Arts & culture, Musicology, Performance practice, Postgraduate research

Bartolomeo Campagnoli reloaded

PhD student Simone Laghi on Italian String Quartets and bringing Bartolomeo Campagnoli to new audiences…

CampagnoliI am writing this post on a train that is taking me to Turin. In three hours, I will be giving a speech in the library of the Circolo dei Lettore (Reader’s Club) to present the next concert of the Orchestra Polledro, a recent and vibrant ensemble led by Federico Bisio. Apart from playing in the orchestra as principal viola, I was been challenged by M° Bisio programme some music related to my musicological research and, as a result, we will soon perform the Violin Concerto Op. 15 in Eb major by Bartolomeo Campagnoli (1751-1827).

It is not the first time that this music has been performed in modern times. There is a recording by the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto (Dynamics, CDS 214, 1999, soloist Francesco Manara). Unfortunately, there is no commercial edition of this concerto, and my duty was to reconstruct the score from the orignal printed parts by Breitkopf und Hartel, printed in Leipzig in 1810. At the end of the editing process I couldn’t refrain from Manara’s recording with my score. I have to admit that I was really surprised to find that, despite the general good level of performance, several nuances and graces were left out from his performance.

While preparing the concert, I have been discussing these details with the conductor and the violinist Marco Norzi, who is the principal violin of Orchestra Polledro and the soloist for this performance. We agreed assign utmost importantce to all the details. When a performer works on lesser-known repertoire, the temptation to rely exclusively on the few available recordings can lead to major misinterpretations of the score, thus creating a detriment to the quality of the music as the composer intended it. Sometimes it can be much better to not actually listen to any recordings as it allows you the chance to give your own interpretation of a piece.

The style of the performance should as well be appropriate to the score. There are plenty of old treatises, new books and academic articles available nowadays to allow a musician to get in touch with particular issues of historical performance practice. It is my personal belief that music can express itself at its best only when the performance style is appropriate, in the same way that a novel is always more satisfying if read in the original language. This doesn’t mean in any way that there is just one right performance style, but musical relativism is not an options that fullfil my curiosity.

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I won’t write a long digression on Campagnoli’s biography (this can be easily found on Wikipedia or in specialized books); it is just enough to point out that he is nowadays mostly famous for his violin methods and his caprices for viola. Last year I published, with Ensemble Symposium, his six string quartets that were considered lost but reappeared in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin in 1997 (for more information, please follow this link).

The recording, released by Brilliant Classics, was awarded five stars and nominated for Album of the Month by the website CdClassico, receiving an enthusiastic review. Despite the interest raised by the appearance of this and other sets of string quartets composed by relatively unknown Italian composers, it is still hard for critics and musicologists to give these authors an independent dignity, without falling into the trap of comparing  them to the mainstream German tradition (Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven).

The Italian String Quartet has indeed an interesting and underestimated history, which followed a different (if not opposite) path to the German tradition. I hope to shed some light on this particular topic in the course of my PhD research.

I had the chance to describe my work on Campagnoli’s quartets in a paper presented at the Conference ‘P.A. Locatelli and J. M. Leclair: Legacy in the 19th Century’, held in Bergamo on 17-19 October 2014 and organized by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini. I just finished a preliminary draft for a critical edition of this set, which will be published by A-R editions (USA). I hope to proceed in the same way for the violin concerto, and to make the score available soon for performers.

It is such a pleasure to hear compositions that have not been performed for centuries, and to hear them coming out so fresh and vibrant after such a long sleep. I really do hope to hear further performances of these scores by curious musicians, and to keep raising interest in the neglected repertoire of Italian instrumental music from the late-18th and 19th-centuries.

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