Luigi Dallapiccola

1904 1975

Luigi Dallapiccola

Composer • Piano


Dallapiccola was an accomplished pianist, composer and writer from Italy. His works vary in influence from the old Italian madrigal style to the dodecaphony ofWebern, though never writing in total serialism like Schoenberg. He was one of the first Italian composers to explore the dodecaphonic compositional style.

Luigi Dallapiccola was born in 1904 in Pisino d’Istria, a disputed area of the former Austrian empire. His birthplace is now a part of Croatia and known as Pazin, Istria. His childhood was greatly affected by the political turmoil in his area. Dallapiccola’s parents were Italian, thus leading the Austrian government to close his school in 1916. By the spring of 1917, the Dallapiccola family was sent to Graz as they were accused of Italian nationalism. Istria became a part of Italy and the family was able to return to Pisino after the war ended (November, 1918).

Due to the disturbing events that occurred during his childhood, Luigi Dallapiccola’s education and music lessons were quite chaotic. Before the war he was already taking piano lessons and trying his hand at composition. When the family was interned in Graz however, he was no longer able to play piano and, despite these setbacks, Dallapiccola took in as much music as possible, attending the local opera on a regular basis. There, he saw many of the works of Mozart and Wagner, of which Der fliegende Holländer made the biggest impression. It was at this moment that Dallapiccola realized that his calling was to become a composer.

After the war, and the family’s return to Pisino, Dallapiccola became restless and discouraged by the small musical scene in his small town. He began travelling frequently and studied harmony, with Antonio Illersberg, and piano in Trieste on a weekly basis. On a trip to Bologna, Dallapiccola was introduced to the music ofDebussy, which fascinated him to the point of obsession. He was most impressed withPelléas and Ibéria. In order to fully learn everything Debussy’s music had to offer, Dallapiccola took a hiatus from composing between 1921 and 1924.

Dallapiccola’s introduction to early Italian music (by his teacher Illersberg) coincided with his discovery of Debussy; he was particularly fascinated with the music ofMonteverdi and composer turned murderer, Gesualdo.

Moving to Florence in 1922, Dallapicolla continued his studies in piano with Ernesto Consolo. At the Florence Conservatory he followed lessons in harmony and composition beginning in 1923. His teachers included Roberto Casiraghi and later Vito Frazzi, a student of Pizzetti.

Another pivotal moment in Dallapicolla’s development occurred during his studies, in 1924, when he came into contact with the music of the Second Viennese School with a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’sPierrot Lunaire.

After graduation, Dallapiccola embarked upon a career as a concert pianist and teacher. He performed, most notably, in a duo with the violinist Sandro Materassi. His tours brought him to a number of European cities, including Vienna where he heard Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. He taught piano at the Florence Conservatory between 1930 and 1931 during Consolo’s absence. Several years later, in 1934, Dallapiccola was appointed the teacher of piano as a secondary study; he held this post for 33 years, until his retirement in 1967.

Not only was Dallapiccola succeeding as a pianist and teacher in the 1930s, he was also beginning to receive recognition as a worthy composer, with the help of Casella. During this period, Dallapiccola also became acquainted with a broader spectrum of musical styles, including those of the composers Busoni, Berg, Webern and Malipiero.

Political unrest in Mussolini-led Italy affected the following period of Dallapiccola’s career. Along with many Italians, Dallapiccola was first pro-fascism as a result of Mussolini’s vast propaganda. However, during the Spanish Civil War and the Abyssinian campaign, Dallpiccola began to question and later reject this movement. He wrote, ‘the world of…carefree serenity closed for me, and without the possibility of return…I had to find other times in other woods’.

Dallapiccola’s music from this period makes strong political statements, especially in theCanti di prigionia, which he wrote in protest of Mussolini’s adoption of Hitler’s racial views. This viewpoint struck a nerve with Dallpiccola especially because his wife was Jewish and he feared for her safety. Another work with a political message isIl prigioniero. His political views forced him, on several occasions, into hiding between 1943 and 1944. Apart from his periods of hiding, he was able to continue giving recitals, though only in countries such as Hungary and Switzerland, which were not occupied by the Nazis. During this time, he also met Webern.

During the post-war years, Dallpiccola continued to compose and he also wrote forIl mondo, a periodical based in Florence. In addition, he led the way for Italian composers to re-join the ISCM, where hisCanti di prigionia was performed.

The 1950s brought about more opportunities to travel, including to the Tanglewood Festival in the USA with Koussevitzky’s invitation. He became famous throughout Western Europe and America with his lectures and music. At the peak of Dallapiccola’s career was the operaUlisse (1968), after which he composed substantially fewer works. Instead, he compiled his lectures and writings as Appunti, incontri, meditazioni. After a decline in his health in 1972, Dallpiccola’s travels came to an end and he did not complete any more compositions either. Upon his death, a few fragments and sketches of new works were found.

Of Dallapiccola’s output, the music from his early career, in the 1920s, remains unpublished and was withdrawn from his output. He made it clear that he wished for this music not to be performed, and it is thus heavily protected.

Some of his early 1930s works are purely diatonic, influenced by the Italian madrigal style, and use modal polyphony and further the tradition of Pizzetti’s neo-madrigalism. An example of this style is found in Dallpiccola’s first two pairs ofCori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il giovane. In addition to these works, others from the same period combine a striking combination of diatonicism and chromaticism, and are not always a success.

A new style emerged in Dallapiccola’s works with the last pair of Cori di Michelangelo in which Busoni’s influence is noticeable. This is also the first time Dallapiccola experimented with the 12-tone series. His use of serial writing expanded, though never becoming completely serial. For the stage, Dallapiccola composed the religiously symbolicVolo di notte, based largely on his previous compositionTre laudi. His latest works were stable in style, sensitive, lyrical and much more of Webern’s influence can be heard.

Dallapiccola’s output as a whole features a duality (also seen in his personality), between serenity and tragedy and tonality and chromaticism/serialism. He described this best, writing, ‘if one side of my nature demanded tragedy, the other attempted an escape towards serenity’.