Luigi Dallapiccola Cani di Prigonia
A profound sensitivity of human needs and a mastery of compositional technique are the two overriding characteristics of the music of Luigi Dallapiccola. Dallapiccola observed and reacted to life about him, life during an era of political and social upheaval. His response is expressed in the Canti di Prigionia, a work for mixed chorus, two pianos, two harps and percussion.
Dallapiccola's expression is that of a man, an intelligent moral person whose ethical and spiritual values demand that he not merely comment upon, but in fact protest the horrors and injustices which he and potentially all of us are subject to. His expression is that of a cultivated European intellectual, the son of a classics professor, an artist who derives stimulus from extra-musical sources; frequently from literature and visual arts. His is the expression of a musician drawing upon an Italian lyrical heritage and the rich Germanic romantic tradition; fusing it with a respect for and invocation of a vigorous compositional technique to create music which is both remarkably beautiful sounding and intellectually tightly controlled.
The social and spiritual issues which Dallapiccola addressed himself to were not vague concepts contemplated because it was fashionable to do so. On the contrary Dallapiccola personally felt and had been affected by the ideas and issues which served as conceptual themes for his works. A significant spiritual dimension seems to have been part of this man who composed the Tre Laudi and Voio di Notte, imparting into the midst of the latter's scenario of twentieth-century materialism and technology a religious dimension; the need for spiritual sensitivity by deploying music from the 'Hymns to the Madonna' of the Laudi. It seems probable also that Dallapiccola sincerely wished to manifest his faith by inscribing Deo Gratias at the end of each of the three Songs of Captivity as he did in many of his other scores.
Similarly as a champion of liberty, Dallapiccola focussed upon inner, personal narrative details - his childhood reaction to the seemingly indeterminable sentence of a murderess, his family's internment at Graz during World War I, the occupation of Florence and 'race manifesto' of 1938 which forced him and his Jewish wife to continually change residences and postpone having children - as sources of injustice to spawn his protest. A trilogy of celebrated works, of which Canti di Prigionia (1938-41) is the first, deal with the concept of liberty. The other two works are the opera II Prigioniero (1944-48) and the Canti di Liberazione (1955).
Dallapiccola has stated
that the race manifesto prompted him to protest;1 that while reading Mary Stuart by
Stefan Zweig, the personnage
of the imprisoned Queen of
Scots was merged with the memory of the aforementioned woman who was sentenced to prison. Accordingly Dallapiccola set the Preghiera di Maria Stuarda and then sought ". . other
texts, of other illustrious prisoners, of other individuals who had fought for
liberty and for the triumph of justice."2 He chose an excerpt from De Consolatione Philosophiae by Anicius Manlius
Severinus Boethius (c.a.
480-524) the Roman scholar, statesman, theologian and philosopher for his second song: Invocazione di Boezio, which was completed in the summer of 1940. Wanting to use a
third Latin text, Dallapiccola
decided upon a ‘Meditatio' on the psalm In Te Domine Speravi by Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) the Florentine
scholar, monk and reformer who
was condemned by Pope Alexander VI under pressure from the Holy League and a rival Florentine political
party called the Arrabbiati. In each
case the text is that of an
isolated individual, a lone human being facing imminent death - a situation which the listener
may be reticent about projecting himself into but one which, because of its inevitability,
he cannot dismiss. Furthermore, each of the individuals is presented as a person of principle willing to
pay the ultimate price for
his or her belief in what is just. Accordingly, the institutions and men who seek to imprison and do
away with such 'noble' individuals clearly are to be condemned and their actions protested. However the
texts and songs do not merely end with protest. There is
a hope, perhaps reward, for those individuals of principle
who have a faith in God. Their hope, their comfort, their
Dallapiccola was earnest in wishing to communicate his thoughts. The world in which he found himself, fraught with turmoil, death, the ravages and insanity of war, plumbed the depths of his emotional being and drew up what could be the only applicable analogy to the world's situation: the end of time, the Last Judgment. Accordingly he used the Dies Irae, not only as a cohesive bond for the three songs but as a means ". . . of being more easily understood... . for I [Dallapiccola] had decided to address myself to a vast audience, speaking to all sufferers."4
