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Alfredo Casella (1883–1947). Concerto for Strings, Piano, Timpani, and Percussion (1943)

  1. Primo tempo: Allegro aliquanto pesante
  2. Sarabanda
  3. Finale: Allegro molto vivace

Alfredo Casella by Giorgio de Chirico, 1924

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Hi, and this is Fleisher Discoveries! I’m Kile Smith. Fleisher Discoveries is a podcast from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection. There’s a new Fleisher Discoveries podcast every month on SoundCloud and Spotify; just search “Fleisher Discoveries” to find every one of our podcasts.

And speaking of discoveries, what a revelation this recording conversion project is turning out to be. I’m talking about the American International Music Fund recordings, which we’ve been dipping into these last couple of months, and will continue to do so on Fleisher Discoveries. Financed and spearheaded by the Koussevitzky Foundation and overseen by the International Music Fund of the United Nations, the AIMF supported the music of living composers.

Originally these recordings were to be distributed to, and housed by, six institutions. The Fleisher Collection heard about the project and offered to be the seventh—a natural place, as the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance materials, to keep these recordings of new orchestral works.

It’s a good thing the United Nations and everyone associated with the AIMF heeded Fleisher’s advice, because now, under curator Gary Galván’s leadership, the entire project’s reel-to-reel tapes are being converted to digital files by the Collection. The composers represented are many of them American, but a good number of international composers are represented here, including today’s, the Italian composer Alfredo Casella.

Born in 1883, Casella is of the generation after the great opera composer Giacomo Puccini. In fact, Puccini rightly looms so large in Italian music, they had a name for Casella, Respighi, Malipiero and others born in the 1880s, the generazione dell’ottanta or the “generation of ’80.” Music history loves to come up with names like that. What sets them apart is that they enter the scene after Puccini, and they’re known for music other than opera.

Looking at Casella’s output, we can see why. He composed three symphonies, about a dozen concertos and concerto-like works, one of which we’ll hear today, many songs and chamber works, ballets, including his popular La Giara, and other staged works. Because he was a leading pianist of his day, he also composed many works for that instrument. He set about two dozen of those down in piano roll recordings. And, he even did write a few operas.

Casella was born and died in Italy, but he studied in Paris and traveled the world playing the piano and conducting. For two years he led the Boston Pops, just before Arthur Fiedler took over in 1930. Older music interested him, as did original instruments and the resurrection of historical performing techniques, so when lost Antonio Vivaldi manuscripts were discovered in the ’30s, Casella jumped at the chance to edit and perform them. In 1939 he led a Vivaldi Week in Siena, where, for one, the now immensely popular Gloria of Vivaldi was performed for the first time in hundreds of years. What Mendelssohn was to Bach, Casella became to Vivaldi.

But, come to think of it, Casella edited Bach, too, and Beethoven. With his Paris training and wide-ranging interest in the music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Strauss, Mahler, de Falla, as well as Paganini and Busoni, Casella’s music has an international flavor to it.

Today’s Concerto for Strings, Piano, Timpani, and Percussion comes from the center of the war years, 1943. It’s an unusual combination of instruments, but other composers have produced works with similar mixtures, notably, Bartók, Hindemith, and Martinů. Because we see “piano” among the forces, we might expect a “piano concerto” type of sound, but see the piano more as part of the percussion battery, and that gets closer to the truth of it.

This concerto is in three movements. Much of it is energetic but with deep lyricism. For the second movement, Casella reworks a movement of his Harp Sonata, which he had just finished the same year. In this recording, newly digitized from the Fleisher Collection’s archives of the American International Music Fund recordings, Claudio Arrau is the pianist, and Paul Kletzki leads the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in a concert from January 26th, 1959. On Fleisher Discoveries, the Concerto for Strings, Piano, Timpani, and Percussion, by Alfredo Casella.

[Alfredo Casella. Concerto for Strings, Piano, Timpani, and Percussion]

The music of Alfredo Casella on Fleisher Discoveries, his Concerto for Strings, Piano, Timpani, and Percussion. Paul Kletzki conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the pianist was Claudio Arrau in this January 26th, 1959 concert in Dallas.

Casella dedicated this work to Paul Sacher, whose Basel Chamber Orchestra also commissioned the Martinů Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani I referred to earlier. Sacher was so important before, during, and after the war years for new music. Alfredo Casella wrote this in 1943 and died only four years later at the age of 63.

This is Fleisher Discoveries and I’m Kile Smith. You can catch the Fleisher Collection on Facebook, and I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and my email is kile@kilesmith.com, so let me know what you think of our podcast, Fleisher Discoveries. As always, I appreciate that you’re out there listening. Stay tuned for more Fleisher Discoveries podcasts coming to you every month, right here.

And thanks again for joining me today on Fleisher Discoveries, a podcast produced by the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Every month we have a new Fleisher Discoveries podcast for you on Spotify and SoundCloud. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection, and I’m Kile Smith. Stay well and I hope to see you next time on Fleisher Discoveries.

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