HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 4. GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. GOULD: Symphony No. 4, ‘West Point`

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 4. GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. GOULD: Symphony No. 4, ‘West Point`. A. Clyde Roller and Frederick Fennell conducting the Eastman Wind Ensemble. MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE–434 320-2 [ADD); 64:52. Produced by Wilma Cosart Fine.

Here is the latest release in the extraordinary series of Mercury/Eastman reissues, featuring three major American wind symphonies from the 1950s — a Golden Age for art music composed expressly for band by American composers. The exemplary recordings made by the Eastman Wind Ensemble under its founder and conductor from 1952 to 1962, Frederick Fennell, were both a result of this significant activity and a stimulus for its further expansion.

Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 4 (of a canon that now numbers about 70) is one of his most beloved and most widely played compositions. Actually, it is not truly a band work, as saxophones and other exclusively band instruments (e.g. baritone horn) are not used   Composed in 1958, the work resembles other pieces by Hovhaness dating from this period: reverent triadic chorales and exultant Handelian fugues alternate with long, modal melodies that feature extended solos for such instruments as bass clarinet and contrabassoon, accompanied by spacey bell-like effects from outside the tonality. Other striking instrumental usages include an almost frightening passage in which tromboneglissandi in opposite directions cross each other. Despite its similarity to other works by the composer, the Fourth Symphony makes a strong impact, partly owing to the stunning performance provided by the Eastman players (aside from an egregiously wrong French horn chord in the first movement) and partly because the work itself is unusually (for this composer) concise and well-balanced.

Vittorio Giannini’s Symphony No. 3 is actually the fifth of his seven in that form; two unnumbered symphonies precede No. 1. This work was also composed in 1958, but is aesthetically light-years away from the Hovhaness. (While Hovhaness was simulating “the bells in the thousand towers of the lost Armenian city of Ani,” Giannini wrote his piece “because I felt like it,” motivated only “by what I heard and felt at that time.”) The work is smoothly and skillfully wrought, but thoroughly conventional in layout and style, and rather pedestrian in expressive content. Only the heartfelt and wistful slow movement rises above the pleasant but ordinary remainder. Although many band musicians love the work, the symphony is an example of the sort of Gebrauchsmusik upon which Giannini concentrated during the 1950s.  Ironically, this portion of his output has been most widely heard and has colored his reputation for many listeners unaware of the fervor and passion of his operatic music or the searing intensity of his late works from the 1960s. In fact, a deeper and more artistically significant band work is the Variations and Fugue from this latter period, but it has never been recorded commercially.

Morton Gould composed his “West Point Symphony” in 1952 upon commission from the band of the United States Military Academy. Although permeated by military parade-like musical symbolism, the work is really quite abstract and subtly constructed, with an unusual and quite interesting formal layout and some really spectacular effects of scoring. However, as with most of Gould’s works, it is quite cold and impersonal — primarily a product of musical intellect and craftsmanship,

The performances hers maintain the breathtakingly high standards set by previous Eastman Wind Ensemble recordings. A. Clyde Roller, conductor of the Hovhaness and Giannini works, replaced Fennell in 1963, when the latter chose to pursue orchestral conducting for a time. Roller did not remain very long; this was his only recording with the group, and it was their last (made during his first year) to appear for some time The sound quality of these later recordings the Gould dates from 1959) just about reaches Mercury’s apex, and the CD transfers are glorious. This release is a must for all Eastman enthusiasts (as they no doubt already know), but will thrill many other listeners as well.

GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. NELHYBEL: Trittico. DELLO JOIO: Variants on a Medieval Tune. GRIEG: Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. ALBENIZ-CAILLIET: Feast Day in Seville.

GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. NELHYBEL: Trittico. DELLO JOIO: Variants on a Medieval Tune. GRIEG: Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. ALBENIZ-CAILLIET: Feast Day in SevilleFrederick Fennell conducting the Dallas Wind Symphony. REFERENCE RR-52CD [DDD]; 62:25. Produced by J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., Keith Johnson, and Marcia Martin. 

The Dallas Wind Symphony is a highly proficient ensemble — one of America’s few serious professional concert bands. Frederick Fennell is probably the foremost living conductor of wind music; the program here is varied and reasonably appealing, and the recorded sound is stupendous. For these reasons, this new release will be highly desirable and rewarding to band enthusiasts.

The Giannini symphony is a favorite of the American band repertoire. It was recorded in 1963 by the Eastman Wind Ensemble (which had been founded by Fennell), under the direction of A. Clyde Roller, Fennell’s successor. That excellent performance and recording has just recently been reissued on a disc also containing symphonies by Alan Hovhaness and Morton Gould see Fanfare 16:5, pp. 229-30)   The new Dallas performance is a slightly broader, smoother reading, phrased with a bit more subtlety and warmth, while the Eastman version is a tad (just a tad) crisper and more brisk. As I commented in the review just cited, the 1958 symphony is a genial, masterfully crafted work, conveying warmly felt emotions of an utterly conventional nature. The first movement is arresting, and the slow movement, as always with Giannini, is heartfelt and lovely. But the scherzo and finale are weak to the point of banality. I never fail to be amazed by the unimaginativeness of programming decisions. One might assume that the popularity of Giannini’s Symphony No. 3 would prompt curiosity about his other works for band. On several occasions I have mentioned the VariationsFugue, which is a tighter, more compelling piece than the symphony. A performance at the level of artistry found on this disc would be truly breathtaking. (Fanatical collectors of band music might be interested to know that Variations and Fugue appeared on the six-LP set, “The Revelli Years, Vol. I,” issued on Golden Crest CRS-4202. Good luck trying to find it!)   When performers and record companies finally delve into Giannini’s music and discover the best pieces, I predict that he will be viewed as one of the great American post-romantics — not as refined and sensitive as Barber perhaps, but a broader, deeper, and more fully realized talent than Howard Hanson for example.

Vaclav Nelhybel is a Czech composer who came to the United States in 1957, at the age of 38. Within half a dozen years he had made a tremendous impact on the American band world with a number of stunningly scored, flamboyantly exciting pieces embraced by high school and college groups all over the country Actually, Nelhybel’s compositional style shares much in common with that of other Czech composers of his generation — in particular, an elemental, almost brutal physicality produced by an emphasis on the first three notes of the minor scale. In Nelhybel’s hands, this style takes on a sort of Czech neo-Medieval quality. Trittico was composed in 1964 for the legendary William Revelli and his band at the University of Michigan and is an especially striking example of Nelhybel’s approach to the medium. It is worth adding, incidentally, that Nelhybel is an extremely prolific composer, with hundreds of compositions in other genres, which are hardly known at all.

