April 23, 2022 Concert by William Limonta, pianist
Church of Sant’Andrea, Upper Town Bergamo
TITLE: Donizetti and the others. The piano in Bergamo from Mayr to the contemporaries
The history of music is studded and marked by the great names that have always characterised it, and we always remember them and only them.
Beneath this extraordinary forest, there is a dense undergrowth of musical realities that would be worth rediscovering.
This was the prerogative of this concert, dedicated to the Orobica piano music.
William Limonta, a young composer and pianist from Bergamo, a student at the Donizetti Conservatory of Bergamo under the guidance of Maestro Orazio Sciortino, proposed a rich musical journey that starts from the end of the 18th century and then crosses the world of Donizetti and the late Romantic period, up to the most stringent contemporaneity.
In fact, the concert’s programme included composers such as Giovanni Simone Mayr, Gaetano Donizetti and Gianandrea Gavazzeni, the three most wellknown names on the Bergamo music scene, alongside other composers less well-known to the general public, such as Mario Tarenghi, Giuseppe Frugatta, Daniele Maffeis, Napoleone Maffezzoli and Adamo Federico Alary.
The last piece proposed by Limonta for this concert was one of his own compositions, “…un avvampo di tende da scali e pensioni”, written in 2021, inspired by his childhood memories and Montali’s poetry, performed for the first time in Bergamo on April 23, 2022.
Worthy of note in this concert was the performance of the “Suite Schilpariese” by the Gazzanighese composer Daniele Maffeis (1901-1966), a jewel of a composer who has been rediscovered thanks to a series of initiatives between Bergamo and Milan, including the production of a documentary on his figure.
Here’s a brief look at Daniele Maffeis’s “Suite Schilpariese”.
The “Suite Schilpariese” is one of Daniele Maffeis’s last piano works.
Written in 1955, it was inspired by an excursion the composer took with some friends: “I was the guest of a centuries-old family, where one can still find that simplicity in manners. Providence keeps the grandmother, the queen of the house, still full of life and fresh in her mind, a piano enthusiast. Seventy-five years old! I promised her then to write some music about the beautiful pine forest and her Schilpario”.
The Suite consists of six movements:
I. In the pinewood chatting
II. Benwi and Terry put on a show
IV. A military ring in the pinewood
V. At the small church
VI. At the source of the Dezzo.
The spirit in which Maffeis pays homage here to his land is clearly expressed, with simple but at the same time refined harmonies, while the melodic lines play in a constant contrast between irony and absolute rigour.
January 14, 2022
Three young Bergamaschi in the footsteps (and notes) of Maestro Daniele Maffeis
ARTICLE. Five video recordings in Città Alta, social media posts and a short documentary. William Limonta, Juri Ferri and his brother Enrico Ferri celebrate the 120th birthday of the composer from Gazzaniga by describing him… in their own way.
“A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway” wrote Italo Calvino in that marvellous essay ‘Why read the classics’ (1981). Perhaps irreconcilable with the frenzy of everyday life and yet it is there, like a buzz, faint but constant. It is the literature of the great names, those who are able to tell you something even if they were born two hundred years before you.
Transferring Calvino’s words to so-called ‘classical’ music is more difficult. Perhaps the fault lies with music education, which has now disappeared from all school curricula, perhaps with the very origin of this type of music, the prerogative of the ‘cultured’ class, of those who could afford to go to concerts or buy an instrument.
Bringing classical music to everyone, and to young people in particular, is the goal of William Limonta and brothers Juri and Enrico Ferri, three young Bergamaschi in their early twenties. The first is a pianist and composer, the second a director living in London, and the third a musician and student at the Tilburg Conservatory in the Netherlands. What brought them together was the discovery of the life and works of Daniele Maffeis, composer, organist and pianist, whose 120th birthday falls in 2021. The project launched by the three young people, in collaboration with the Associazione Musicale Daniele Maffeis and with the support of the Associazione Culturale “Musica Ragazzi” of Osio Sopra, aims to tell the story of the Maestro to fans and others, through video recordings, posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and a short documentary, still in production.
Who is Daniele Maffeis
Daniele Maffeis was born in Gazzaniga in 1901, into a blue-collar family. His first musical stimuli came from his parental environment, a large group of music lovers, band members and instrument teachers. Then – love at first sight – he discovered the organ in the parish church.
It is William Limonta who tells me the Maestro’s story, citing his diplomas from the G. Donizetti Conservatory in Bergamo and theConservatory of Milan and enthusiastically listing pages and pages of vocal and instrumental compositions: masses, sacred songs, operas, operettas, chamber music, for symphony orchestra. All music that William sums up by appealing directly to the sensations he felt when listening and performing: ‘I found great spontaneity and absolute simplicity in the lines (which does not mean banality). Maffeis’s pieces are fresh (and I am aware that this is not a musical term), but they can get to the listener’s heart, even if the listener does not know the music, they are direct pieces’ – pieces, I would say, far removed from the notion of classical music as ‘cultured’ music that I have always been used to. “He was a composer of liturgical music, first and foremost, his music was to be sung by the congregation. Hence the empathy with the audience’.
