Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973)

Rispetti E Strombotti for String Quartet (1920)


"The music of Malipiero can best be understood when his great preoccupation with Old Italian Music, Poetry, and Painting is recalled. He is not an Italian Composer if by the term we mean the singableness of Puccini,Verdi, and Rossini. He is more dramatic than lyrical. He is also frequently more contrapuntal than homophonic-his contrapuntal writing deriving its personality from the Gregorian Chant. Essentially, his Italianism is much subtler and truer than that of Puccini or Rossini. It is the pure classical spirit of the Renaissance...His music is, like all Italian Music, permeated with lyricism; but it is a lyricism that has its own quality and flavor. Malipiero prefers a crisp melodic line of a swiftly moving pace which derives its dramatic character from the recitatives of Cavalli and Cavalieri. On the other hand, he prefers a recitative made more flexible by the freer use of melody. Thus, there is frequently very slight difference between his recitatives and his melodies. Malipiero’s music is essentially a dramatic expression-even when he abandons the opera for symphonic and chamber music. Frequently it has the gleam of a mischievous wit and irony strongly reminiscent of the Italian opera-bouffe of a previous century. Occasionally, it assumes a philosophic pensiveness, a contemplative and introspective serenity. The classical Renaissance tranquility and spirituality which Malipiero has couched in forms of musical writing that are essentially modern in technique is his most personal speech, and one by which he can most clearly be identified."

David Ewen

Twentieth Century Composers


Gian Francesco Malipiero was born to an old Venetian family, which had produced a number of famous musicians. It was his discovery and subsequent love of old Italian Music that was to set his life’s course in music. He was a prolific composer, who created many operas, symphonies, tone poems, choral works, concerti, ballets, piano music, songs, and chamber music. He was also a musical scholar who prepared editions of the complete works of Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi, as well as editions of works by Cavalieri, Galuppi, Marcello, and Tartini. His editions of these works were considered most praiseworthy because they were faithful to the original, presenting the works without adding, modifying, arranging, or improving the originals in any way. He was also the author of a number of books, ranging from works on the orchestra, the theater, Monteverdi, Stravinsky, to autobiography. He served as the director of the Instituto Musicale "C.Pollini" at Padua, as well as a long tenure as Director of the Liceo Marcello at Venice. In his private teaching, he attracted students from all over the world.


So who, or what are Rispetti and Strombotti? Motorscooters? Pastries? Anarchists? No. No. No.


Both are both forms of early Italian Poetry. The rispetto is a kind of improvised folk poem, usually in eight inter-rhyming lines with the rhyme scheme a b a b c c d d. These verses were often sung to popular tunes, and were often in the form of an address of love from a gentleman to a lady. The Strombotto is also a form of verse , used in Italian secular songs of the Late 15th Century and Early 16th Century. It also consists of eight lines, with the first six rhyming alternately, and the last two consecutively-similar to a roundelay. Again, I quote David Ewen from The Complete Book of Twentieth Century Music (written, incidentally, when the Century was only a little more than half-completed): "In adapting these two forms of poetry to music, Malipiero attempted to sketch a varied picture of society against the background of the Renaissance, from the peasantry to the clergy. In one movement, this Quartet contains twenty loosely connected episodes in which two themes are prominent: one, based on the Plain Chant, suggests the Clergy; the other, consisting of acrid chords, speaks for the Peasantry." This episodic organization of the musical material is particularly characteristic of Malipiero’s music . He assiduously avoided the "development" of themes, and "contrapuntal development " characteristic of the Austro-Germanic tradition of the Late 18th through 19th Centuries.


This Quartet, the composer’s first, received the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Prize of one thousand dollars, an international chamber music competition; and was premiered at the first festival held at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on September 25, 1920 by the Letz Quartet.

1996-97 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 6, 1997

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