Of the other pieces on the disc, Albeniz’s Feast Day in Seville is quite a treat. Lucien Cailliet’s arrangement is enormously effective and the music itself has more substance than just a picture-postcard. Grieg’s 1866 Funeral March is a haunting, affecting dirge written in memory of a close friend and collaborator who died suddenly. Dello Joio’s Variants on a Medieval Tune was composed in 1963. Based for unclear aesthetic reasons on the chant melody, “In Dulci Jubilo,” it is simply one more of his colorless, uninspired compositional exercises, devoid of medieval spirit or atmosphere.

As suggested at the beginning of this review, these are truly fantastic performances — all that an aficionado of the medium could possibly dream of. Of course, what I dream of is hearing more of the masterpieces of the American band repertoire played in performances of this caliber. In addition to the Giannini work mentioned earlier, I would draw attention to two other important compositions, as yet undiscovered: Nicolas Flagello’s Symphony No. 2, “Symphony of the Winds” (1970) and Arnold Rosner’s Trinity (1988). Listeners drawn to a release like this one and to the historic Eastman recordings would be thrilled to know these pieces, and I suspect that there are a good many such listeners among Fanfare’s readership.

FLAGELLO: Passion of Martin Luther King. Serenata. Andante Languido. GIANNINI: Concerto Grosso. Prelude and Fugue. M. GOULD: Harvest. SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World.

FLAGELLO: Passion of Martin Luther King. SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World. James DePreist conducting the Oregon Symphony Orchestra; with the Portland Symphonic Choir,  Raymond Bazemore, bass and narrator. KOCH INTERNATIONAL 3-7293-2H1 [DDD]; 58:54. Produced by Michael Fine.

FLAGELLO: Serenata. Andante Languido. GIANNINI: Concerto Grosso. Prelude and Fugue. M. GOULD: Harvest. David Amos conducting the New Russia Orchestra. ALBANY TROY-143 [DDD]; 65:50. Produced by Vadim Ivanov.

Here are two exciting new releases that expand the discography of Nicolas Flagello (see overview of Flagello’s life and works at the front of this issue), while drawing attention to some other wonderful music as well. Released to coincide with the birthday of Martin Luther King in January, the Koch release highlights two extraordinary musical tributes to the black leader. As Coretta Scott King suggests in the program booklet, the Flagello and Schwantner represent very different approaches to their subject. Schwantner emphasizes King as the inspiring leader who encouraged the black people of this nation to persevere in their struggle to achieve racial justice. Flagello focuses on King as the embodiment of Jesus Christ in our time, martyring himself for the principle of universal love. Having been present at the premieres of both works, I can attest to the overwhelmingly powerful effect each produces in live performance.

Flagello’s Passion of Martin Luther King is constructed along the lines of an oratorio, in which five choral settings of Latin liturgical texts alternate with solo settings of lines taken from King’s speeches. Actually, the choral portions originated in a work entitled Pentaptych, which Flagello had composed in 1953, but which had left him with certain reservations. King’s assassination fifteen years later crystallized for him the realization that the eloquent words of the contemporary spiritual leader could provide just the human focus that the Pentaptychlacked. He immediately restructured the work, selecting excerpts from King’s speeches and setting them in an expressive arioso that blends seamlessly with the choral portions, in such a way that the vernacular solo element continually reverberates against the timeless spirituality of the Latin choral sections in a deeply moving synergy. As it stood in 1968, thePassion ended with a setting of “I Have a Dream,” followed by a choral Jubilate Deo, and it is this version, on a never-released recording with brother Ezio as soloist, that has circulated through the tape underground. However, in 1973, James DePreist, who was preparing to conduct the first public performance, persuaded Flagello to omit these two sections, for reasons that have never. been made clear to me. Flagello acquiesced to this request, composing an ecstatic new finale based on material that appears earlier in the work, and this is the version we now hear. Years later, Flagello conceded that DePreist’s suggestion improved the work’s effectiveness, but he remained fond of the “I Have a Dream ” Jubilate Deo sequence. He had begun to compose another choral work, to be called Psalmus Americanus, which would incorporate this material, but never completed it.

One of the reasons I have presented all this background information is to explain that the music of the Passion, though dated 1968, reflects many characteristics of Flagello’s ultra-Romantic pre-1959 style — more deliberate pacing, greater metrical regularity, more consonant harmonic language, and an unambiguous sense of tonality. As always, the orchestration is sumptuous and virile with no stinting on the climaxes, and the choral writing is gorgeous, with especially exquisite part-writing in the Cor Jesu and the Stabat Mater, the solo settings of King’s words are apt although, admittedly, the refined bel canto approach is a far cry from the robust rhetoric of black evangelical preaching. In truth, despite the extravagant grandeur of the music, this is a very personal, almost mystical, interpretation of Martin Luther King, rather than a work of social consciousness. Bass Raymond Bazemore lends poignant expression to his part, but a richer, fuller, more operatic voice could do better justice to it. James DePreist, who has conducted the work many times, continues to lend it his tremendous intelligence and musical sensitivity.

Joseph Schwantner was born in 1943 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for an orchestral work called Aftertones of Infinity. As one of the defectors from academic serialism, he and his work received a good deal of attention around that time. Schwantner developed a distinctive approach that combined an exquisite sensitivity to fanciful gestures and delicate, ethereal sonorities — reminiscent of George Crumb — with phantasmagoric verbal imagery, and frequent use of tonal, consonant musical elements, resulting in a colorful and accessible musical surface with some New Age qualities. For some reason, his work seems to have lost the spotlight more recently, although many of the younger orchestral composers who have emerged during the past decade have used his techniques.

New Morning for the World was composed in 1982, though, like the Flagello, it also draws upon material used in earlier pieces. It is scored for narrator and orchestra, and its musical content is more straightforward and conventional than in any other of Schwantner’s works known to me. Only its copious use of technicolor percussion effects dates it as a work of the final quarter of this century. In the manner of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, the orchestra serves as a backdrop, creating a vivid framework of moods and emotions against which the extensive excerpts from King’s speeches are highlighted. Although the orchestra is frequently in the foreground, the text, with its own very musical sense of oratory, is the central point of focus, and retains a much stronger sense of its own identity than in the Flagello. The brilliantly scored music combines elements of an urgent, exhortatory nature with hushed, fervent, hymnlike passages, which ultimately merge in an ecstatic climax whose effect is hard to resist. 

