No modern record company has done more than Brilliant Classics to revive the music and reputation of the Italian-American composer Mario Castelvuovo-Tedesco. Not only in the field of guitar music for which he is most famous, but in piano music (BC94811) and most recently an extensive and powerful song-cycle for soprano and guitar, The Divan of Moses Ibn Ebra (BC95282). Here’s another new album of the composer’s vocal music, of still greater importance: the first complete recording of his cycle of Shakespeare Sonnets, coupled with the world premiere recording of the three Shakespeare Duets.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco set texts by many great poets, among them Dante, Heine and Lorca. It was for Shakespeare, however, that he nurtured his foremost passion. Having composed settings of all the standalone songs in the plays while still resident in Italy, he then turned to the sonnets while ‘isolated and proud’ in the bitter-sweet exile of Beverly Hills where he made his home for the last 30 years of his life. They were set down with astonishing fluency, more than half within less than two months in the autumn of 1945. Ultimately he put music to 32 of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, all in the original English, including three settings for vocal ensemble. All of them are now gathered together for the first time, together with the three Duets from 1937.
For Castelnuovo-Tedesco as for many of his colleagues past and present, Shakespeare’s language is ‘perfectly musical: it unites the spiritual subtlety of English with the sonorous splendour of Italian.’ In particular, ‘the Sonnets are one of the most miraculous products of the poetry of all times! Shakespeare acts like a mirror of humanity, expressing sentiments that are both his and universal: they are absolute and eternal, expressed by means of an extraordinary, perfect wealth of images.’
Thus these settings reflect the beauty and complexity which Castelnuovo-Tedesco ‘heard’ in the poetry. There is no repetition of words or phrases; the only recurring element is a coda in the piano that seems to act like the unconditional resolutions that conclude each poem. Musical convention is rare, and when it does surface is handled with irony. The prevailing style is bold and free, within the sphere of the Italian vocal tradition, yet not afraid to absorb elements from European music of the early 1900s or echoes of the lighter, popular music that was evolving in the US.
This new issue offers the first complete recording of the Shakespeare Sonnets by Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote most of these songs in the USA, after his forced exile from Fascist Italy in 1938. He has been all his life fascinated by William Shakespeare and his sonnets: “it is a perfectly musical language: I dare say that it unites the spiritual subtlety of English with the sonorous splendor of the Italian..Shakespeare acts like a mirror of humanity, expressing sentiments that are both his and universal, they are absolute and eternal, expressed by means of an extraordinary perfect wealth of images…each sonnet is a miniature drama, a theatrical play..”
The Shakespeare songs are written for soprano, tenor and baritone, some are for choir, the accompaniment is for piano. They are sung by three excellent Italian soloists, with Claudio Proietti on the piano.
The booklet contains excellent liner notes written in English and Italian.