Program Notes

Rondo Variato, Violin and Piano (1945)

VITTORIO RIETI
Born 28 January 1898, Alexandria, Egypt.
Died 19 February 1994, New York, NY, USA.


During the final months of his life, Vittorio Rieti repeatedly asserted, "Haydn is my musical ancestor." The volume of Haydn string quartets prominently displayed on the coffee table in his small Manhattan apartment provided a visual reminder of this relationship. Though he was reluctant to elaborate, preferring to avoid analysis of his own compositions, even a first-time listener will recognize that Rieti's music has a quality frequently attributed to the eighteenth-century master, namely "humor." Charles Rosen's characterization of Haydn's music might well describe Rieti's, "the incongruous seen as exactly right, the out-of-place suddenly turning out to be just where it ought to be … the surprise modulation, the dramatic silence, the asymmetrical phrase." In Rieti's music, however, the sunny spirits evoked by this humor are often tempered by what Casella termed "melancholia." The juxtaposition of humor with a sobering twinge of nostalgia was as characteristic of Vittorio Rieti in his later years as it is of his music.

The Rondo Variato, Rieti's favorite of his compositions for violin and piano, was completed in 1945, the chronological midpoint of his life, and premiered by Leon Temerson and Arthur Balsam in Town Hall the same year. Its five and one-half minutes of charming, tuneful music are unified by a simple yet ingenious, cleverly concealed yet elegantly logical, tonal plan that supports an ABACA rondo form. This foundation provides the listener, swept along at a rapid pace through seemingly continual harmonic diversions, with a sense of closure once the work has ended. The work's C section displays Rieti's skill in subtly weaving together long melodic lines and motivic fragments with poignant harmonies to produce charmingly fluid canonic passages. The coda, the Rondo's final fifty seconds, may be one of the composer's finest.

Performers of the Rondo Variato are faced with the difficult challenge of conveying the music's unique character, at once neo-classical and neo-romantic, to the listener. The music must be played with an imperceptible rubato of the kind that keeps successful performances from becoming either metronomic or mannered. Rieti himself, in tribute to Stravinsky, wrote of not asking listeners to "swallow crescendo porridge, pedal sauce, and rubato marmalade." The extreme clarity yet mellow beauty of sound required by the Rondo Variato demands from the violinist a masterful bow technique and from the pianist a particularly sensitive touch. Ms. Packer performs this work from the composer's autograph rather than from the only published score, which contains several errors in the piano part and numerous editorial markings in the violin part that conceal the composer's original performance instructions.

*****

Vittorio Rieti enjoyed describing himself as a citizen of the world. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1898, he traveled to Milan at sixteen and received a doctorate in economics from Bocconi University in 1917, specializing in the economy of Turkey. He soon redirected his life and by 1925 had composed the music for George Balanchine's first ballet, Barabau. Traveling widely throughout Europe, he 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 Stravinsky, begun in the 1920s, continued for over half a century. 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. Rieti's orchestral works were championed by Ansermet, Kubelik, Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Monteux, Reiner, and Toscanini. Vittorio Rieti, who came within seven years of living in three centuries, took pleasure in reflecting that his compositions were, for eight decades, performed regularly in all corners of the world. His ballet La Sonnambula (Night Shadow) has received more than two thousand performances. Of all the musicians, dancers and theatrical figures who worked with the legendary Sergei Diaghilev, Rieti was the last known survivor.

*****

Janet Packer has taken pleasure in performing and recording the music of her dear friend, Vittorio Rieti. She premiered his third concerto for violin and orchestra, which the composer fondly titled Concerto Giannetto, and recorded his Serenata for violin and piccolo orchestra. At the time of his death in 1994, Rieti had begun a large-scale work for her, calling it "our project," which was to consist of a series of works based on material from his ballets.

The quality of Rieti's music has been recognized for nearly a century. Stravinsky once told him that he found his music "too eager to come to an end." Now that he is no longer with us, the responsibility falls on intelligent and capable performing musicians to offer us Vittorio Rieti's music, and on those listeners who enjoy his music to demand its performance.

Samuel Rechtoris © 2012