Schwantner’s work was initially recorded shortly after its premiere, with baseball star Willie Stargell as narrator. He handled his role with eloquence and dignity, and I have never been able to understand why that recording has not been reissued on CD. In my review (Fanfare7:2, pp. 307-08), I expressed a sense of ambivalence about the work, describing my reaction as “somewhat, like weeping at a sentimental melodrama, while being fully conscious of the devices employed to induce such a visceral response.” There is a tremendous reliance on sure fire musical devices, without the density of structure, or the sense of multiple dimensions that the Flagello offers. On the other hand, having revisited the work periodically during the twelve years since its premiere, I can testify that it retains its power. It is an enormously effective work, as satisfying in its way as Copland’s enduring memorial to Lincoln. As narrator, Raymond Bazemore offers a touching reading of King’s profound words.

Rather than producing the sense of redundancy that I feared, bringing together the two works and their differing perspectives enables them to complement each other beautifully, as Mrs. King states in her introductory notes, making this a recording of historical, as well as musical, significance.


Though less weighted with extramusical interest, the Albany disc is an equally rewarding new release, and features four premiere recordings.

Both the Flagello and Giannini works are flavored by Baroque stylistic features, though in the pieces by Flagello, these aspects are minimal. Serenata, composed in 1968 for chamber orchestra, is an entertaining diversion — virtually the only one of his mature works that is devoid of emotional stress. Its four-movement design is modeled loosely on the Baroque suite, but its musical content is thoroughly Romantic, and generally warm and cheerful in tone.

Flagello’s 1959 Concerto for String Orchestra actually displays explicit use of Baroque features in its outer movements, but not in the “Andante Languido” that forms the central slow movement, offered on this recording. Listeners new to Flagello’s music may think of the elegiac poignancy of Barber’s Adagio, combined with the somber severity of Honegger’s Second Symphony and the pathos of the Adagio lamentoso from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth. But those familiar with his work know that this heartbreaking lament is echt Flagello in its purest form — one of his core creations (as well as one of his own personal favorites). The entireConcerto would be most welcome on recording, but the “Andante Languido” is certainly effective-and affecting — on its own.

Neoromantic adaptations of Baroque forms and concepts was a key preoccupation of Vittorio Giannini (Flagello’s teacher and mentor)-especially during the 1940s and 50s. The Concerto Grosso of 1946 and Prelude and Fugue of 1955 — both for string orchestra — are excellent examples of his approach, and listeners who enjoy Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, Creston’sPartita, and the Albinoni-Giazotto Adagio will certainly respond to these ingratiating pieces. The outer movements of the Concerto Grosso are bustling and vigorous, at times suggesting the composer’s proclivity for opera buffa, and with lots of eighteenth-century-style counterpoint. The slow movement is an impassioned expression of grief that combines Italianate lyricism with a Bach-like sense of gravity.

The Prelude and Fugue is essentially cut from the same cloth, but I like it even more. It is somewhat more tightly structured and equally heartfelt, with a terrifically exhilarating and beautifully elaborated fugue in quintuple meter. Giannini was an enormously appealing composer whose large and varied output remains unexplored. With this release, and the disc of twenty-four songs (ACA CM-20011-11: see Fanfare 16:1, pp. 242-44), perhaps the exploration is beginning. With most of Howard Hanson’s output available on recording, the equally accessible (and far better crafted) music of Giannini is the next logical step for the growing number of listeners drawn to this generation of American neoromantics.

As a bonus, the Albany disc includes the first recording of Morton Gould’s Harvest. This fourteen-minute tone poem scored for strings with harp and vibraphone is more ambitious and serious in tone than most of Gould’s better-known pieces, with less emphasis on overtly vernacular elements. It was composed in 1945, during the period when Gould was at the height of his fame — when his weekly light-music series on radio made him a household name, and Dmitri Mitropoulos was introducing his Third Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. If Flagello and Giannini were out of touch with their times, Morton Gould has always been a man of his time. Yet from today’s perspective, as the musical personalities of Flagello and Giannini seem to transcend their time and place, Gould’s work reveals so little other than its time and place, reflected through counterfeits of then-fashionable Harris and Copland works. In a certain sense. this makes Harvest one of Gould’s most revealing pieces.

David Amos conducted these recordings in Moscow with a group called the New Russia Orchestra. They play with considerable accuracy and sensitivity, producing some of the most incisive performances I have heard under Amos’s sympathetic direction. The sound quality of this disc, as well as the Koch disc, is superb.   

FLAGELLO: Passion of Martin Luther King. Serenata. Andante Languido. SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World. . GIANNINI: Concerto Grosso. Prelude and Fugue. M. GOULD: Harvest.

FLAGELLO: Passion of Martin Luther King. SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World. James DePreist conducting the Portland Symphonic Choir and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra; Raymond Bazemore, bass and narrator. KOCH INTERNATIONAL 3-7293-2H1 [DDD]: 58:54. Produced by Michael Fine  

FLAGELLO: Serenata. Andante Languido. GIANNINI: Concerto Grosso. Prelude and Fugue. M. GOULD: Harvest. David Amos conducting the New Russia Orchestra. ALBANY TROY-143 [DDD]; 65:50. Produced by Vadim Ivanov 

Here are two exciting new releases that expand the discography of Nicolas Flagello (see overview of Flagello’s life works at the front of this issue), while drawing attention to other wonderful music as well. Released to coincides with the birthday of Martin Luther King in January, the Koch release highlights two extraordinary musical tributes to the Black leader. As Coretta Scott King suggests in the program booklet, the Flagello and Schwantner represent very different approaches to their subject. Schwantner emphasizes King as the inspiring leader who encouraged the black people of this nation to persevere in their struggle to achieve racial justice. Flagello focuses on King as the embodiment of Jesus Christ in our time, martyring himself for the principle of universal love Having been present at the premieres of both works, I can attest. to the overwhelmingly powerful effect each produces in live performance. 

