This Week in Classical Music: March 4, 2024. Luigi Dallapiccola, Part II. Last week, we ended the story of the Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola at the beginning of WWII. Mussolini’s fascist state had passed race laws that restricted the civil rights of the Italian Jews, affecting Dallapiccola directly, as his wife was one of them. Later laws would strip the Jews of their assets and send them into internal exile. Italy was no Germany, and these laws weren’t enforced by the Mussolini fascists as they were by the Nazis: no Italian Jews were killed by the regime just because they were Jews (many political opponents of Mussolini were imprisoned and executed, and some of them were Jewish). That state of affairs abruptly changed in 1943 when the Italian army surrendered to the Allies, and in response, the Nazis occupied all of the northern part of Italy. During those years, Dallapiccola and his wife lived in Florence, where he was teaching at the conservatory – Florence was part of the occupied territory. In 1943 and again in 1944, they were forced into hiding, first in a village outside the city, then in apartments in Florence.
Once the war was over, Dallapiccola’s life stabilized. His opera Il prigioniero (The Prisoner), which he composed during the years 1944-48, was premiered in 1950 in Florence (the opera was based in part on the cycle Canti di prigionia, the first song of which we presented in our entry last week). The opera's music was serialist; it was one of the first complete operas in this style, as Berg’s Lulu, the first serialist opera, had not yet been finished. Hermann Scherchen, one of the utmost champions of 20th-century music, conducted the premiere. Despite the music’s complexity, it was often performed in the 1950s and ‘60s. Times have changed, but it’s still being performed, occasionally. Here is the Prologue and the first Intermezzo (Choral) of the opera, about eight minutes of music. It was recorded live in Bologna on April 16th of 2011; Valentina Corradetti is the soprano singing the role of Mother, the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna are conducted by Michele Mariotti.
In 1951, Serge Koussevitzky, the music director of the Boston Symphony and himself a champion of modern music, invited Dallapiccola to give lectures at the Tanglewood Festival. After that first trip, Dallapiccola often traveled to the US, sometimes staying for a long time. Dallapiccola, who spoke English, German and French, also traveled in Europe. Interestingly, he never visited the Darmstadt Summer School, the gathering place for young composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono and Bruno Maderna, who were experimenting with serial music and developing new idioms. It’s especially surprising considering that he was very close to Luigi Nono, and that Luciano Berio, also a Darmstadt habitué, was his former student. It seems that the Darmstadt composers were too cerebral and too radical for Dallapiccola, whose pieces, while strictly serial during that period, were infused with lyricism, somewhat in the manner of one of his idols, Alban Berg.
Dallapiccola’s last large composition was the opera Ulisse, which premiered in Berlin in 1968; Lorin Maazel was the conductor. After that, Dallapiccola composed very little, his time went into adapting some of his lectures into a book. He died on February 19th of 1975 in Florence.
In 1971 Dallapiccolo compiled two suites based on Ulisse. Here is one of them, called Suite/A. The soprano Colette Herzog is Calypso, the baritone Claudio Desderi is Ulysses. Ernest Bour conducts the Chorus and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the French Radio.