Piano music of Stefano Golinelli (1818-91)
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Sonata no 5 1st movt (opening)
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Total time: 69 mins 36 secs
1. Fantasia, op 105 (8’47”)
Sonata no. 3 in G major, op 54(b)
2. Allegro (7’15”)
3. Andante (5’24”)
4. Prestissimo (3’20”)
5. Allegro vivo (6’48”)
6. Scherzi e follie, op. 182 (4’58”)
Sonata no. 5 in E minor, op. 140
7. Andante sostenuto – Allegro agitato (8’33”)
8. Andante (6’32”)
9. Allegro (3’35”)
10. Allegrissimo (4’44”)
11. Fantasia villerecchia, op. 116 (9’25”)
We are grateful to Peter Cook for supplying copies of scores for use in this recording.
Notes on the music
Stefano Golinelli is in the process of being rediscovered as a highly significant pianist-composer of the nineteenth-century. His contemporaries were in no doubt as to his worth, with Hiller describing him as “the best pianist of his time” and Schumann praising him as an “unexpected sign of life” in Italy. The image of nineteenth-century Italy as a centre of opera should not obscure its very considerable activity as a centre of virtuoso pianism and composition for the instrument, and indeed Golinelli’s role at the forefront of both fields.
Born in Bologna, Golinelli began serious studies aged nine, according to the strict training for musicians then customary among the Bolognese, and at the age of eighteen was admitted as a signal honour to the Accademia Filharmonica in the capacity of composer; the usual examination was waived. From his mid-twenties he began a decade of concertizing as a pianist, playing not merely in the major Italian cities but also travelling to Paris and London. Meanwhile, in 1840, Rossini secured for him a position as teacher of piano at the Liceo Musicale where he was to remain until 1871. His career was thereafter divided between teaching, performing and composition, in which latter faculty he was to prove highly prolific.
We can see the same sort of range of forms in Golinelli’s compositions as in the piano works of his contemporary Liszt. There are five large-scale sonatas, sets of variations, occasional pieces, a set of 24 preludes, etudes, albums of connected miniatures and dances of the salon forms of the day, and apart from three quartets and a few short chamber pieces, all of these works are for the piano. Almost all of these were published during Golinelli’s lifetime, as testament to his great popularity in his native land as well as abroad. Busoni was among those who became familiar with this output and regarded it favourably.
Golinelli’s style is individual and represents a development of the school of Mendelssohn, Heller and so on. He writes for the piano as a master, with a technical grasp that parallels Chopin and that exploits the instrument to the full. Even his short works tend to be technically demanding.
The Third Sonata, dedicated to Hiller, exists in two published versions, and the one here recorded is the second. Golinelli made major changes to the work between the revisions, shortening and tightening many of the transition passages and clarifying the textural writing so as to give a better effect. The slow movement was completely recomposed. Throughout, the influence of Beethoven’s Sonata op. 31 no 1 can be felt both in the melodies themselves and in their treatment, with the coda of the finale (of course also an influence on Schubert’s A major sonata D959) a particular point of contact. However, the style is very much Golinelli’s own, with some deft harmonic touches and a cogent argument throughout.
The Fifth Sonata, dating from 1858, inhabits more dramatic territory, and the opening movement’s introduction recalls Weber’s style before launching itself into a virtuosic and impassioned Allegro. The melodic material is strong and its treatment imaginative, with a notable F major episode in the development that could come from nowhere else than nineteenth-century Italy. This is followed by a slow movement whose opening calm soon develops into a more agitated demisemiquaver figure. It is the contrast and combination of these two features that makes the running for the remainder of the movement. Unusually among composers, Golinelli has a preference for placing the scherzo third in the sonata (which he also does in the Fifth) and here it is a dour little march marked “sotto voce” that meets its match in a massive fortissimo chordal motif with humorous acciaccatura garlands that takes the place of a trio (perhaps an idea influenced by Alkan’s Scherzo diabolico?). On arrival at the finale, the short introduction leads us into a complex main group in fiendish double notes that has something of the character of a tarantella.
Golinelli’s Fantasias are original works in the customary episodic form, and serve as a means for display both of compositional ingenuity and pianistic prowess. The C minor fantasia op. 105 begins in operatic fashion with its opening meditation interrupted by a distant bird-call. There follows a varied treatment of the initial theme and then a dramatic passage in massive chords and rapid figurations leading to a recitative and cantilena. More agitated material leads to the return of the main theme in grandiose style and a coda in complex arpeggiated figurations.
The Fantasia villerecchia, op. 116, is not such a striking work, but its view of the pastoral style is nevertheless attractive. Beginning with an innocent theme, it leads to a full-scale depiction of a storm worthy of Rossini’s William Tell Overture in its clever use of effect. A charming Allegretto in 6/8 time leads to the final exultant rustic dance.
The Scherzi e follie is a good example of Golinelli’s shorter works, illustrating his well-developed sense of stylistic contrast and humorous effect.