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The Italian Job
Italy's food, artists and language have made a great contribution to the world, but her influence on Classical Music is second to none.

The Italian Job

Italian, with its pure simple vowels and expressive cadences, is the natural language at least for European music ~ and used, as such, traditionally, to express verbal instructions on pace (tempo!) and dynamics for performers. Of course, there have been many famous Italian composers and musicians...

See how you get on with these brain-teasers!

1.
Giuseppe Verdi happened to be the right man at the right time, writing Italian grand-opera and other music in the risorgimento period of the mid-19th century as Italy sought to become a unified nation state. His catchy tunes on themes such as the liberation of Biblical slaves caught the public ear, and his surname VERDI was even daubed as a graffito in public places, because it was a nifty acronym (in Italian!) for ...
'Long live the Kingdom of Italy'
'Victor Emanuel, King of Italy'
'Come swiftly, Revolution of the Italians'
'Vengeance is rapid, mastery of Italy'
Vittorio Emanuele, Re De Italia was the key phrase of the age
2.
If a piece of music ~ a salon miniature, perhaps ~ is marked Andantino Comodo, how should it be played?
Ambling along at whatever medium pace happens to suit the performer/s
Hurrying it along noticeably
Changing the speed wherever you feel the need or urge
Very slow and steady
Andante simply means 'at a walking pace': so andantino is a diminutive of this, and carries a meaning barely distinct from it: possibly a fraction slower than 'whatever speed you first thought of', but hardly dithering. Comodo simply means 'to suit'; so overall the marking is almost superfluous, and maybe Allegretto ben grazioso might have been more evocative
3.
Which very successful operatic composer once met Beethoven (communicating with this other, deaf composer, entirely on paper); was accused of having a machine to churn out his overtures; and, as a gourmet, had a number of dishes named in his honour?
Giacomo Puccini
Gioachino Rossini
Antonio Vivaldi
Ottorino Respighi
This was Rossini (of William Tell and Barber of Seville fame), also known in church-musical circles for his Petite Messe Solennelle (scored for operatic chorus, soloists, two grand pianos and harmonium) which really is neither petite nor particularly solemn
4.
Who is the odd one out here?
Guarneri
Maggini
Gabrieli
Amati
Gabrieli was a Venetian composer; the other three, along with Stradivari, were classic makers of violins and other instruments of the bowed string family
5.
One of the most famous Italian Baroque composers was Tomaso Albinoni. Outside the ranks of his later devotees, he is probably best known for a piece of which he only sketched the first six bars, and the rest of it was reconstructed on that basis by Remo Giazotto. It is usually, and perhaps thus to some extent falsely, known as 'Albinoni's ... (?)
Largo
Adagio
Alla-breve
Toccata
This is the famous, loping Adagio in G minor that is probably best heard in versions for organ and string orchestra. Albinoni was by no means a 'one-piece composer' however: there is, for instance, a delightful Oboe Concerto and a great deal else to discover
6.
In interesting ways a Southern European analogue for his close Anglo-German contemporary, Handel, this musician, known as the Red Priest, wrote many works ~ including a Gloria and a famous set of violin concertos ~ for a Venetian girls' orphanage (somewhat akin to London's Foundling Hospital, which benefited from Handel's Messiah). Bach, too, was attracted by this composer's sparkling and sensitive string writing, to the extent of making several complete keyboard transcriptions from his works.
Who was this composer?
Arcangelo Corelli
Domenico Scarlatti
Antonio Vivaldi
Luigi Cherubini
Vivaldi was probably the greatest of all Italian composers during the zenith period of music in Venice. The string concerti mentioned in the Question are, of course, his Four Seasons set
7.
Another 'serendipitous' Question!
This (Italian) composer, chiefly known for a string of romantic operas, would be found not very far away from the Frenchman, Francis Poulenc in the alphabetical listings ~ by composer ~ in a CD shop or publisher's catalogue. Like Poulenc, he survived a serious car accident (in this case, in 1903) and went on to write further excellent music, including Madama Butterfly and a later 'tripych' of works including possibly his most famous arietta of all, O mio babbino caro.
Who was he?
Giacomo Puccini
Ottorino Respighi
Giovani Gabrieli
Alfredo Casella
Puccini is generally held to be Italy's most illustrious opera composer after Verdi (both chronologically, and in terms of his 'bankable' popularity)
8.
Various composers (and others) who visited Italy have had their imaginations caught by the saltarello which they then included in their later works or musical reminiscences. What is the saltarello?
A form of regional shepherd's pipe, and the music traditionally performed on it
A dance in rapid triple time, not unlike the 'jig' in more northerly Europe
A particular rhythmical quirk that occurs in certain forms of Sicilian folksong
A form of handheld drum that is played with the knuckles
Mendelssohn, for example, incorporates such a dance into his Italian Symphony, as does Berlioz within his Harold in Italy
9.
This Italian-born conductor was an active and successful setter of standards during the first two generations which grew up with recording and broadcasting, and all the technical and performance developments and opportunities that went with these processes. His three children, perhaps in strikingly un-Italian fashion, were called Walter, Wally and Wanda.
Who was he?
Sir John Barbirolli
Arturo Toscanini
Frederico Zeffirelli
Tomaso Bicham
This was undoubtedly Toscanini, whose influence at La Scala (Milan) and elsewhere was almost incalculably great during that turbulent transition period for the performing arts
10.
Gian Carlo Menotti is remembered ~ certainly by those who have ever re-performed or seen it ~ for a children's Christmas opera which he wrote for television: the first ever created specifically for the medium, and broadcast on NBC in 1951, under the baton of the same conductor we met in Q.9 (above).
What is the title of the opera?
Let's make an Opera
The Night before Christmas
The Little Sweep
Amahl and the Night Visitors
The Night Visitors turn out to be the Three Kings (Magi). There is a kindredship of artistic spirit here, with Benjamin Britten, who also worked fruitfully with children and on material with a similar overall cultural 'feel' to it (cf. Answers 1 & 3, and Britten's dramatic cantata The Golden Vanity)

 

Author:  Ian Miles

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