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profiles - composers - luigi dallapiccola - biography


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Luigi Dallapiccola
Luigi Dallapiccola - Biography
Pisino, 1905 - 1975
Divertimento (1934)
for soprano, flute, oboe, clarinet, viola and cello
Piccolo concerto per Muriel Couvreux (1941)
for piano and chamber orchestra

Mitterburg, Pisino, Pazin: These were the names announced by the conductor at the small trainstation in Istria, a town of just over three thousand inhabitants, at the time under the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, where Luigi Dallapiccola was born the 2nd of February 1904. In 1914 he entered the Gymnasium, while proceeding his piano studies begun a few years earlier; in 1917 his father, declared 'politically unreliable', was dismissed from service and the whole family confined to Graz, where, despite humiliation and aspersion, he however succeeded in frequenting the opera assiduously. This gave him the opportunity to hear operas of Mozart, Weber and, apart from Rienzi and Parsifal, all of Wagner; he realized that he wanted to devote himself to music the evening he saw The Flying Dutchman for the first time. These twenty months, both their dark and bright sides, set their mark on all his future activities.

Once back in Italy, he proceeded his studies at the Gymnasium and took music lessons in Trieste, piano with Alice Andrich Florio and harmony with Antonio Illesberg, who introduced him to contemporary music. His horizon extended towards pieces such as Pélléas et Mélisande by Debussy. In 1921 he discovered Arnold Schönberg's Treatise on Harmony: "How life begins", with this quotation from Joyce he later referred to his first reading of the book. He graduated from the Gymnasium and in May 1922 he moved to Florence to escape a spiritual and artistic isolation and to live in a surrounding that would offer him sufficient international contacts. He took piano lessons with Ernesto Consolo, tackling with him the works of Debussy, Ravel, Bartók, and the following year (1923) he enrolled in the harmony and counterpoint class studying first with Roberto Casiraghi and Corrado Barbieri, then with Vito Frazzi. Two important events occur in 1924: his achievement of the diploma in piano, and his hearing Pierrot Lunaire conducted by the author at the Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti, an event of utmost importance for his future path.

The stay in Florence became decisive for Dallapiccola's formation, and his career as concert pianist developed (he often performed Pictures at an Exhibition by Musorgskij, later preparing two critical editions of the work, and Beethoven's last Sonatas). Of great relevance, a trip he made to Berlin and Vienna in 1930, giving him the occasion to hear Elektra and Salomé by Strauss, which impressed him, Simon Boccanegra, which lead him to suspect that Verdi "is not only what I had been taught he was", and Mahler's First Symphony.

A series of important events occur at the beginning of the thirties: he began collaborating with the violinist Sandro Materassi, which lead to a fourty year fraternal friendship; in 1932 he achieved the diploma in composition, met Malipiero and Casella, got to know Laura Coen Luzzatto, whom he married in 1938 and who stayed at his side providing him extraordinary and unequaled support for the rest of his life. As his maturity grew, so did his artistic output: In 1934 he was assigned teacher of complementary piano at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, whilst his Divertimento in quattro esercizi turned away from the youth period and marked "the first step towards independence".
His Musica per tre pianoforti (Inni) won the first prize at the 'Concorso internazionale del Carillon'. In 1936 he completed the third set of the Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane, and started work on Tre laudi, where a complete twelve-note row appears for the first time. In the meantime he continued establishing international contacts with important personalities, travelling to Prague, Vienna and Paris: He met Alban Berg in Florence, Milhaud and Poulenc in Paris, and got Antoine de Saint-Exupery's authorization to write a libretto from his Vol de nuit. With his transcription of Ritorno di Ulisse in patria Dallapiccola approached the myth of Ulysses for the first time: his aim was to adapt the Ulysses by Monteverdi to contemporary music theatre, there is no musicological intention behind the edition. This edition marks the beginning of Dallapiccola's collaboration with Suvini Zerboni in Milan, which was to remain his editor throughout his lifetime.

