lamberto coccioli

on music and beauty

Tag: Azio Corghi

British music in Toronto

On the last day of February I was in Toronto, to take part in the performance of Julian Anderson’s Book of Hours with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Together with Andrew Staniland, currently composer in residence with the orchestra, we looked after the electronics of the piece. Everything went really well, and the work was enthusiastically received.

The conductor was Oliver Knussen, and the programme also included works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Gary Kulesha and Simon Bainbridge, all present at the concert, and at the dinner afterwards, in a fancy Italian restaurant by the telling nome of Grano (wheat). Grano is much more than just a restaurant, it is a stage for the Toronto artistic and cultural scene, under the amiable supervision of the owner Roberto.

The concert programme was quite peculiar: apart from Gary Kulesha, who is Canadian, the conductor and the other three composers were British. They also had in common the same composition teacher, John Lambert. When Olly described the qualities of his teacher I was immediately reminded of my own composition teacher, Azio Corghi. Both Corghi and Lambert’s students have vastly different musical styles, and they have all been able to develop their own original voice. Far from promoting a school or a house style, Lambert and Corghi seem to have been more keen on perfecting their own type of musical maieutics. They help (or helped, in the case of Lambert, who died in 1995) the students to find their own voice, without trying to impose any aesthetic or artistic rule. It is not an easy way of teaching, because, in true Socratic spirit, it forces the teacher to look at things from the pupil’s perspective.

Gifted artists like them have devoted a great part of their life to teach the younger, limiting their own creative output in order to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. From them we learn a profound moral lesson, not just an artistic one.

with Julian Anderson

Review of La Cetra Appesa by Corghi

Azio Corghi – La Cetra Appesa
Santa Cecilia Auditorium, Rome, 24 November 1996

La Cetra Appesa by Corghi. Truly mixed feelings…I didn’t know what to say afterwards. Well, at least not to the author. The part-writing for the choir wasn’t at all exciting: very rhythmical (dull rhythms, to be honest) and harmonically too poor. Parallel motions and the whole stuff… I really didn’t like it at all. The orchestral writing was much better: the right colours, a full and vibrating sound, but an overall impression of very self-contained, isolated sections, without the sense of continuity that a piece of 45 minutes should definitely have, in order to be absorbed in its entirety.

Anyway, I’ll deal first with the bad things, and see then if anything good can be said.
1) lots of fragments from Corghi’s previous compositions: I could hear Divara, Blimunda, Amor sacro-amor profano, the ever-present harmonics of low D flat, etc. Of course it’s not a wrong approach to employ materials from one’s previous compositions, but if those materials are not re-interpreted and, in a sense, totally re-composed, the result can be and often is a bit stale. And please, no more Divara’s crescendos ending on a ff unison, tah-ta! This kind of music does age so quickly…
2) the Va pensiero idea. It’s a loser. This piece of music is so stuffed with reminiscences: it is a kind of zero degree of Italian self-identification with opera and nation, an almost unbreakable conjunction of patriotism and ‘canto’ in its rawest form. You can’t really use it as a quotation, as Corghi does, unless you transform it completely. And Corghi does transform it in various moments of the Cantata, but then collapses under the sheer weight of this historical objet trouvé, when he decides to have a banda and the choir sing the original music in the original way, with no thought added, and no pun intended. Of course the audience shifts completely on the other side and Verdi wins triumphantly. When, after a couple of phrases, we are grimly reshuffled to the otia pretiosa of contemporary musical endeavours, I found myself asking for more (Verdi, that is…). The transition is a difficult moment, and not only musically speaking: I felt embarrassed for the composer, and didn’t know where to look at. Really the trick wasn’t worth it, because the aura surrounding Verdi’s choir is as thick as the winter fog in Milan, and it swallows effortlessly whatever clever ideas Corghi might have developed around it.

Lots of famous people at the concert: white-bearded Scalfari, incredibly old Petrassi, Morricone and family, shy Baratta from Parma, etc.

© 1996 Lamberto Coccioli

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