to communicate his viewpoint concerning serious problems may well be a clue to why Dallapiccola's expression has taken the form of predominantly vocal works. "in spite of the importance of musical configuration in his work, he aims at 'meaning' and
psychological suggestiveness. This is why he needs, in addition to words, the means of the Romanticists:
constant crescendo and decrescendo,
climactic or diminuendo endings, fluctuation in tempo, instrumental and vocal vibrato
(his scores abound in markings like 'con espressione' and 'con massima espressione'), and poignant harmony and orchestration."5 In fact Dallapiccola's
quest for 'meaning' in his music has even
Dallapiccola internalized a multiplicity of stimulae, subjected them to his musical intellect and then presented them as new avatars in the ageless sequence of artistic sensibility. Not only were the Canti di Prigionia a protest against fascist oppression, but so was II Prigioniero; Rencesvals was written in response to Mussolini's declaration of war on France; the Canti di Liberazione commemorated the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Florence. Literary and visual sources also served as impulses for musical creation on the part of Dallapiccola. The Goethe-Lieder originated after a reading of Thomas Mann's Joseph und Seine Brüder had satisfied Dallapiccola's curiosity about Goethe's heroine Suleika; his sacred representation Job came about after he had seen Harald Kreutzberg dance "Job struggles with God," and Jacob Epstein's sculpture Ecce Homo. Also, the formative features of Due Studi occurred to him while contemplating the color scheme of frescoes by Piero della Francesca.6
Extra musical influences in the form of literature also had been a technical aid for Dallapiccola. At a time when there was a tack of books concerning dodecaphonic theory, he had turned to Joyce and Proust and found in their works 'confirmation of what [he] had dimly felt after hearing the works of Schoenberg and Webern.' In Joyce he observed a method of imparting a totally new meaning to a word through a change in the order of its letters, through the omission, addition, or replacement of a letter by another, even through a reading from right to left (i.e. retrograde). 'From this, I believed I understood up to what point in music an identical succession of notes could take on a different meaning by being arranged in a different way.'7 Of course, Joyce has been a seminal artistic force in the twentieth century and has influenced another illustrious Italian composer namely Luciano Berio. With respect to Proust, Dallapiccola was intrigued by the writer's manner of building up a character by dropping hints before the character had entered the story. This procedure Dallapiccola related to the row in the following manner: "Before reaching . [the] rhythmic and melodic definition of the series, we may find it compressed into a single chord of twelve notes, two chords of six notes, three of four notes, four of three notes, or even six two-note chords .. . to speak only of the most elementary possibilities."8
Dallapiccola's literary acumen and concern for nuance
was manifest in his handling
of texts. Before setting a text to music he would
memorize it. Memorizing a
text enabled him to study its syntax and images; virtually "assaporare ogni parola mentre io vado
per la strada"9 (to taste every word
while I walk in the
street). Then before beginning composition he would read it aloud. He wrote his own libretti for his extended
theatrical works for, according to him, as a conception the libretto already was the music ibretto è
già la musica');1 0
0his expressions were conceived, then, as totally integrated artistic utterances.
As an astute man of letters as well as musician, Dallapiccola was cognizant of historical precedents which may have served as referential models for the investiture of theatrical and literary concerns in his music. One such example is opera. In an article entitled "Words and Music in Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera"11 Dallapiccola discussed the tradition of composing arias based upon theatrical necessities. He concluded that the characteristics peculiar to the Italian melodrama stemmed from a disregard of all tradition relating to purely instrumental music; that the nineteenth- century Italian opera composers seemed to have conceived the emotional crescendo in the third section of the musical quatrain almost as the result of theatrical necessities - as a theatrical gesture.