Dallapiccola reacted with indignation to the racial prosecutions in 1938; this is when Canti di prigionia were composed; in 1939 he was nominated member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, and the following year he was invited 'due to eminent merit' to hold the post in composition at the Florence Conservatory. In a climate of general confusion and instability the opera Volo di notte was staged. The time of war represents a period of great anxiety and suffering: in this context the opera Il prigioniero was composed. His artistic output is charged with personal experience: the confinement in Graz, the 'menacing' figure of Philip II, the racial prosecutions against his wife; the liberation of Florence the 11th of August 1944 was hailed with extreme jubilance. He renounced to the composition post and returned to teaching complementary piano; the first of December his daughter was born and received the name Annalibera.
The major international contacts were reestablished: In London he negotiated and obtained the readmission of Italy to the International Society of Contemporary Music, while for the first time his music was heard in the United States (New York, Due liriche di Anacreonte); in this period he started writing for the music column in the newspaper "Mondo", directed by Alessandro Bonsanti.

In 1949 he finally found the courage to write to Schönberg on the occasion of his sevetyfifth birthday, announcing to him the dedication of Tre Poemi. In 1950 Il prigionero was performed at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival, and he composed the Sacred Representation Job for the jubilee year. His international renown grew constantly: he was invited by Sergej Koussevitsky to hold a course in Tanglewood, while Il prigionero was staged at the Juilliard Theatre in New York. He began the Canti di liberazione, and during his second trip to the United States he met Thomas Mann, who repayed his visit in Florence in 1954; moreover, in New York he met Toscanini, and then travelled by car to Mexico (where he attended for the first time a concert entirely dedicated to his music), an adventure which casts some autobiographical light on his Ulisse. In 1953 he completed the Goethe-Lieder; he was nominated member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste in Munich. He turned out new works such as Piccola Musica Notturna, Quaderno musicale di Annalibera, An Mathilde and Tartiniane, the last named perhaps inspired by his friendship with Sandro Materassi. He stayed a year in the United States, lecturing at the Queens College in New York: in the same period Cinque canti were premièred at the Library of Congress in Washington. When he came back he composed the Concerto per la Notte di Natale dell'anno 1956 on commission from the Rameau Chamber Music in Tokyo, and set to work, a year after his mother's death, on Requiescant, which, in a private dedication to Laura and Annalibera, he defined as "the composition dearest to me".

In 1959 he stayed for the fourth time in the United States, lecturing at the Queens College in New York and giving concerts and lectures. On invitation from Cassadé he began composing Dialoghi for cello and orchestra and at the same time finished the first version of the libretto of Ulisse. He then taught at the University of California in Berkeley and for this institute he wrote Preghiere on texts by the Brasilian poet Murilo Mendes, which had deeply touched him. By now he worked incessantly on the composition of Ulisse, dedicating himself almost exclusively to this work from 1960, drawing from its preparatory material his Three Questions with two Answers. In Braunschweig in 1964 he received the Ludwig Spohr Music Prize, and for that occasion he reelaborated Quattro Liriche di Antonio Machado. For a short period he taught in Argentina, then returned to the United States where, commissioned by the Library of Congress in Washington, he wrote Parole di San Paolo.

In September 1967 he resigned from teaching at the Conservatory; EMI recorded his works; in Berlin the preparation for Ulisse began, staged in German a year later, the 29th of September 1968, at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. In 1970 he recorded for RAI five radio programs on Berlioz's Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration. The same year, the 13th of September, Ulisse was performed for the first time in Italy at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. With Suvini Zerboni he published essays, diary fragments and lectures under the title of Appunti, incontri, meditazioni. He composed Sicut Umbra, premièred at the Library of Congress in Washington. In Siena in 1971 there is the performance of his diptych for a cappella choir Tempus destruendi/Tempus aedificandi, composed of Exhortatio and Ploratus, the former having already been premièred the year before in Jerusalem . In 1972 he composed Commiato, returning once more to the text of a Laude. The title seems to foresee the end, an "adieu à la vie": a few months later, during a trip to England, he was struck by a lung edema. He was widely honoured and in Empoli gave the opening speech at the celebrations of the fiftieth death anniversary of Ferruccio Busoni, whose thoughts represent one of the most important reference points for Dallapiccola's formation and work.

The 18th of February, during the night, he had another attack. He died the 19th of February 1975 in the morning. On his piano at the moment of his death there were the sketches for 18 measures of Lux.

Updated to 1999