Flagello’s Passion of Martin Luther King is constructed along the lines of an oratorio, in which five choral settings of Latin liturgical texts alternate with solo settings of lines taken from King’s speeches. Actually, the choral portions originated in a work entitled Pentaptych, which Flagello had composed in 1953, but which had left him with certain reservations. King’s assassination 15 years later crystallized for him the realization that the eloquent words of the contemporary spiritual leader could provide just. the human f ocus the Pentaptych lacked. He immediately restructured the work, selecting excerpts from King’s speeches and setting them in an expressive arioso that blends seamlessly with the choral portions, in such a way that the vernacular solo element continually reverberates against the timeless spirituality of the Latin choral sections in a deeply moving synergy. As it stood in 1968, the Passion ended with a setting of “I Have a Dream,” followed by a choral , Jubilate Deo, and it is this version, on never-released recording with brother Ezio as soloist, that has circulated through the tape underground. However, in 1973, James DePreist, who was preparing to conduct the first public performance, persuaded Flagello to omit these two sections, for reasons that have never been made clear to me.  Flagello acquiesced to this request, composing an ecstatic new finale based on material that appears earlier in the work, and this is the version we now hear. Years later, Flagello conceded that DePreist’s suggestion improved the work’s effectiveness, but he remained fond of the “I Have a Dream”/Jubilate Deo sequence. He had begun to compose another choral work, to be called Psalmus Americanus, which would incorporate this material, but never completed it. 

One of the reasons I have presented all this background information is to explain that the music of the Passion, though dated 1968, reflects many characteristics of Flagello’s ultra-romantic pre-1959 style — more deliberate pacing, greater metrical regularity, more consonant harmonic language, and an unambiguous sense of tonality. As always, the orchestration is sumptuous and virile with no stinting on the climaxes, and the choral writing is gorgeous, with especially exquisite part-writing in the Cor Jesu and the Stabat Mater. The solo settings of King’s words are apt — although, admittedly, the refined bel canto approach is a far cry from the robust rhetoric of Black evangelical preaching. In truth, despite the extravagant grandeur of the: music, this is a very personal, almost mystical, interpretation of Martin Luther King, rather than a work of social consciousness. Bass Raymond Bazemore lends poignant expression to his part, but a richer, fuller, more operatic voice could do better justice to it. James DePreist who has conducted the work many times, continues to lend it his tremendous intelligence and musical sensitivity. 

Joseph Schwantner was born in 1943 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for an orchestral work called Aftertones of Infinity. As one of the defectors from academic serialism, he and his work received a good deal of attention around that time. Schwantner developed a distinctive approach that combined an exquisite sensitivity to fanciful gestures and delicate, ethereal sonorities — reminiscent of George Crumb — with phantasmagoric verbal imagery, and frequent use of tonal, consonant musical elements, resulting in a colorful and accessible musical surface with some New Age qualities For some reason, his work seems to have lost: the spotlight more recently, although many of: the younger orchestral composers who have emerged during the past decade have: used his techniques. 

New Morning for the World was composed in 1982, though, like the Flagello, it also draws upon material used in earlier pieces . It is scored for narrator and orchestra, and its musical content is more straightforward and conventional than in any other of Schwantner’s works known to me. Only its copious use technicolor percussion effects dates it as a work or the final quarter of this century. In the manner of’ Copland’sLincoln Portrait, the orchestra serves as a backdrop, creating a vivid framework of moods and emotions against which the: extensive excerpts from King’s speeches are highlighted. Although the orchestra is frequently in the foreground, the text, with its own very musical sense of oratory, is the central point of focus, and retains a much stronger sense of its own identity than in the Flagello. The brilliantly-scored music combines elements of an urgent, exhortatory nature with hushed, fervent., hymn-like passages, which ultimately merge in an ecstatic climax whose effect is hard to resist. 

Schwantner’s work was initially recorded shortly after its premiere, with baseball star Willie Stargell as narrator. He handled his role with eloquence and dignity and I have never been able to understand why that .recording has riot: been reissued on CD. In my review (Fanfare 7:2, pp. 307-8), I expressed a sense of ambivalence about the work, describing my reaction as ” somewhat :like weeping at a sentimental melodrama, while. being fully conscious of the devices employed to induce such a visceral response.” There is a tremendous reliance sure-fire musical devices, without the den sity of structure, or the sense of multiple dimensions that the Flagello offers. On the other hand, having revisited the work periodically during the twelve years since its premiere,  I can testify that it retains its power. It is an enormously effective work, as satisfying in its way as Copland’s enduring memorial to Lincoln. As narrator, Raymond Bazemore offers a touching reading of King’s profound words. 

Rather than producing the sense of redundancy that I feared, bringing together the two works and their differing perspectives enables them to complement each other beautifully, as Mrs. King states in her introductory notes, making this a recording of historical, as well as musical, significance. 


Though less weighted with extramusical interest, the Albany disc is an equally rewarding now release and features four premiere recordings.

Both the Flagello and Giannini works are flavored by Baroque stylistic features, though in the piece by Flagello, these aspects area minimal. Serenata, composed in 1968 for chamber orchestra, is an entertaining diversion — virtually the only one of his mature works that: is devoid of emotional. stress. Its four-movement design is modeled loosely on the Baroque suite, but its musical content. is thoroughly romantic, arid generally warm and cheerful in tone. 

Flagello’s 1959 Concerto for String 0rchestra actually displays explicit use of Baroque features in its outer movements, but not in the “Andante Languido” that forms the central slow movement, offered on this recording. Listeners new to Flagello’s music may think of the elegiac poignancy of Barber’s Adagio combined with the somber severity of Honegger’s Second Symphony and the: pathos of theAdagio lamentoso from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth. But those familiar with his work know that. this heartbreaking lament is echt Flagello in its purest form — one of his core creations (as well one of his own personal favorites). The entire Concerto would be most welcome on recording, but: the “Andante Languido” is certainly effective.– and affecting — on its own. 

Neo-romantic adaptations of Baroque forms and concepts was a key preoccupation of Vittorio Giannini (Flagello’s teacher and mentor) — especially during the 1940s and 50s. The Concerto Grosso of 1946 and Prelude and Fugue of 1955 — both for string orchestra — are excellent examples of his approach, and listeners who enjoy Bloch’sConcerto Grosso No. 1, Creston’s Partita and the Albinoni-Giazotto Adagio will certainly respond to these ingratiating pieces. The outer movements of the Concerto Grosso are bustling and vigorous, at times suggesting the composer’s proclivity foropera. buffa, and with lots of 18th-century-style counterpoint. The slow movement is an  impassioned expression of grief that combines Italianate lyricism with a Bach-like sense of gravity. 

The Prelude and Fugue is essentially cut: from the same cloth, but. I like it even more. It is somewhat more tightly structured and equally heartfelt, with a terrifically exhilarating arid beautifully elaborated fugue in quintuple meter . Giannini was an enormously appealing composer whose la rge and varied output remains unexplored. With this release, and the disc of 24 songs ( ACA C M-2001 1-11 , see Fanfare 16:1 , pp. 242-44), perhaps the exploration is beginning. With most of Howard Hanson’s output available on recording, the equally accessible. and far better crafted) music of Giannini is the next logical step for the growing number of  listeners drawn to this gener ation of American neo-romantics. 