The awareness of the efficacy of the theatrical gesture; the need to express oneself and communicate with others spurred Dallapiccola on in his musical development. He did not hesitate to unleash shear elemental power as is manifested in a score directive within II Prigioniero: "The sonority of the Secondo Intermezzo Corale must be formidable; every member of the audience must feel literally swept away and drowned in the immensity of the sound.Mechanical means (loudspeakers, etc.) should be used unhesitatingly, if necessary, to get this effect."12 The concern for aural expression, which spawned the need for such force, also pushed towards a fuller, richer musical language resulting for Dallapiccola in dodecaphony.
Dallapiccola did not outgrow traditional harmonic practice or come to dodecaphony through a process of 'internal erosion' - a path leading inexorably from Wagner to Schoenberg. Instead Dallapiccola evolved gradually penetrating modal, diatonic, heptatonic and then dodecaphonic spaces of sound. His early works were vocal settings of texts inspired by his birthplace; strict counterpoint and diatonicism mark his work through until 1936. Even the Canti di Prigionia, which belongs to his second period of composition and which was the first work to be based on one row, manifests the co-existence of diatonic and modal materials with Serialism. During the course of his career Dallapiccola returned to tonal composition on several occasions, i.e. Tartiniana, Sonatina Canonica and Tartinia Seconda. In his article entitled "On the Twelve-Note Road", Dallapiccola asserted that "Tonality still exists and will probably exist for a long time yet,"13 More than a decade later in conversations with Hans Nathan, Dallapiccola referred to his tonal recursions: "I wanted to see once more what could be done (or, at any rate, what I could do) with tonal music or perhaps to convince myself that the tonal system was dead... . After each tonal episode, my dodecaphonic procedures have gained in severity. . . ."14 An image of a man of tradition, with pride in himself and his craftsmanship is portrayed in a tangential passage to "The Genesis of the Canti di Prigionia and II Prigioniero":
One day, in a mood of Galgenhumor, I wrote the Sonatina Canonica su "Capricci" di NiccolO Paganini in a way as proof that, while in the Sex Carmina Alcaei I had dealt with problems associated with twelve-tone music, I was able to write in regular tonality, using a stated theme.15
Thus tonality never gave way to serialism, it seems to have always hovered as a referential spectre for Dallapiccola. The impetus for adopting a new technique was the need for expression. As the composer himself stated:
It seemed to me that twelve tones would enable me to articulate a melody better than seven - to write a richer and (as far as my capacities would allow) more expressive melody. To say nothing of the fact that for many years I had observed how often the same succession of tones was used (and with not too dissimilar characteristics) by the great masters, the less great, and the very small ones.16
Note the emphasis upon 'melody,' an allusion to a cantabile sound world of beauty and pathos. In his conversations with Nathan, Dallapiccola expressly stated that he conceived his rows in a cantabile style; as a concomitant he "never suffered from what might be called 'fetishism of the row.'17 Indeed the unabashed beauty of bel canto singing is present throughout the Canti di Prigionia. However two bars stand out as unsurpassed examples of beautiful sound. The first example is a most tender setting of "care mi Jesu" bar 39 of the Preghiera di Maria Stuarda; the other example generates a gentle confidence in the words "nihil timeo" bar 26, of the Congedo di Gerolamo Savonarola.
Personal development as a corollary to personal expression also drew Dallapiccola to dodecaphony. In a letter of his, dated July 7, 1957 he wrote:
Of course there were additional aspects of the dodecaphonic system that attracted me. Not least its opposition to neo-Classicism, which during my formative years represented the dernier-cri and which I found it necessary to oppose because it was considered the 'derniercri.' Moreover, not having contact with the masters of dodecaphony [because of political circumstances], tackling the problem of dodecaphony appeared to me like an adventure. Whoever wanted to follow such a road twenty years or so ago, in the absence of books that would explain the dodecaphonic system, was bound to make mistakes, and possibly find something on occasion. Above all, he had to trust his instinct rather than rules, written or oral.18
The co-existence of tonal and dodecaphonic procedures has been indicated to be a characteristic of Dallapiccola. He established tonal centers by means of repeated tones and motifs as well as repeated and sustained intervals and chords. He set up even stronger centers by stating related sections of a composition on the same pitch at (or near) both the opening and the ending of the work. This occurs for example in the second movement of Quattro liriche di Antonio Machado.19
tonal root relationships are manifest in the row of the Canti
A vestige of tonal practice, certainly a dodecaphonic unorthodoxy, is the use of octave doublings. The Canti di Prigionia are rife with octaves. Dallapiccola eventually excluded them from his own music, not because they generated undo emphasis upon a particular pitch as Schoenberg warned, but rather that Dallapiccola found the interval of the octave sounded out of tune in the well-tempered system.20 From the Quaderno Musicale di Anna-libera,composed and dedicated to his daughter in 1952, onwards, Dallapiccola avoided writing direct or false octave relations.
