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La Critica musicale

(Florence, 1918-1923)

Prepared by Marika Di Cesare
1 volume (2007)

La Critica musicale [CMU] was published in Florence from January 1918 to October 1923. Small in format, without illustrations, and with a table of contents printed on the front cover of each issue, it appears unpretentious, almost austere in guise. The journal’s director was Luigi Parigi (1883-1955), a young Florentine intellectual who wrote in vibrant, intensive, conceptual prose, at times characterized by piercing humour. CMU features short essays. In the opening pages of the first and second years of publication the editor affirms his intent to enhance culture and to place emphasis on intellectual empirical thinking, attesting to the strong influence of the idealistic philosophy of Benedetto Croce (1866-1952). The periodical thus gives particular emphasis to contemporary musical events, while marginal attention is paid to historical topics.

In 1918 Parigi signs a series of essays titled “Il momento musicale italiano” [The Italian musical moment] in which he states that music constitutes the deepest point of the national soul and that music can serve to overcome the soul’s state of weakness with regard to other artistic expressions. Parigi writes about Ildebrando Pizzetti, whom he considers the most important exponent of the new Italian musical renaissance and criticizes the management of the Augusteo Concert Hall in Rome for the excessive presence in its repertory of German instrumental music. In order to promote Italian instrumental music Parigi maintains that it would be ideal to organize small chamber music ensembles, without neglecting vocal polyphony.

Particular emphasis is given to contemporary music in a series of articles by Guido Maggiorino Gatti (1892-1973) that appeared in 1919-1920. Gian Francesco Malipiero is among the first Italian composers to be brought to the readers’ attention since he is considered a point of reference within the process of musical renewal. He is the homus novus able to give character to his compositions by a well-defined musical structure. Next follows Alfredo Casella, a musical personality looking forward, amongst others, to the newest vanguard movement. The young Florentine composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco seemed to be quite original, as is Luigi Perrachio a rather reserved, self-taught musician. His music is almost metaphysical in character. Francesco Balilla Pratella, on the other hand—a declared futurist—puts emphasis on melodies of a popular character. Gatti also presents vivid sketches of the musical styles of Franco Alfano, Vittorio Gui, and Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli. Gatti introduces the readers of La Critica musicale to various relevant musical exponents active, at that time, on an international level: Eugène Goossens, Gabriel-Marie Grovlez, John Nicholson Ireland, and Ernest Bloch. Of particular interest is Gatti’s essay on Claude Debussy, which contains a discussion of his original harmonic language.

From 1918 to 1922 Fausto Torrefranca (1883-1955) contributes a series of essays concerning Italian conservatories of music entitled “L’ordinamento scolastico-musicale” [The musical-scholastic constitution], in which he traces the history and the organizational peculiarities of the most important musical institutions in Italy: the Neapolitan and Venetian conservatories, and the music schools of Florence and Milan. The topic is of major interest and in effect it becomes an urgent issue when the periodical publishes in February 1919 an article by Attilio Brugnoli titled “Per una università musicale” [For a musical university], arguing against the project proposed by Giacomo Orefice in the Rivista musicale italiana. The debate between Brugnoli and Orefice is continued in the successive issues of La Critica musicale. In March 1920 Pizzetti publishes a commentary on the reorganization of musical institutes and Parigi joins the debate by pointing out the complete ambiguity of Orefice’s proposal.

From early 1920 onward CMU reserves space for notices of current music activities such as concerts, operatic seasons, and publications; two new rubrics are introduced entitled “Avvenimenti” [Events] and “La musica e il libro” [The music and the book]. The first of these rubrics includes correspondence from the principal Italian cities: Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, Bologna, Trent, and Mantova, and gives particular attention to special musical events. In February 1920, for example, Aldo Finzi reports enthusiastically on the reopening of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala with a performance of Verdi’s Falstaff, and states that Toscanini’s conducting was perfect. In December of the same year, also at La Scala, Pizzetti’s opera Débora e Jaele enchanted the public; the result was a flood of applause, once again with Toscanini on the podium. The journal republishes critical judgments of the work from the national press: Corriere della sera, La Stampa, and Il Resto del Carlino. From early 1923 the rubric “L’Italia nel mondo” [Italy in the world] includes correspondence from Paris and London. The section “La musica e il libro” [The music and the book] is reserved for reviews of publications by Italian and foreign composers: among them are Casella, Malipiero, Respighi, and Francesco Santoliquido, as well as Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Honegger. The latter two rubrics are signed by the director Parigi and other notable critics such as Adelmo Damerini, Augusto Guzzo, Cesare Valabrega, Giulio Confalonieri, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Parigi reserves ample space for some notable Italian music critics. A sizable part of the triple issue March-May of 1921 is dedicated to essays by Giuseppe Vannicola (1877-1915): “Mistica della musica”, “Beethoven”, “La musica di Debussy”, all intense, rather sophisticated reflections, imbued with “spirituality”. These are preceded by a touching introduction by Giovanni Papini. In January 1923 Antonio Tari is introduced to the readers of the periodical. Augusto Guzzo describes him as an intellectual of a wide ranging culture, as teacher of aesthetics at the University of Naples, and as a genuine music lover. “Genesi della musica” [Genesis of music] is the first series of Tari’s essays, the last being “Opera, melodramma e dramma”. In these writings music is ranked on the same level as other artistic forms, a subject of particular interest to Parigi. In his writings he encourages the association of music and other activities of the “spirit”, as literature, for example. Essays by other authors also explore the relationships between literature and music or emphasize the musical tendencies of famous literary writers. In this respect, primary attention is given to French writers: Jules Verne (for his ethnomusicological interests) and Théophile Gautier (for his music criticism).

Particular attention is reserved to Italian men of letters such as Giosuè Carducci, Alessandro Manzoni, and Giovanni Pascoli and Gabriele D’Annunzio. In November 1919 an advertisement of the Raccolta nazionale delle musiche italiane – a series of 150 small volumes (Milan, 1918-21) comprising editions of vocal and instrumental compositions of the 17th and 18th centuries – was published with D’Annunzio himself at the head of this notable project undertaken by the “Istituto editoriale italiano,” and hailed as a sign of a cultural renaissance. The opening pages of the September-October 1922 issue contain an essay by D’Annunzio titled “Notturno,” which focuses on a violoncello constructed by Andrea Guarnieri. Also of interest is Giuseppe Baini’s (1775-1844) biography of Palestrina, with annotations by Alberto Cametti.