As a bonus, the Albany disc includes the first recording of Morton Gould’s Harvest. This 14-minute tone poem scored for strings with harp and vibraphone is more ambitious arid serious in tone than most of Gould’s better-known pieces, with .less emphasis on overtly vernacular elements. It was composed in 1945, during the period when Gould was at:. the height of his fame — when his weekly light-music series on radio made: him a household name, and Dmitri Mitropoulos was introduc ing his Third Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. If Flagello and Giannini were out of touch with their times, Morton Gould has always been a man of his time. Yet: from today’s perspective, as the musical personalities of Flagello and Giannini seem to transcend their time and place. Gould’s work reveals so little other than its time anal place reflected through counterfeits of then-fashionable Harris and Copland works. In a certain sense, this makes Harvest one of Gould’s most revealing pieces.

David Amos conducted these recordings in Moscow with a group called the New Russia Orchestra. They play with considerable accuracy and sensitivity, producing some. of the most: incis ive performances I have heard under Amos’ sympathetic direction. The sound quality of this disc, as well as the Koch disc, is superb. 

CRESTON: Piano Sonata, Op. 9; Six Preludes, Op. 38. GIANNINI: Piano Sonata. FLAGELLO: Two Waltzes; Piano Sonata

Piano Music by Paul Creston (1906-1985) Piano Sonata, Op. 9* (1936); Six Preludes, Op. 38* (1945). Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) Piano Sonata* (1963). Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994) : Two Waltzes(1953) Piano Sonata (1962).

*World Premiere Recordings. Tatjana Rankovich, piano. Walter Simmons, producer. Joseph Patrych, engineer. Recorded: Jan. 6, 21, 1998; April 29, 1998; June 24, 1998 

The three American composers represented on this recording belong to the group often described as “20th-century traditionalists”—those figures who rejected most of the tenets of Modernism–especially its emphasis on originality, rational objectivity, and experimentation, and its contempt for communication as an artistic objective. Rather, the “traditionalists” viewed themselves as inheritors of a living legacy, to which they sought to make their own individual contributions, with recourse to the full range of classical forms and techniques, and with the aim of personal expression and communication. Beyond their aesthetic affinities, Creston, Giannini, and Flagello shared an Italian ancestry, and spent most of their creative lives in the environs of New York City. Creston and Giannini were approximate contemporaries, while for many years Giannini and Flagello maintained a master-apprentice relationship. Each composer is represented here by a piano sonata composed at a different phase of his respective career. Creston’s sonata is an early work, written before his language had reached maturity; Giannini’s dates from the last years of his life, when his style seemed to be charting a new course; Flagello’s sonata appeared at the midpoint of his career and the apex of his compositional development.

Paul Creston, whose original name was Giuseppe Guttoveggio, was born in New York City in 1906, the son of a poor house-painter. As a child he took lessons on the piano and later, on the organ, and began writing music on his own at the age of eight. Forced to leave school at 15 in order to earn a living, he attempted to compensate for the premature termination of his formal education by subjecting himself to a strenuous regimen of independent study, teaching himself music theory and composition, in addition to a number of other academic and artistic subjects. Creston vacillated between music and literature as career options for several years; not until 1932, at age 26, did he decide upon musical composition as a vocation. He supported himself during these years by playing the organ to accompany silent films, and later took a position as church organist, which he held for many years.

The absence of formal training prevented Creston from being fully indoctrinated into the music world’s conventional value system, leaving him free to develop his own aesthetic principles, together with a highly individual approach to composition. Many years later, when asked to name those composers who most influenced his development, he cited J. S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel. Their traces are evident in Creston’s earliest compositions, especially the Piano Sonata heard on this recording. Yet at the same time, Creston’s own distinctive manner—a combination of Baroque patterns and textures and Impressionist harmony, suffused with a romantic temperament, and organized around the elaborate development of a few basic motifs—can be discerned as well. The inventive and rather idiosyncratic approach to rhythm that was to become the central element of his compositional style developed somewhat later.

Creston composed his Piano Sonata in 1936. The first movement, Allegro appassionato, opens with a brash vigor, immediately introducing several motifs, including one that soon develops into a luxuriantly lyrical second theme. These motifs undergo a lengthy and thorough development through a variety of contrasting emotions. A sense of urgency prevails, as Scarlatti-like running patterns continue throughout, never coming to rest until the end.

The second movement, Allegretto grazioso, is light and graceful, in the manner of a minuet. Some gently syncopated passages presage the rhythmic manipulations of Creston’s maturity.

The third movement, Andante, displays the warm, smoothly rolling figurations of a barcarolle. As the music slowly builds in intensity, its rich harmonic language expands with resonant voicings that suggest Creston’s experience as an organist. The music reaches a powerful climax, and then recedes gently, drifting off with an ethereal chain of chords that remain unresolved until the end.

The fourth movement, Presto scorrevole, suggests the form of a rondo. It is lively and playful in tone, with scurrying patterns that proceed breathlessly from one section to the next, until an exhilarating conclusion is reached. Again the keyboard works of Scarlatti come to mind, along with a harmonic language that occasionally hints at the popular music of the time.

In view of Creston’s isolation from influential musical institutions, his meteoric rise to national prominence is quite remarkable. In 1938 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1941 he won the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award. In 1942, Arturo Toscanini conducted his Choric Dance No. 2 with the NBC Symphony, in 1943 Eugene Ormandy conducted his Symphony No. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 1944 Creston completed his Symphony No. 2 , premiered the following year by Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic. One of his most important works, this symphony brought him international acclaim; by this time Creston was one of America’s most widely performed composers.

Shortly after completing his Symphony No. 2 , Creston composed his Six Preludes for piano. By then, the composer had developed a fascination with the element of rhythm, to which he devoted special attention in virtually each of his works. He was especially fond of syncopated polymetric and polyrhythmic patterns and ostinatos, which he organized within a continuous, unchanging metrical pulse. Eventually he was to present his theory and analysis of the subject in a textbook, Principles of Rhythm (1964). The core of the book comprises an exposition of what Creston termed “rhythmic structures,” described as “five different plans [for] the organization of duration in ordered movement.” He had developed this concept as early as 1945, as each of the Six Preludes was composed to illustrate one of the “rhythmic structures,” with No. 1, Moderately fast,  as an example of mixed methods. No. 2, Tranquil, illustrates “regular sub-division”; No. 3, Fast, illustrates “regular subdivision overlapping”; No. 4, Moderately fast, illustrates “irregular subdivision”; No. 5, Moderato, illustrates “overlapping”; and No. 6, Moderately fast, illustrates “irregular sub-division overlapping”. Despite the underlying didactic aspect, each of the preludes conveys a sense of spontaneous expression.


