Charles-Marie Widor William Thomas McKinley Gardner Read Vittorio Rieti Ezra Sims

Vittorio Rieti

Serenata per violino concertante e piccolo orchestra (1931)

Born 28 January 1898, Alexandria, Egypt.
Died 19 February 1994, New York City, USA.

Few composers have sustained as prolific a level of compositional activity into their sixth or seventh decade as Vittorio Rieti has into his tenth.  A remarkable flourishing of creative energy has, in the years 1988-1991 alone, resulted in the creation of Symphonies Nos. 9, 10 and 11, the Second Harpsichord Concerto, Third Violin Concerto, Fifth and Sixth String Quartets and no less than seven instrumental works.

Throughout a century of rapidly evolv­ing and radically disparate musical styles, Vittorio Rieti has maintained a consistent, unique stylistic identity.  In asserting that his principal composition teacher was Bach, Rieti reaffirmed in words what we hear in his music - that he understood and internal­ized the artistic workings of earlier masters, giving him the confidence to remain independent of fashionable trends. Joel Sheveloff has written, "Among twentieth-century com­posers, none knows more about his prede­cessors than Rieti, particularly about those dark corners in musical creativity in which rough places are made plain, and transi­tional passages get directed toward their proper goals. Perhaps Rieti’s greatest gift is his ability to see a musical idea through to its logical conclusion. When a Rieti piece ends, the audience is almost always sorry it is over — it was going along so well."

Vittorio Rieti has enjoyed describing himself as a citizen of the world.  Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1898, he traveled to Milan at sixteen to enter Bocconi Univer­sity. Soon after submitting a doctoral thesis in 1917 on the economy of Turkey, he redi­rected his life and by 1925 had composed music for George Balanchine's first ballet, Barabau. He travelled widely throughout Europe and developed relationships of mu­tual respect with other composers: Schoenberg, Berg and Webern in Vienna; Casella and Respighi in Rome; Lambert and Walton in London; and numerous artistic luminaries in Paris.  His friendship with Igor Stravinsky, begun in the 1920s, continued for over half a century. Of all the musicians, dancers and theatrical figures who worked with the legendary Sergei Diaghilev, Rieti alone survives.

After fifteen productive years in Rome and Paris, political conditions in Europe compelled Rieti to immigrate to New York City in 1940.  He began a distinguished teaching career in the United States by succeeding Nadia Boulanger at the Peabody Conserva­tory in 1948.  He later held positions at Chicago Musical College and Queens Col­lege in Flushing, New York.  Rieti's orches­tral works were championed by such great conductors as Ansermet, Kubelik, Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Monteux, Reiner, and Toscanini. His ballets continue to be fre­quently performed, La Sonnambula (The Night Shadow) having received more than two thousand performances.   In every cor­ner of the world, Vittorio Rieti's name epito­mizes urbanity, charm and technical mas­tery. 

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When one is marking time in decades it may matter little that sixty years has elapsed before the first American recording of Rieti's 1931 Serenata per Violino Concertante e Piccolo Orchestra.  More significant is the fact that Janet Packer's perforrmance of the Serenata inspired Rieti to compose his third violin concerto, Concerto Giannetto, in 1991.

The Serenata was premiered in Brussels in November 1931 by Yvonne de Casa-Fuerte, the work's dedicatee and Rieti’s friend.  The composer conducted the Paris premiere, and the work was subsequently performed in Strasbourg, Rome and Vienna.

The first movement, marked Allegro, is interrupted after just fourteen bars by a short cadenza, whose striking material returns later to open the major second-movement cadenza.  This is a cheerful, neoclassical movement, providing the soloist with lyrical passages as well as brilliant cascades of double stops and string crossings.  The breathtaking conclusion frequently elicits spontaneous applause at live performances.

The second movement, in contrast, opens with a cadenza which is as prolonged an example of dissonance as one will find in Rieti's music.  While the movement is formally in three separate sections— Cadenza, Adagio and Siciliana – unity is achieved through a gradual progression from tension to repose.  That is, the dissonances and metric freedom of the Cadenza are tempered in the Adagio and subsequently resolved by the tonality and metric regularity of the Siciliana. 

The Cadenza is unbarred, requiring the soloist to establish pulse and phrase.  The listener may enjoy following the individual lines here, independent but intertwined, while savoring each dissonance.  The Adagio non troppo is an interlude of suspended motion, as melodic fragments appear, are repeated with a slight twist, and dissipate.  Secondary pulses pull against the barline, creating a feeling of metric instability.  Tonality returns with the first notes of the Siciliana, in which a mood of warmth and relaxation replaces the angst of the Adagio.  The initial minor-key material alternates with a melancholic episode in C major.  This movement requires extraordinary sensitivity by each performer for the ideal instrumental balances to be achieved.  Hear, for example, the trumpet-violin dialog of such delicacy in the Siciliana!

The third movement is in two sections, the first of which, a playful Allegretto, is a continuum of shifting meter, syncopation and dynamic contrast.  Motives are tossed between soloist and ensemble, while a feeling of lightness and transparency is maintained – sixty percent of the Allegretto is marked piano or pianissimo.  After several minutes of dizzying harmonic instability, a cadence to C major announces the movement’s concluding section, Allegro vivace.  This is a breathless romp, each measure revealing surprises too numerous to appreciate at any one hearing.  Simple tunes, dynamic extremes and a foot-stomping rhythmic drive produce a remarkable synthesis of strict neoclassicism and music-hall merriment.

© 1991 Samuel Rechtoris


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