Dallapiccola's power of expression did not undermine the formal control of his music. As indicated in John Maclvor Perkins' article "Dallapiccola's Art of Canon,"21 Dallapiccola had a finely honed contrapuntal technique. The composer himself asserted:
I have always had a passion for counterpoint: It gives me pleasure to contrive things.
One never knows the contrapuntal treatment of the material well enough. It is a form of mental gymnastics, and it goes well at any stage of one's life - It seems to me that the benefit a young composer can derive from the study of counterpoint begins above all with the canon. . . .22
Nevertheless the counterpoint of Dallapiccola is not that of the Viennese School. It is not the 'perpetual variation' of Webern, but rather an orthodox sounding polyphony evoking fuguetta passages of an earlier world. The most typical polyphonic gesture: imitative entries, is the overriding characteristic of the Canti di Prigionia. The first imitative choral entries occur at bars 17-19 where the bass and tenors are paired, followed by the altos' and sopranos' own pairing in a setting of "0 Domine Deus," over a sustained tremolandi ostinato in the instruments. The choir is then counterpointed with statements of the Dies lrae in stretto in the instruments (bars 19-20). A fragment of the Dies Irae in the second piano and statements of the tetrachord row motive lead to the prayer. The prayer begins with imitative entries by the voices based upon the four note row motive, bars 31-35. "Nunc libera me" is also introduced using imitative entries, bars 39-40. Imitation next occurs in the setting of "In dura catena" bars 52-54. This particular passage evokes a sense of Gregorian chant, in that a Latin text is sung by male voices arising out of such an instrumentally sparse texture as to sound virtually unaccompanied. At measures 61-69 imitative entries are deployed to set "languendo gemendo." The lines are based upon the tetrachord motive with the second interval of a third filled in by a passing quarter note triplet which creates even more conjunct movement in the vocal parts. Imitative entries based upon the tetrachord motive, setting "0 Domine Deus," textually restate the opening, while closing the movement, bars 75-79.
In the second song statements and transpositions of the retrograde, inversion and retrograde inversion of the row are used in the running instrumental (notably piano) passages. The Dies Irae is deployed as a cantus firmus. The female voices enter with imitative entries setting "Felia" at bars 133-138; another imitative entry occurs in bars 148-151. Imitative entries are staggered through measures 158-164. At bars 177-83 a restatement of the imitative entries of measures 133-138 occurs, thereby delimiting a section. The head of the motive stated by the choir at bar 133, is stated in augmentation at bars 216-220; 228-32; 255-61; 286-293.
In the third song paired imitative entries by the choir occur at bars 1 5-1 7 setting "Premat mundus." The tenors directly imitate the basses, whereas the sopranos' imitation of the altos is inverted. The next set of imitative entries occur at bars 22-24, in a setting of "nihil timeo." From measure 33 to 66 a celebrated set of canons with a mirror axis at bar 49 occur. Three simultaneous canons are stated, two are vocal canons (one in contrary motion), the third is an instrumental canon which at bar 49 begins to move backwards while the choral parts continue in imitation. Roman Vlad has remarked23 that this canonic region has a formal scheme very similar to Mondfleck, the eighteenth piece of Pierrot Lunaire where Schoenberg superimposes on a fugue both a canon and the same fugue in diminution. The latter then progresses backwards joined halfway through by the canon. Even if Mondfleck was not the model for the canons in the third song, Dallapiccola certainly had been influenced by Pierrot Lunaire: "Naturally, in our century, there is one event: Pierrot Lunaire. And this is not only one event: it is 'the' event of modern music. Practically every composer had to pass through this experience. . . ."24
Besides the canons and imitative entries, which particularly in the second song based as they are upon intervallic relationships of a perfect fourth and fifth take on the hue of fugal subjects and answers, stretti are generated by simultaneous statements of the Dies Irae in diminution and augmentation. Incidentally another of Dallapiccola's celebrated crab canons occurs in the Divertimento for violin and orchestra (Tartiniana).