Vittorio Giannini was born in Philadelphia in 1903 into a family of professional musicians. Deeply imbued with the values of a Eurocentric musical culture at an early age, he had completed four years of formal study in Milan by the time he was 14, and had already begun to compose. During the 1920s, when Creston was struggling to educate himself late at night while holding a series of clerical jobs during the day, Giannini was studying violin and composition at the Juilliard School. He first attracted attention during the 1930s, when his songs began to appear frequently on recital programs, and several of his operas were produced successfully in Europe, where he spent much of his time. His vocal music displayed the fluent lyrical warmth of Italianate late-Romanticism, although instrumental works revealed a mastery of contrapuntal technique and a concern with formal developmental processes.

Settling in New York City in 1939, Giannini continued composing prolifically, producing dozens of works notable for their effortless melodic warmth, high-spirited exuberance, and impeccable craftsmanship, although increasingly his music was regarded as “old-fashioned” by the proponents of Modernism. Serving concurrently at the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School, and the Curtis Institute, he became one of the country’s most active composition teachers, his name virtually synonymous with traditional Old World musical craftsmanship and discipline.

By the early 1960s Giannini’s work was receiving little attention, his musical aesthetic seen now as the vestige of a bygone era. Yet at this point Giannini’s compositional style took something of a turn. Although his approach to form remained unchanged, many of his works revealed a darker character, a greater depth of expression, and a more dissonant harmonic language. Whether this change reflected a bitterness about the fickleness of musical fashion, or concerns about his own deteriorating heart condition, or despair about a failed second marriage is uncertain. But what is clear is that many of the works that Giannini composed during the last five years of his life—such as the monodramas The Medead and Antigone , the Symphony No. 5 , and the Piano Sonata —are among his finest achievements.

Giannini composed his Piano Sonata in 1963. The opening Allegro non troppo boldly proclaims a three-note motif that truly saturates the polyphonic texture of the entire movement, while re-appearing in the others as well. Several additional motifs are introduced during the exposition of this movement, all of which contribute to its unremittingly agitated and turbulent character; even the subordinate theme seems to wail in despair. All this material is subjected to a lengthy and rigorous development, until a major climax is reached during the recapitulation, after which the movement ends in snarling defiance.

The second movement, Molto adagio e cantabile, presents a lament whose character is unmistakably funereal, and whose thematic material bears some resemblance to the motifs introduced in the first movement. After this D-minor lament has been elaborated somewhat, there is a sudden shift to D-flat major, and a new melody, marked “con gran dolcezza e tenerezza,” is heard, ending the movement with an almost Mahlerian poignancy.  

The meaning of this episode—and, perhaps, of the sonata as a whole–is illuminated by the following information:  In 1963, Giannini’s second marriage ended in divorce. That year Giannini composed what proved to be his last song, entitled To a Lost Love , to his own text. There the D-flat melody from the sonata appears, set to the following words:

If you must go, my love, 
Go not in bitterness;
Go with a gentle sadness. 
I, with tears in my eyes
Give you one last kiss on the lips,
As a token of my love that shall abide with you forever.

The final movement, Allegro assai, of Giannini’s Piano Sonata has the character of a scherzo-toccata, propelled by a driving triplet figure in perpetual motion. At the center of the movement the meter shifts and the three-note motif from the first movement re-appears in a new guise, pressing forward with grim determination. Then the opening triplet material returns, leading eventually to an intensified treatment of the three-note motif, which carries the movement to a decisive close.


Nicolas Flagello was born in New York City in 1928. With a remarkably similar family background to Giannini’s, Flagello came from a long line of musicians. As Giannini’s sister Dusolina had been a world-renowned soprano, Flagello’s brother Ezio enjoyed an illustrious career as a leading bass-baritone. When young Nicolas, who was playing the piano in public before the age of ten, began to show an inclination toward composition, his family brought him to the attention of Giannini. Thus began a long and deeply devoted apprenticeship that lasted until the older man’s death in 1966.

Giannini subjected Flagello to the sort of rigorous, demanding discipline that formed the basis of traditional European compositional study for centuries. Continuing his work with Giannini at the Manhattan School of Music, he was awarded a Master’s Degree in 1950, at which point he joined the composition faculty, remaining there until 1977.

Giannini imbued Flagello with the enduring values of the grand European heritage, insisting that the answers to all matters of aesthetics lay in the unbroken chain of Western musical tradition, as it had evolved organically through the centuries. If this approach seemed old-fashioned for a middle-aged composer in 1950, for a young man like Flagello it seemed defiantly reactionary. As a result, little of his music was performed publicly during his own lifetime, although his work has developed a growing following since his death in 1994.

In 1953 Flagello composed two waltzes for piano that he eventually incorporated into larger works. For this reason he did not include them among his official oeuvre. However, they are very pianistic and serve nicely as encores. Waltz in D is marked Andantino comodo, and displays a tender gracefulness reminiscent of Ravel. Revised some twelve years later, it became the slow movement of a Suite for Harp and String Trio (1965). The Waltz in B minor offers considerable contrast. Marked Presto giocoso ma non troppo, it is somewhat more dynamic, with a grotesque middle section that found its way into the Scherzo of the monumental Symphony No. 1 (1968).

While Flagello may have adopted Giannini’s musical aesthetic, his own temperament was much more volatile and highly charged than that of his teacher. After composing a substantial body of work in a luxuriantly romantic vein—including three operas, two piano concertos, concertos for flute, violin, and several large orchestral works—Flagello turned in 1959 toward a darker, more intensely concentrated mode of expression. In fact, some have suggested that the influence of Giannini on Flagello reversed direction at that time, as the latter’s stylistic shift seemed to precede the former’s very similar move by about a year. This maturation of his compositional voice ushered in the most productive period of Flagello’s life. During the 1960s, he composed more than 30 works—intensely emotional and often gloomy, turbulent, and tragic in character–maintaining a remarkable consistency of both vision and craftsmanship. In 1962 alone, he composed the Piano Concerto No. 3 , the Cello Capriccio , a dramatic monologue called Dante’s Farewell , and the first version of a Te Deum, as well as the Piano Sonata heard here.

