Max Reger (1873–1916) is noted for his devotion to Johann Sebastian Bach. In the words of musicologist Massimo Mila, Reger was an “outstanding crafter of chamber music, who loved restoring ancient contrapuntal forms: fugues, passacaglias, chaconnes, suites, etc.” His 3 Suites for Viola Solo Op.131d – completed a year before his death – exemplify this contrapuntal restoration and reinvention. They belong to a collection of works with an ancient feel in the style of Bach (Op.131), which also comprises music for solo violin, for two violins and for cello. The three solo viola suites all emphasise the polyphonic nature of an instrument that to this day is still considered monodic.
Henri Vieuxtemps (1820–1881) was a key exponent of the Franco-Belgian school of advanced virtuoso violin technique and a contributor to the founding of the Russian school. His Capriccio per viola sola Op.55 begins with the instruction Lento, con molta espressione, a character that pervades the entire work. It is packed with rapid virtuosic passages that are challenging both for the left hand and the bow, maintaining a constant dialogue across a range of timbres.
In the 1970s, following years of avant-garde experimentation, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933–2020) returned to a more ‘classic’ style, with conventional notation and melodies or small melodic intervals at the heart of his works. This is true of his Cadenza for Solo Viola, written in 1984 for violinist–violist Grigorij Zyslin. It is considered a piece in its own right, despite close links with the Viola Concerto written a year earlier. Although it is notated without indication of metre or bar lines, the cadenza has what could be described as a ‘baroque’ slow–fast–slow structure and is based entirely on a descending half-step.
At the age of 15, Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) was sent to Gresham’s School in Norfolk, where he lived and studied for two years until winning a scholarship to London’s Royal College of Music in 1930. He composed his Elegy for solo viola that year. Discovered only after Britten’s death, it can be seen as a youthful musical reflection and commentary on his miserable boarding school experience. It can be divided into three sections: the first and third are a song of sadness, exhaustion and disappointment; the second an outburst of anger and frustration.
The Élégie for solo viola by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), composed in 1944, arguably has the structure of a two-part invention, divided up into exposition, fugue and recapitulation, and the various stages highlight the instrument’s polyphony with echoes of Bach.
- Recorded March 2023 in Ardea (Rome), Italy
- Bilingual booklet in English and Italian contains liner notes on the composers by Michela Marchiana and a profile of the artist
- Max Reger (1873-1916) was a German composer, pianist, organist, conductor and teacher. His love and devotion for Johann Sebastian Bach, to whom he dedicated more than 50 of his works, certainly stands out in his compositional work. In the words of Massimo Mila, he was 'a supreme chiseller of chamber music, he loved restoring ancient contrapuntal forms: fugues, passacaglias, chaconnes, suites, etc.'. The Three Suites for viola Op.131d are an example of his contrapuntal restoration and reinvention. The suites were completed in 1915, a year before the composer's death, and are the coda to a 'collection', Op.131, of works in an ancient Bachian style.
· The three suites all emphasize the polyphonic nature of an instrument that has always (and still today) been considered monodic. Bach's inspiration is evident from the very first notes, and continues in the contrapuntal alternation of several voices, both in a vertical sense, thus of chordal writing, and in a horizontal sense, thus of exchange of voices, lucidly exploiting the difference in timbres, between high and low, using the unique timbre of the viola. Inevitably a child of his time, Reger, too, experienced the human dissent of late Romanticism, and the melancholic, warm but also pungent timbre of the viola reflects this introspection.
· A pupil of Bruno Giuranna, Luca Sanzò has performed as soloist and in collaboration with renowned musicians in many of the major concert halls of the world. He is Professor of Viola at the Conservatorium “Santa Cecilia” in Rome.