The reuse of materials in different pieces also is a characteristic of Dallapiccola. Such recycling can serve as a subtle form of commentary, as has been previously mentioned in connection with the investiture of religious meaning in Volo di Notte by using material from the Tre Laudi. Similarly, the Canti di Liberazione composed ten years following the birth of Annalibera during the liberation of Florence, are built upon the twelve-tone row of the Quaderno di Annalibera. With respect to the Canti di Prigionia recycling pertained to basic 'thematic' materials. The tetrachords of the row were prefigured by the principal idea in the Siciliana movement of the Divertimento in Quattro Esercizi 1934, a four note nucleus: F-A flat-C flat-E. This also served as the thematic basis for the Laudi. The row was also manipulated in the lnvocazione di Boezio as in the third melodic phrase of the first Lauda to generate lines based upon the ancient Phrygian mode.25
Architectonically, the choral passages chiefly define sections within the Canti di Prigionia. The first song divides into: bars 1-16; bar 17 with its imitative entries and sharp instrumental sforzandi (pianos, second harp, xylophone principally, vibraphone and suspended symbol) marks the beginning of a section which concludes at bar 25. These two sections together form an introduction to the prayer which begins with a pickup to bar 26. The unaccompanied voices are joined by the instruments articulating ostinatic patterns in a crescendo on the word "libera me" bars 44-48 which dies away at bar 50. Bars 51 to the end constitute a section, phrased according to imitative entries at bars 62; 75. Furthermore the ostinato passage of the instruments at measures 74- 75 is a short restatement of bars 42-47.
The second song is ternary in form. Dallapiccola conceived it to be a scherzo with a 'terror that freezes' i.e. deployment of soft dynamics. Bars 1-132 constitute one section characterized by the running instrumental passages. Bars 133-183 are the second section in which the female choir articulates subsections at bars: 148; sparse texture and vocal entry at bar 158; sforzando orchestral downbeat and choral entrance at bar 169; return of bar 133 materials at measure 177; return of first sections instrumental materials at bar 184. This last section, or return of the first, from bar 184 onwards is presented along with augmented vocal statements from the middle section.
The third song is also ternary in nature. Its sections are: bars 1-32, with a subdivision occurring at measure 15 enunciated by the imitation in the voices; bars 33-66, the triple canon with a mirror at bar 49, eliding with the pickup to the third section bar 66-end, with a subdivision at bar 79 and again at 88. This last subdivision consisting of statements of the tetrachord motive is most effectively punctuated by the eighth note arpeggiations of the motive at bars 90 and 93. Dallapiccola's formal design then, is a sound and fairly orthodox one.
Despite the fact that he denied being influenced by Stravinsky, it has been remarked that there is a similarity of sound between the Canti di Prigionia and Les Noces. The orchestration is of course similar: the Canti made up of two pianos, two harps, six drums, xylophone, vibraphone, bells and percussion, plus chorus; Les Noces consisting of vocalists, four pianos (in its final version), xylophone, timpani, assorted drums, cymbals and percussion. However the spirit of the two works is dissimilar. Ostinati exist in both. The brittle, penetrating sound of the xylophone is present in both; but one is Italian, the other Russian. One is soft and lyrical and demanding contemplation. The other, particularly when sung in Russian, is boisterous and truly captures the typically Slavic admixture of barbarism and piety which merge at a Russian wedding. A localized Stravinskyan trademark does appear in the second song, namely the alternation of metres. This is particularly evident in measures 141-48 and 169-177. Also the steady pulse of the second song's instrumental fabric creates a backdrop for a syncopation effect when the xylophone is sounded on the first, second and third beats respectively of three successive measures, at bars 45-47 and then again at 57-59.
