositing Feste romane.
Respighi composed three suites for different combinations of instruments under the title Antique Danze ed Arie per Liuto. In these works he attempts to transplant the sophisticated sensibility and elegant brilliance inherent in Italian lute music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries into the context of the modern orchestra. The third suite for string orchestra was composed in 1931 and first performed under Respighi’s baton at the Milan Conservatory in January, 1932.
The first movement, an Andantino in ternary form, is based on an anonymous piece that dates from about 1600. The second movement, Arie di corte, is based on material by Giovanni Battista Besardo (?1567-?1617), a luttenist and composer from Bologna. Also in ternary form, it is divided into seven parts: Andante cantabile, Allegretto, Vivace, Lento con grande espressione, Allegro vivace, Vivacissimo, then a restatement of the opening Andante cantabile. The third movement, Siciliana, is a set of variations based on an elegant anonymous melody in the rhythm of a Siciliana, dating from around 1600. The Suite ends on a Passacaglia based on a piece dating from 1692 by the Italian guitarist and composer Ludovico Roncalli.
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1934) did not confine his talents only to opera. He also composed many works, now neglected, of which Crisantemi for String Quartet is perhaps the more attractive and noteworthy. Replete with the melodic and harmonic features of Puccini’s mature style, this work was composed in 1890 in memory of Duke Amadeo of the house of Savoy, who died that year.
The two main themes of this short work are full of the cloying nostalgia which so often characterises Puccini’s style; he used them once again some three years later in the final scene of his opera Manon Lescaut. As with Verdi’s String Quartet, this work is often played by string orchestras.
Verdi: String Quartet in E minor
The year 1873 witnessed the advent of two non-dramatic masterpieces by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): his String Quartet and Requiem. It is interesting to note that it is merely by chance that this string quartet — a unique instrumental exception in Verdi’s work — came into being.
Aida, which Verdi composed to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal and created in Cairo in 1873, was to be presented for the first time in Naples in the spring of 1873. However, the prima donna, Teresa Stoltz, was taken ill and the performance was postponed. With time on his hands, Verdi decided to compose this string quartet solely for his own “amusement,” as he would say.
However, true to his nature as an operatic composer, Verdi was unable to totally distance himself from opera: the theme played very softly by the second violin at the beginning of the first movement is an adaptation of Amneris’s theme in Aida. Yet the work reflects the musician’s experimental concerns and shows his interest for counterpoint.
A fugato section appears early on in the first movement, while the contrapuntal treatment of the motifs in the development section is particularly effective. The scherzo fourth movement is an intricately conceived fugue. The work, which was created in Milan in 1876 in its original string quartet version, was not published until after his death.
String orchestras show a growing interest in this work, which is heard here in a transcription by Lucas Drew, where the only modification to the original is the addition of a double-bass part.
Albinoni: Adagio in G minor
This Adagio was part of a Sonata a tre in G minor byTomaso Albinoni (1671-1751), without opus number; the only remaining parts are that of the figured bass (in printed form) and two first violin fragments in manuscript form. The part of the figured bass and the two fragments were sent by the State Library of Dresden to Mr. Remo Giazotto soon after the end of the second world war, after the thematic index of Albinoni’s works (R. Giazotto, Albinoni, musico di violino dilettante veneto [1671-1750], Milan, Bocca, 1945) had already been prepared and published.
The first move towards reconstructing the work was provided by the realization of the figured bass, to which a brief introduction was added. Using the figured bass and the two thematic elements (6 bars in all) the whole was pieced together and composed in full accordance with the harmonic tissue suggested by the figured bass. The organ, instead of the harpsichord, has been indicated for the figured bass in consideration of the mystic atmosphere created by it and on the assumption that this might have been a Sonata a tre “da chiesa” and not “da camera.”
© Christine Dessaints