Many are the names that, over the years, have made Bergamo a world-famous musical and cultural centre: Gaetano Donizetti, Pier Antonio Locatelli, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, to name but a few. Daniele Maffeis is a lesser-known name. He is not even studied at the Conservatory.
“I am very close to the music of my territory, of Bergamo’s composers in general,” William reveals to me, when I ask him how he approached the Maestro, “so since 2018 I have been trying to find music by piano composers from Bergamo, also thanks to the Donizetti Library in Città Alta.” A score by Daniele Maffeis happened to fall into Limonta’s hands. “At first I didn’t pay much attention to it, then I did a concert in Milan in August 2019, at the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, and I proposed a musical journey among the piano composers from Bergamo. As chance would have it, during the rehearsal I played ‘Canto d’amore’ by Maffeis and in the museum at that instant the composer’s great nice, Rossana Maffeis, was passing by’.
From that “You are playing my Great Uncle’s music!”, a long adventure began for William Limonta. He met a nephew, Adriano Maffeis, and got in touch with the Associazione Musicale Daniele Maffeis, which since 1998 has been committed to researching, preserving and disseminating the Maestro’s musical heritage. He then learns, through his friend Enrico Ferri, that his brother Juri intended (initially for a competition) to produce a documentary on an aspect of Bergamo culture. The trio got together and work began.
In the first phase of the project, William, Enrico and Juri invited three students from the Conservatorio Donizetti to approach the music of Daniele Maffeis. Irene Maggioni, pianist, Riccardo Carrera, organist, and Erica Artina, soprano, performed and recorded five pieces by the composer in Sala Piatti and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Città Alta.
“We wanted to use scenic locations that could be both beautiful to the eye and significant to the Maestro’s connection with the territory,” says William. “The Sala Piatti is the Conservatorio’s main auditorium and it was also when the Conservatorio was in Via Arena: Maffeis played in that hall. So it is fitting that we recorded these pieces in this setting’. The musicians occupy the Sala Piatti in February 2021. “I remember that it was ridiculously cold and we did everything as fast as we could, especially for the singer, trying to pass us jumpers.”
Performing in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where, according to some accounts, Maffeis played the organ, filled the boys with great emotion. ‘We managed to have the church empty for a few minutes, the time it took to make the recordings’.
Videos of the performances have been circulated on social networks over the past few months, along with short clips recounting various aspects of Daniele Maffeis’ s figure and works. The project, however, is broader: the trio’s ambition is to create a short documentary film aimed at the general public, demonstrating how the Maestro’s music can also be appreciated by new generations.
‘This documentary is aimed at young people. First of all, there are us young people involved as musicians and project coordinators, all from the 2000-1997 class. The desire is to make people, even non-musicians, aware of a local figure that has often been sidelined compared to the great names in Bergamo’s history. Maffeis is no less than a Donizetti. He has given a very deep-rooted alternative to his own musical roots: he often uses popular music, giving it a new guise in his compositions’.
The short film will include Maffeis’s already recorded pieces, as well as a series of interviews with some experts, including Bernardino Zappa, Musicologist and contributor to L’Eco di Bergamo, Pierangelo Pelucchi, Composer, Musicologist and Conductor, and the aforementioned Adriano Maffeis, the Maestro’s nephew and Curator of an 18-volume Opera Omnia published by the Associazione Musicale Daniele Maffeis in 2012. “We also interviewed the young people who performed the music, asked for their impressions, what they thought of the composer. Only Erica and Riccardo had known his name’.
The creators of the project have already carried out two days of filming. For the second phase of work to begin, the trio is looking for additional funds and sponsors. They will be used to cover the costs of editing and post-production and the completion of the documentary, a documentary that, even before the musician, will tell the story of our city. An example? ‘Incontro’, the third movement of the ‘Suite Schilpariese’. The inspiration came to Maffeis after an excursion to the pine forest of Schilpario, in Val di Scalve, and the desire, as he himself says, to pay homage to the simple and genuine ways of his people: ‘Providence still keeps the grandmother, the queen of the house, full of life and fresh in her mind, passionate about the piano’.
23 October 2016: a new CD of organ music
Foreword: in fulfilment of one of the main objectives for which our Association was set up, namely the publication and promotion of the music of our illustrious fellow-citizen, during 2016 (the fiftieth anniversary of his death) a very ambitious project was carried out, which we hope will bring back the same success and the same appreciation as the publication of the music.
The project was entrusted to the expert hands of Carlo Emanuele Vianelli, organist of the great organs of Milan Cathedral.
The choice of the instrument fell on the Serassi (1795) – Balbiani Vegezzi Bossi (1932) organ of Calolziocorte (Bg), which for its size and timbre quality has contributed substantially to the achievement of the excellent result.