Besides Stravinsky, I find other compositional analogues for the Canti di Prigionia. The billowing sound generated at bars 133 and 177 of the second song is reminiscent of the Sirênes, Debussy's third Orchestral Nocturne. I may not be remiss in positing this echo, because Dallapiccola himself, affirmed26 that he had been highly influenced by Debussy. The homophonic, vertical alignment of the vocal parts seems to hark back to an earlier, this time Italian, model, namely Monteverdi. Dallapiccola was well versed in the art of Monteverdi. Indeed, shortly after completing the Canti di Prigionia, Dallapiccola transcribed and arranged for the modern stage a version of Monteverdi's II Ritorno di Ulisse In Patria.
Much has so far been said concerning Dallapiccola's expressive sensibility. A final example of it will be taken from the parameter of dynamics. As the composer himself stated:
Pianissimo appears to me a much finer gradation than fortissimo. I cannot grasp the differences between fff and ffff (depending, that is, on a thousand extramusical factors such as acoustical conditions, etc.), but 1 can hear their equivalents in piano. In short, piano for me is capable of more nuance [sfumatoreL . .27
To be sure, the Canti di Prigionia have loud ff sections but for the most part dynamic markings are multiple shades of piano, or directives such as: poco sf, trasparente; sempere ppp!. It may well be that the 'terror that freezes' in the Invocazione di Boezio is enhanced by the use of only female voices which do not unduly outweigh the dynamic balance realized by the instruments.
The Canti di Prigionia certainly were determined by the technique of Dallapiccola and his times. The tentative use of dodecaphony; the approximation of an accelerando by a rhythmic sequence of triplet, quintuplet, septuplet in the first measure of the third song; the recourse to tonal root relationships - these constitute documentary evidence of a musical age. However Dallapiccola's art is more than a technical documentation of his musical epoch, for it is the expression of a man who wished to share; a man who felt deeply and decided to speak out. We are fortunate that he did.
1 Luigi Dallapiccola, "The Genesis of the Canti di Prigionia and II Prigioniero." Musical Quarterly, 39, July 1953, 362.
2 ibid., 363.
6 ibid. 307.
7 ibid. 304.
8 ibid. 305.
9 Hans Nathan, "On Dallapiccoia's Working Methods." Perspectives of New Music. 15, no. 2 1977, 54
10 ibid., 54.
11 Luigi Dallapiccola, "Words and Music in Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera." Perspectives of New Music, 5, 1966 n. 1, 128.
12 Luigi Dallapiccola quoted in Luigi Dallapiccola, Roman Vlad. Milan, 1957, 37,
13 Luigi Dallapiccola, "On the Twelve-Note Road.- Music Survey, London, Oct. 1951.
14 Luigi Dallapiccola "Fragments from Conversations:' Music Review, 27, 1966, 296.
15 Dallapiccola, "The Genesis of the Canti di Prigionia and II Prigioniero," 368.
16 Luigi Dallapiccola quoted in "The Twelve-Tone Compositions of Luigi Dallapiccola," Nathan, 303.
17 Dailapiccola, "Fragments from Conversations," 298-99.
18 Dallapiccola quoted in "The Twelve-Tone Compositions of Luigi Dallapiccola," Nathan, 304.
19 Nathan, "The Twelve-Tone Compositions of Luigi Dallapiccola," 300.
20 Dallapiccola, "Fragments from Conversations,- 302.
21 John Maclvor Perkins, "Dallapiccola's Art of Canon," Perspectives of New Music, 1, n. 2, 1963, 95-106.
22 Daltapiccola, "Fragments from Conversations." 300.
23 Roman Vlad. Luigi Dallapiccola. Milan, 1957, 26.
24 Dallapiccola, "Fragments from Conversations," 307.
25 Vlad, Luigi Dallapiccola. Compare pages 11 and 20.
26 Dallapiccola, "Fragments from ConversatIons,- 310.
27 ibid., 302.