Flagello’s three-movement Piano Sonata wholeheartedly embraces the rhetoric and ethos of the romantic virtuoso legacy, but with a tempestuous character unique to the composer. Tightly constructed with an eye toward both expressive and motivic unity, all three movements are based on material that emphasizes the interval of a half-step.

The first movement, Andante con moto e rubato, is a standard sonata-allegroform, except that instead of the usual two themes, one idea in F minor, built from two short motifs, serves to fill the roles of both, appearing at times restless and searching, at others, bold and defiant, and at still others, introspective and ruminative.

The second movement begins with a soulful, recitative-like passage, which leads into a barcarolle—but a far gloomier one than Creston created for his sonata. The movement builds to a tremendous climax, and then subsides in dark resignation.

The finale, Allegro vivace quanto possibile, happens to be a full sonata-allegroform, two themes and all. A whirlwind toccata in perpetual motion, this movement requires a pianist with tremendous stamina, able to sustain enormous technical demands without respite.

Songs My Mother Taught Me. GIANNINI Tell Me, Oh Blue, Blue Sky!; Sing to My Heart a Song; It is a Spring Night.. Songs by RACHMANINOV, THOMPSON, HAGEMAN, CHARLES, SPROSS, QUILTER, RASBACH, COLERIDGE-TAYLOR, NILES, DUNGAN, MALOTTE

SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME Roberta Alexander (sop); Brian Masuda (pn)  ETCETERA KTC-1208 (72:37)

GIANNINI Tell Me, Oh Blue, Blue Sky!; Sing to My Heart a Song; It is a Spring Night. RACHMANINOV Spring Waters. R. THOMPSON Velvet Shoes.HAGEMAN Do Not Go, My Love; Music I Heard with You. E. CHARLES When I Have Sung My Songs; Clouds; Youth. SPROSS Let All My Life Be Music. QUILTER Love’s Philosophy. RASBACH When I Am Dead, My Dearest.COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Life and Death. NILES Go ‘Way from My Window. DUNGAN Eternal Life. MALOTTE The Lord’s Prayer. MISC. ARRANGERS Ten Spirituals

Also included at no extra charge: ROBERTA ALEXANDER … A RETROSPECTIVE [music by Barber, Ives, R. Strauss, Mozart, Puccini, Bernstein, Copland, et al.] ETCETERA KTC-1222 (69:06) 

I must admit that I was initially attracted to this disc because of the presence of three songs by Vittorio Giannini. The genre that might be termed “middle-brow American art-songs” occupied Giannini’s attention for a period early on during a prolific compositional career that also bore more than a dozen operas and seven symphonies. The three songs included here are probably his best known, and all are set to texts by Karl Flaster. Flaster, a part-time poet, and Giannini met at a bus stop while both were in their early 20s, and began a fruitful collaboration that lasted for the rest of their lives. (A fascinating account of their relationship, written by Anne Simpson and Karl Wonderly Flaster [the poet’s son], appeared in the Winter, 1988 issue of American Music. Also, an entire CD, entitled Hopelessly Romantic, is devoted to songs by Giannini and Flaster [ACA CM 20011-11; see Fanfare 16:1].) Their first song, “Tell Me, Oh Blue, Blue Sky,” written in 1927, proved to be their most popular, and remained one of Giannini’s most enduring successes. It was recorded by Mario Lanza, Leonard Warren, and, more recently, by Thomas Hampson, among others, and appeared regularly on recital programs throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. “Sing to My Heart a Song” appears also (and with orchestral accompaniment) on a recent Ben Heppner CD called My Secret Heart, which covers a similar musical terrain. These songs belong to a musical genre of which I have some vague awareness but little true knowledge. I gather that songs of this kind were popular at a time when there was a broader appreciation of the “light classical” sensibility than there has been during recent decades (although perhaps the Andrea Bocelli phenomenon represents some sort of revival), and that such songs were not out of place on programs of “art-songs.” Evidently Ms. Alexander’s mother, whose name was also Roberta, was a singer of some note, and used to perform many of these songs in her recitals. My assumption was that Giannini’s efforts would loom far above the others, with regard to their musical invention, taste, and craftsmanship, and that the others — especially those by composers whose names were unfamiliar to me, such as Ernest Charles, Charles Gilbert Spross, and Olive Dungan — would be laughably mawkish. 

Imagine my surprise! Yes, perhaps the Giannini songs display an unerringly focused melodic thrust, which was his particular gift. But, on the whole, I found most of the “composed” songs, though requiring tolerance for a type of sentimentality that is clearly not part of the Y2K sensibility, quite comparable to Giannini’s, with regard to their level of taste, their degree of artistry, and even their musical language itself. (I was also surprised to find that the sappiness of Flaster’s poetry was matched by most of the texts chosen by the others.) To be more explicit, none of these songs matches the elegance or exquisite refinement of taste of, say, Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night.” Their composers selected texts that highlight some eternal truth, inspiring homily, or otherwise fragile sentiment, and expanded them into passionate outpourings that build to climaxes of Wagnerian grandiosity (you think I’m kidding?). Well, we might expect Rachmaninov’s contribution to approach a high standard; and, after all, Randall Thompson built a successful career of choral music evincing a poignant simplicity. But I also found the three songs by Ernest Charles, the one by Charles Gilbert Spross, the two by Richard Hagemen, the one by Roger Quilter, the one by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Olive Dungan’s setting of a delicate prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, to be sincere — if at the same time undeniably eyeball-rolling — expressions of feeling, articulated through music well-tailored to make the desired impact. The more hard-hearted may feel otherwise, but I can’t dismiss them as lacking any enduring merit.
The songs I did not mention are similar affairs, if somewhat more ordinary and conventional, and thus less noteworthy. And I must confess to a problem with “Negro spirituals” presented in concert-type arrangements, which, though tasteful and skillful, present these folk melodies with a formality and preciousness that vitiate their simple directness and robust exuberance.

The sampler CD, offered as a bonus, documents the many fine recordings Roberta Alexander has made for the Dutch company, Etcetera. Most of these recordings were reviewed in Fanfare when they were first issued, so I will not dwell on them here, except to say that they provide ample evidence of Ms. Alexander’s considerable artistic intelligence, sensitivity, and artistry, not to mention her stylistic versatility. Her voice itself displays certain idiosyncrasies, such as a rather rapid, almost tremulous, vibrato that is not to everyone’s taste. I do have one interpretive reservation regarding the “middle-brow” disc: The soprano clearly opts for an approach that “plays it straight,” presenting each song with a high-toned sobriety that has the effect of inflating what are essentially sentimental trifles into grander statements than I believe even their composers intended. While I am certainly not suggesting that she condescend or mock the material in any way, perhaps a less formal, more intimate presentation of these songs would be more appropriate to their aesthetic scope. 

