Italian composers from the 16th and 17th centuries are revered.  In the 18th century they are ridiculed.  The nineteenth century sees them consigned to opera.  In the 20th century, they are ignored.

That, in any case, is the version I got in my music history studies, and it’s a version I’ve heard resonate in conversations among musicians throughout my life.  I’ve heard more than one colleague assert that all American composers are either French or German in bent (Pacific Rim, anyone?), by which I assume they mean formalist (German) or colorist (French).

Why don’t Italian composers get more respect in this country?  I’ve often wondered.

This week I overheard the marvelous conductor Andrea di Mele describe a piece he felt particular affection for.  “It is so simple, it looks like nothing on the page, and then you hear it and it is magic.  Just a few strokes, but the right strokes.”

That’s not the way we tend to praise music on these shores.

2 Responses to “Beyond Berio”
  1. GW says:

    Puccini is certainly not ignored (don’t place him in the 19th century: Turandot was premiered a year after Wozzeck!) Respighi was very widely played through the middle of the 20th century, perhaps losing his position in the repertoire due to his politics. Interest in Dallapiccola has come and gone in waves, with his career split between tonal and 12-tone scores perhaps problematic in his reception. Berio is well-known in the US to a good degree because he spent a good deal of time here, as an important teacher at Mills and his first wife was the remarkable singer Cathy Berberian. The great unknown in the US is probably Nono, and in this case, there is a real question of respect. As an active member of the Communist Party in Italy, he was unable to travel to the US, requiring the assistance of Sen. Kennedy to be able to attend his mother-in-law (Getrud Schoenberg)’s funeral.

  2. Lawrence Dillon says:

    As a big fan of Puccini and Dallapiccola, I’d put the former in the category of “performed but not respected” and the latter in “respected but not performed.” I wouldn’t dream of lumping Puccini with the 19th century – because Verdi gets respect from academia, while Puccini does not. He is most definitely a 20th-century composer who does not get his due.

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