Worthy of note, inside the box is the rich booklet in which there is information about the performer, as well as an interesting analysis by Maestro Vianelli himself regarding the music performed.
Also of note is the publication of the 61 paintings by the painter Ernesto Bretagna that inspired the publication of the complex work “Symphonicum Nova et Vetera”, and guide the listener through this full-bodied and evocative journey.
Here is the full presentation.
Daniele Maffeis… who was he? By weighing up with the eyes and ears of authentic musicians the organ corpus (and not only) bequeathed to us by the maestro, we can truly discover a fascinating and still almost unknown world.
Maffeis cultivated the first shoots of his organistic and compositional vocation at the Conservatorio “Donizetti” in Bergamo, refining them later in that extraordinary cultural humus that was Milan in the 1920s: the Conservatorio “G. Verdi” (which could boast of first-class professors such as Pizzetti, Pozzoli, Bas, Ghedini, Pick-Mangiagalli, Ferroni, C.A. Bossi) was at that time a very important centre for organ music, a true university of music.
But outside the walls of the institute one breathed an air still imbued with the flavours of Puccini, corroborated by the discovery of the post-impressionist French school and the German school which, after the Wagnerian shock, had by now decisively overcome the boundaries of the tonal system, exploring new and intellectually fascinating shores.
This explains, for those who listen to these discs, the sense of the great compositional eclecticism that pervades the pages of the maestro.
Already at a very young age assistant organist at the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore in Bergamo under the direction of Agostino Donini and pupil at the Conservatory of Milan of Arnaldo Galliera (one of the greatest representatives of the genius of organists/composers born from the post-Bossi school), Maffeis was then able – in the arc of an intense artistic activity continuing from the ’30s to the ’60s of the 20th century – to probe and recreate different creative worlds in an absolutely personal and convincing way.
Maffeis’s organ pieces can be placed in different stylistic strands: the great pages of pure organ literature, conceived above all for the concert dimension, the pages of religious inspiration, in which perhaps the most authentic part of the maestro’s soul emerges, and the small pieces for purely liturgical purposes.
Among the most breathtaking pieces are the decidedly neoclassical stylistic features of the early Sonata pour Orgue en Do Majeur and the Mendelssohnian traits of the Andante per Organo. The Chorale, on the other hand, is an organ transcription of a piece for trumpet and string orchestra and seems to take us back to Ottorino Respighi’s transfigured paraphrases of Bach.
The Capriccio e Canone, by comparison, is marked by a newer and bolder language, which, drawing its matrix from the Due Scherzi op. 49 by M.E. Bossi also looks to the harmonic restlessness of L. Vierne’s Pièces de Fantaisie; the same restlessness can also be seen in the magnificent Preludio Fantastico e Fuga, composed in 1947, where, however, the bold and changing harmony is placed in a decidedly Regerian context of continuous and masterly contrapuntal tension.
Meditazione is a case in point. Composed on the spur of the moment in August 1954 on the wave of emotion aroused by the death of Alcide De Gasperi, it is an admirable synthesis of the mature language of Maffeis’ art. Rooted in a “late Wagnerism”, the language of sound expands to the point of touching the threshold of tonality. The same inner tension emerges in the Deposition transcribed from the Fantoniana orchestral triptych: the contemplation of the sculpture of the Dead Christ and the statues of Rovetta arouses in the author a profound emotional state that returns to us intact that tense and evanescent language.
The pieces Spiritelli dell’organo and Trionfale – Adveniat Regnum Tuum show us instead the jovial and authentically bergamasque aspect of the maestro: Spiritelli describes a tasty dialogue between the various registers of the organ which seem to come alive in a playful and pleasantly ironic “repartee”, while Trionfale (a transcription for organ of a march for band) takes us back to the “devotional feast” atmosphere of the Marian or Eucharistic processions so dear to the popular soul.
The liturgical pages, often reconstructions of improvisations posed during the rites, despite their brevity reveal a profound originality and research style; from the two very short pieces Prelude for Easter and Offertory, passing through the Gregorian-style Antiphonae Majores and the delightful Piccola Pastorale we can really see the depth of soul and the human and artistic stature of the maestro.
Simphonicum Nova et Vetera was undoubtedly Maffeis’ best-loved organ piece. Conceived as a “soundtrack” to comment on the presentation of a cycle of paintings by G. Bergagna depicting the Lauretan Litanies, the piece takes the form of a symphonic poem for organ of considerable size: its 933 measures place it in the presence of the great frescoes by Liszt, Reubke and Stehle, with which it shares the cyclical form and the almost continuous use of the leitmotif technique.
Repeatedly rewritten and retouched, the admirable Litanies represent Maffeis’ true spiritual testament, an extraordinarily vivid testimony of his last words on his deathbed on 10 February 1966: “…I am not sorry to die. I am now dead to the world … I only regret it because I still have so much music inside me!”
Emanuele Carlo Vianelli