FRANCK: Danse Lente. Prelude, Choral, et Fugue. BLOCH: In the Night . Sonata for Piano. GIANNINI: Variations on a Cantus Firmus. Prelude and Fughetta

CESAR FRANCK: Danse Lente. Prelude, Choral, et Fugue
ERNEST BLOCH: In the Night. Sonata for Piano
VITTORIO GIANNINI Variations on a Cantus Firmus. Prelude and Fughetta
Myron Silberstein, piano

This recital of music by Cesar Franck (1822-1890), Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), and Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) highlights fascinating biographical linkages and aesthetic affinities among composers that may otherwise appear to belong to different segments of the musical spectrum. One feature that the three share in common is a commitment to aesthetic ideals that transcended the fashions current within the milieus they inhabited. The creation of music was for each both an aesthetic and a spiritual expression of deep personal significance, placing them at times at odds with their respective publics, who were seeking more meretricious charms, and each paid the price of disparagement and neglect for adherence to their ideals. Another trait shared by all three is a multinational orientation rooted in their training, as well as in their own national origins. As a result, the music of each composer bridges several stylistic lineages associated with particular national traditions. And finally, there is some evidence of the actual influence of one composer upon another. Many of these points are illustrated by the music presented on this recital, in which each composer is represented by one major extended work and one of more modest scope.

Cesar Franck was born in Belgium of largely German descent, and lived most of his life in Paris, during a time when popular taste leaned toward salon trifles or grandiose operatic spectacles. Although his mature work displayed a typically French sensuality and ear for harmonic color, Franck attempted to embrace within this romantic sensibility abstract formal ideals from the classic Germanic tradition: a fondness for contrapuntal density derived from Bach, the disciplined thematic development of Beethoven, and even the chromatic
complexities of Wagnerian harmony. In addition, he refined a compositional principle, traceable chiefly to Beethoven, known as “cyclical form,” in which a signal motif recurs throughout a multi-movement work in a variety of different guises, as a means of providing both formal and psychological unity. 

Franck’s brief Danse Lente of 1885 shows the composer’s hand at a simple salon piece. But the Prelude, Choral, et Fugue composed the preceding year is a masterpiece, embodying all the elements described above. The improvisational quality of the opening Prelude recalls the style of Bach’s organ fantasias even as it evokes the strongly subjective sense of atmosphere associated with romantic music. The Prelude introduces the
downward-step motif that is the underlying root of the entire work. The Choral also suggests the organ, with its full chordal textures that seem to require the addition of a pedal keyboard. This section introduces one of Franck’s most haunting melodies, accompanied by a solemnly descending minor scale. The Choral leads directly into the Fugue, clearly based on the downward-step motif. As it unfolds, elements from the preceding sections are recalled, culminating in a dense contrapuntal apotheosis that achieves a sense of sensuo-spiritual ecstasy that is one of Franck’s particular claims to greatness.

The connection between Franck and Ernest Bloch is quite clear. Although Bloch was born in Geneva, he studied in Brussels under the guidance of Eugene Ysaye, who had been a close personal associate of Franck. Bloch’s stylistic development is directly traceable to this lineage, especially the merging of classic formal abstractions with an emphasis on sensuality and mood, in the service of the most serious emotional content. However, Bloch’s own volatile temperament led him to create music of a vehemence and intensity that would have
been inconceivable to his predecessors. In addition, Bloch sought to imbue some of his works (though neither of those presented here) with his own subjective interpretation of the Jewish soul. 

In the Night (subtitled “A Love-Poem”) dates from 1922, during an immensely productive period when Bloch also served as director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. It a highly evocative example of one of his favorite small genres: the nocturne, which in Bloch’s hands became a work of perfumed exoticism and mystery, featuring his own idiosyncratic adaptation of impressionist harmony.

Bloch composed his Sonata for Piano in 1935 during a sojourn in the French Alps. It is certainly his most important work for piano solo, and, along with the Concerto Symphonique and the String Quartet No. 2, is one of the most fully realized abstract works of his compositional maturity. Its three movements are tightly unified through several intervallic motifs, according to Franck’s “cyclical” principle. These are transformed in an
amazingly vivid progression of moods and emotional states that suggest a rather grim commentary on the human condition. The first movement, Maestoso ed energico, is actively turbulent and agitated, while the second, Pastorale, conjures an exotic nocturnal vision of luscious sensual languor not unlike In the Night, building to a tremendous climax. The third movement, Moderato alla marcia, suggests a savage rite among some primitive tribe of Bloch’s imagination, which eventually recedes into the distance. 

Vittorio Giannini was born in Philadelphia, studying in Milan as a child, then later in New York. The connection between him and the other composers discussed here is a little less obvious, because, unlike them, the Italian operatic tradition played a strong role in both his development and his output. Indeed, his early operas enjoyed considerable success in Europe during the pre-World War II years, even winning the praise of Richard Strauss. In 1939 Giannini settled in New York, joining the faculties of the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and, later, the Curtis Institute as well. Shortly before his death, he was named president of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Although Giannini wrote some fourteen operas and much other vocal music, his many symphonic and instrumental works (including an orchestral work entitledPrelude, Chorale, and Fugue) show the same integration of intense emotionality with classic abstract formal principles exhibited by Franck and Bloch. And, like both of them, Giannini was especially fond of imbuing Baroque forms with romantic warmth. This aspect of Giannini’s art comes
to the fore in the Variations on a Cantus Firmus, composed in 1947. In many ways this is the most deeply traditional work presented here: twenty-four variations on a solemn, chromatically descending ground bass in C minor, presented in two nearly-identical phrases. As the variations begin, one is immediately reminded of the gravity of the great contrapuntal masterpieces of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, as they further unfold, grouped into four distinct movements, they progress stylistically — again according to traditional variation
principle — from a highly conservative treatment, through more romantic and virtuosic elaborations. Giannini’s personality was always strongest in his slow, lyrical music, and in the second and fourth movement groups this element predominates, offering moments of the most touching and tender beauty. 

Prelude and Fughetta was composed during the late 1950s. During this period, Giannini sometimes cooled his torridly romantic style by devising themes based on the interval of the fourth. Nowhere is that practice more evident than in this brief piece, in which a single theme, derived almost entirely from that interval, forms the basis of both the prelude and the short fugue that follows.